Norwegian avant-weirdoes Virus have just released 4th album Memento Collider via Dark Essence Records after a break of five years. As expected it is an ambitious and perplexing listen, stemming right back to a time when everything was going very strange in Scandinavia and many were bucking the trend for making simplistic church burning black metal. Czral aka Carl-Michael Eide has been there through it all and appeared in a host of bands both live and on album. Today he mainly concentrates on Virus and Aura Noir and here we speak to him about the new album along with his earlier distinguished career.
AN: Firstly I wanted to dip right back into the past as all of you were in seminal outfit Ved Buens Ende who musically share a lot of common ground with Virus. You were part of a “movement” that took Norwegian black metal down a very different and twisted path along with bands such as Beyond Dawn, In The Woods, Fleurety and later Dodheimsgard. What are your memories of this period and why do you think there was a likeminded reaction to go down this route compared to what the likes of Mayhem, Darkthrone, Immortal etc were doing?
CME: I remember the urge to create was very poignant. In all of us. We didn’t feel bound to any genre or any definitions. I don’t think any of us were aware that this was a movement. Speaking for myself, I was way too whimsical in all aspects of life. There was no grand plan. I don’t really have many clear memories of that period. It’s all a blur looking back at it from where I am now. Seems I’ve lived at least one life in between. But I’m still doing the same, in a relatively whimsical manner, so I guess I haven’t moved far away from my core.
AN: I’m sure you had no idea what a landmark album ‘Written In Waters’ would be when it came out over 20 years ago. I know things were partly resurrected in the 2000’s but have you ever considered recording a follow up album and what about playing live and singing for the swans once more?
CME: VBE is very much of its time. The music has a young eagerness to it that would be impossible to recreate now, as adults. Of course we could play through the old material and do a festival-tour, but why would we do that? To earn money? To please the fans? That’s not why I’m playing music. I’m in it to create something. That’s the driving-force.
AN: Obviously a lot of time has flown under the bridge but Virus seemed like a need to take what you had established in VBE further, would you agree and would you consider there was a natural progression from Waters to Carheart?
CME: Virus is not a continuation of Ved Buens Ende. It’s a band in its own right. A lot of people don’t seem to be willing to understand that. After VBE went inactive after the album (in ’96-ish), I was mostly focused on my other bands, Aura Noir and Infernö, though I kept writing «weird» music on the side. Then after Infernö went quiet, I asked Einz if he wanted to start a new band with me. This was after I’ve met Plenum, we jammed together, and I realized I’d found a bass player. I knew that if I did something with these guys it’d become something unique. And already on the first rehearsal, that became apparent.
AN: I guess the gap between the bands was due partly to you working actively with Inferno, Aura Noir and Cadaver Inc among others? I guess with all of you being so busy it must have been difficult to find the time to breathe life into Virus. Was it a case of the timing being right to put things together?
CME: Yeah, time was an issue, but the will to do Virus was always there. It was very much a side-project at the time, though now I see it as my main deed. Of course I still play in Aura Noir, and that’s probably my main band, but Virus is more like a phenomenon.
AN: Obviously work was seriously curtailed by your accident in 2005. You must have been really determined to get back to playing music again after it. I remember seeing Aura Noir at Party Sans Open Air in 2010. It was quite an emotional occasion all round. If I am right this was possibly one of your first live shows after the accident if not the first? Naturally you have been more active since and are things gradually improving for you?
CME: I got as well as I could get quite early on. Now it’s just a matter of staying active, which is a challenge ‘cause I’m a slacker by nature. Yeah, I guess the music has been the driving force that’s gotten me up and going. At first, when I started playing live again, I found it quite frightening. But I just kept on doing it, and now I’m loving it. I like everything about it, even the traveling.
AN: Memento Collider took a fair while to land after ‘The Agent That Shapes The Desert’ 5 years or so. What have you all been up to in that period and why the wait?
CME: This is an album that needed to mature. We’ve been working actively on it all this time. We tried out the songs live, honed the arrangements, kept working on the songs ‘till they were just right. Each song on the album is very important, even the line-up of the songs. I think it will take some time for people to see that there’s a whole lot of work behind this album. There’s a lot of hidden details. It’s not just a bunch of songs thrown on to a disc, it’s a whole. An experience. To make something like that takes time.
AN: You have been somewhat bounced around label wise over the years with Virus, anyone would think people can’t decide what to do with you and where you fit in musically. Do you think this might change with Karisma?
CME: We released the last 2 albums ourselves. We wanted to be in full control. But we wouldn’t have had time for that now. On this album it was time to get a proper label involved. Karisma approached us at a show in Oslo, and we clicked. They’re absolutely the right label for us. Signing with them was the logical thing to do.
AN: As you are vocalist I am assuming you are responsible for the lyrics? Where on earth (or maybe not on earth) do you get your influences from? Even the song titles themselves are full of mystery and bring all manner of images to the head. For instance just looking at those of The Agent, throws me into the midst of some sort of JG Ballard-esque sci-fi dystopian world!
CME: I’m not the sole lyricist in Virus. I’ve collaborated with Johannah Henderson, whose a writer from England. Her parts are moulded into the lyric along with my stuff. It’s a puzzle of various things, the lyrics. Sometimes they’re quite fragmented, but that suits the music, you know.. They have to suit the music. We’re chasing a whole. The lyrics and music needs to go hand in hand. I like to paint pictures with the words, and along with the music they kinda gain in meaning. The lyrics don’t work without the music so everyone I give the album to I tell them to read and listen. Then it makes sense. It’s a kinda poetic logic, or dream-logic.
AN: Are there any themes, narrative or insight you can give us on the tracks of Memento Collider. I have images of pollution, natural resources running out and huge big ships on land and in space plundering what they can from where they can get it. Perhaps you would rather everyone interpreted in their own way and to be fair I haven’t seen the actual lyrics?
CME: Yes, it’s fun how people interpret the album way differently. People don’t even agree on the over-all feel of it. I’ve heard people saying it’s crazy and absurd and upbeat, and others saying it’s sad and melancholic. I like that it’s this open. We’ve created something that’s become personal to people. I’m proud of that. I’d like it to stay that way too, so I’m not gonna narrate people through my own perception of the album. There is no «right» way to perceive the album.
AN: Everything is very poetic too. In my review I respectfully said “Czral adds more literary sounding randomness that would now possibly even make Edward Lear sit up and make notes to the overall tableaux.” I’m sure it is very well thought out and not random though and would not be surprised to discover you had a novel or two bubbling under and waiting to be written? Possible idea or an absurd notion?
CME: If you’re gonna be pedantic about it, yes, you might say it’s random, but our music is inviting you out of the ordinary world, where everything is perfectly logical and square. Where inviting you into a different sphere all together. So when someone is asking, like; «how can something drip into orbit!?». That person is obviously refusing to enter that sphere, and refusing to accept the lyrics’ poetic logic. In my view my words need music and vice versa, so, no there’s no novel coming up. There’s a new album coming though, and it might not take 5 years.
AN: What actually comes first the music or the words and how do you tie everything together? I can imagine it being quite a complex task with all three of you brimming with ideas?
CME: Often it starts with a title. For example, a new song we’re working on called «Chernobyl Wildlife». That title governs the arrangement of the song. The words will come once the musical arrangement is finished. And with the words come the melody of the vocals etc. We work together very fluently, the three of us. Plenum is very intuitive. He doesn’t need to see what I’m doing on the guitar (I come up with the guitar-parts), he just feels his way through them, and is immediately onto something on the bass. Einz often comes up with the arrangement in a larger sense. Suggesting when to go over to the next part, how long to linger on each part, etc.
AN: It was left to the equally strange Costin Chioreanu to interpret your music visually with ‘Rogue Fossil,’ the video of which he did an amazing job with. Did you give him any ideas or just leave him to it and what did you think of the result, did he capture your world as you saw it?
CME: That video is a masterpiece. The only thing I mentioned to him was the (animated) film «Fantastic Planet». And I kinda think the video hints at some visuals from that film. Yeah, we gave him full artistic freedom.
AN: Kind of the same question re the cover art. I guess that Trine and Kim were the obvious choice and you must have collaborated many times over the years both in this form and with musical ties via Manimalism?
CME: We’ve worked with Trine and Kim a lot, and we have trust. We just handed it over to them. They have such respect for the music, and we knew it’d be a safe thing to give the same freedom to them.
AN: I’m sure I heard something about live dates or festival shows, any plans cast in stone yet? My wish list would be Virus, Mysticum and Dodheimsgard on the same bill. Aura Noir would be a touch too but guessing two sets a night would be a bit much!
CME: Yeah, I couldn’t do that. That line-up would be great though! We have our release-party next friday (24th June 2016) at a venue in Oslo, a gig at a festival (Dark Bombastic Evening) in Transylvania, one more in Oslo opening for Enslaved in December, one in Trondheim… Other than that, not much really…! And we love playing live! We don’t have a booking-agent right now, so the gigs are thin on the ground… If anyone wanna book us for a festival or something, pm us on FB on Virus – Norway, or e-mail me at email@example.com.
AN: Are you looking to the future for further recordings for Virus yet or still too early? If so have you any firm ideas?
CME: We’re already working on new material. Can’t see why we shouldn’t. We’re on a roll here, the band is in a good groove. Releasing this album has been really inspiring, people are picking up on it now. It’s getting virulent!
AN: Anything else you would like to add for our readers?
CME: The earth’s core does not consist of magma, as previously thought. It’s where all the frightened tractors go! Ever driven by a field completely empty? Where are all the tractors? Well, they hide in the earth’s core, swirling about with their shovels all up in the air..
(Interview Pete Woods)