It is no secret that all of us here at Direct Merch love our black metal with an ardent passion. So it goes without saying that being able to speak with someone who has been a part of that scene since the early 90’s and continues to dedicate a lot of time and effort to his art, is truly inspiring. It has been four very long years since I last spoke to Tor Risdal ‘Seidemann’ Stavenes, of 1349, Mortem and Svart Lotus fame. In that time, the Norwegian vocalist, guitarist and bassist has had quite a lot going on. It was a pleasure catching up as we discussed black metal, Lovecraft, and his journey through the years as a musician. Tor is currently in the process of working on the second Svart Lotus album which is scheduled to release next year, a project he began a few years ago.
“It has been a very long time since we last spoke; a lot has happened since then. Well 2020 happened, and everything that I enjoy doing, kind of disappeared. I couldn't tour or play shows and I couldn't really leave my village. So, I realised very quickly that this was the perfect opportunity for me to finish the next Svart Lotus album, which I’ve been working on in between all the other stuff. However, I also realised that if I rush that album now and release it, it will be at the same time as everyone else and I don’t want to get in line behind all the big guns. So I decided maybe I’ll do what popstars do and make singles, that's apparently how music works these days! I’m old-fashioned and I like albums. But I’ve finished writing the album and the two extra singles because I am me, I am a bit weird of course, you have to be if you’re a musician and if you play black metal. I have two songs that I don’t want to have on the album so it makes perfect sense. The first was ‘Nekroestetikk’ which is kind of an old man song when I think about the kids of today and how I don’t understand what the fuck is going on anymore.”
While sharing the ‘old man’ sentiment in general with my friend, I do feel ‘Nekroestetikk’ is a very strong track that exhibits the band’s ability to experiment and gives listeners a taste of what’s to come with the upcoming release. It also sees Tor express a different side to him as a musician. We talked about the inspiration behind this track, and there is definitely quite a story behind it.
“Well, with the previous album ‘Stemmer Fra Dypet’ (The Voices from the Deep), it was basically a very introverted, long, doomy album about the voices in my head. I kind of felt that I’ve done the thick, seven-minute, slow stuff with that album and that maybe I should try something light for once - with a more thrashy, rock ‘n’ roll vibe. I have other bands for the other stuff so it was clear to me very early on that, with Svart Lotus, I needed to get into whatever I felt like at the time. With ‘Nekroestetik’, it didn’t matter what I did, as long as it was what I wanted to do! I mean, the whole intro for the song is a whole other story. I was at the dentist, scraping some stuff off my teeth, and there was this terrible, terrible sound. At some point, I asked the dentist if that sound was as loud outside my head as it was inside, to which he said yes. So then I said, “Ok, cool. Can I record it?” The room went quiet! We rescheduled because I didn’t have a recorder, so I went back later to get my teeth done and record that sound. So the intro to Nekroestetik is basically live from my mouth.”
If that isn’t one of the greatest stories of inspiration for a track you’ve heard, then I don’t know what is. There is more to it though. The idea for this new project was born from Tor’s desire to explore and begin something that was his own. Thus, came to life, the unorthodox, sinister yet strangely comforting sounds of Svart Lotus.
“There was always a lot of stuff happening in my life. One of the most annoying things about being me is that I have moments where I think 100% that this is it, I’m not going to play instruments again. I’m going to cut my hair, get a job and be a normal person. But I fail miserably at those things and luckily I do, so I always return to music. The project was born from this kind of ‘ah fuck it’ attitude. I figured I would try to be a guitarist, vocalist and try to have my own band, so I did the EP and the album and the single after that. I wanted to show myself and hopefully someone else that I could be the guy up front with a guitar instead of the guy with a bass on the side. I can be the guy who writes the songs, fronts and drives the band. I haven't really done that since I was 15 or something so it was time for me to see if I still had it. With 1349, I’ve become comfortable over the years; we have Archaon who writes most of the music, we have Destroyer who writes most of the lyrics so I was in a bit of a limbo about what I can do.”
What began as a solo project with an acoustic guitar has now evolved into an incredible four piece band, a band that Tor is extremely proud of. Svart Lotus has played quite a few shows over the last couple of years and is on the way to releasing their second album.
“In the beginning, I figured I would try to be a guitarist, vocalist and try to have my own band with Svart Lotus around the same time, so I did the EP and the album and the single after that before we got to 2020. But I have to say this in every interview because it’s important; Svart Lotus is not just me writing everything, it’s still very much a band. With the three other guys - I don’t really have to write the parts. They come and add their stuff, and are part of the whole process. I say this because I know how it feels to be in someone else’s project. I actually met the drummer Eivin Brye by coincidence and asked if he wanted to jam. He was also in another local band and they had a bass player who did vocals. I then found a guitarist who is much better than me, which is very helpful - when you have someone who is better than you. Every time I played something complicated, I would show it to him and tell him to play it properly. He would laugh, play it properly and I’d just say ‘f*ck you’. I mean he's fantastic! It’s a beautiful thing because if even one of us is missing, something feels incomplete.”
I love depth to my music; I appreciate it all the more when I know and understand where it is coming from, the atmosphere in which it was created. It undoubtedly delves into a part of the soul, and for the musician writing it, sometimes this process isn’t always the easiest but is certainly rewarding. For the title track of ‘Stemmer Fra Dypet’, Tor decided to bring together various languages of the world to represent something powerful, a track which features none other than Mirai Kanaigawa of Japanese legends SIGH.
“Imagine you're somewhere in the world and you hear a song in a language you can't understand. But then suddenly, you can actually understand. I thought it would be cool if someone from a different country listened to the song and heard their language. That was sort of the concept I had in mind. I’ve been lucky enough to travel quite a bit and for some weird reason, when we played in Japan, the local support in Tokyo was SIGH. What the f*ck? Local support? They should’ve been headlining haha! Going back to 1993, I still remember the first time I heard ‘Scorn Defeat’! So, of course, I grabbed a hold of Mirai, thanked him profusely for all the fantastic music he has done and that’s how I got him on the track. I told him how I wanted the voices in my head to speak many languages on this track and so he contributed with Japanese. But he sounded so fucking good that I had to put him on the intro as well. I also gathered as many people as I could from the local village who spoke French, Portugese, etc. I wanted more but I couldn’t get all the voices I wanted. But it was basically representative of all the voices that kept telling me I can’t do this.”
Intrigued, and quite in awe of what the significance behind the first album was, I asked Tor about the track ‘1993’. It is always fascinating to me, speaking to musicians who have been in the black metal scene, for longer than I’ve been on Earth.
“With black metal in the beginning from the 90’s when I got into it and what really drew me to it is also what I sing about in the song ‘1993’. The fact that there were all these bands that were kind of true black metal or whatever the fuck you would say; they were all black metal, none of them sounded the same. They were all different, and they were all trying to make their own style of music instead of trying to be someone else. Now a lot of people try to sound like DarkThrone from 1993 but I mean Dark Throne doesn't try to sound like Dark Throne in 1993.”
Like I said, there is more to some music than meets the eye (or ears as the case may be) and this is certainly true of Tor’s work. This also led us into one of my favourite parts of our conversation; a mutually shared love for Lovecraft and his literature. It’s always enthralling to see how different bands interpret his stories and theories, inculcating them into their music in various ways and Tor has definitely woven Lovecraftian themes into black metal rather artistically and subtly.
Svart Lotus, in fact, translated from Norwegian means ‘black lotus’ which is a fictional flower with esoteric properties and seen in the works of H.P.Lovecraft, granting people visions of ultimate realities, something which is definitely captured in their music. Having always been a voracious reader, it was very interesting and insightful to listen to Tor talk about how he first came across the world of Lovecraft.
“The name just made sense; a Lotus is also something beautiful rising from the muck, and black metal is also something beautiful that is slightly hidden or not immediately accessible. So that was the other meaning to me. Also, it was an atypical black metal band name, I wanted something different. I’ve always read a lot of books. I’ve been lucky. We always had bookshelves full of books when I was growing up. So at some point, like every other ten-year old I read Stephen King. He was easy to read and occasionally entertaining but it kind of dawned on me after a while - it builds up into these massively evil things and then sort of falls flat on its face. There always has to be happy endings as that’s what wins.”
“But there were references in his books to something else. There was the Necronomicon reference, Yog Sothoth as well - these were clearly from another world. By chance, when I was 13, I stumbled upon a terrible Norwegian translation of Lovecraft at the local library here. I began reading ‘The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Tales’, and began consuming those stories. There are issues with Lovecraft of course but then again, it was the 1920’s and he wasn’t the most mentally solid person. For me though, the thing about Lovecraft is that grand, cosmic view; that all human ideas, emotions, thoughts, etc; they don’t matter. Cthulhu will rise up regardless and he doesn’t care because he’ll just eat everyone! Kenneth Grant who was a student of Alistair Crowley argues that Lovecraft wasn’t a horror writer, he was a prophet. It’s very interesting!”
However, Tor’s inspiration to write comes from many other, different places as well.
I allow myself once per album, to write about political stuff to a certain degree, such as environmentalism, capitalism, consumerism, all these things. All this craziness on the internet, there’s always so much happening. Other than that, usually once per album at least, I allow myself to write about personal stuff. I have done this with 1349 too actually, way back on ‘Beyond The Apocalypse’, there is a somewhat autobiographical song called ‘Singer of Strange Songs’ which I think is the first time I decided to let chaos have a rest for a while and to just write about how I feel. I have been doing that more often with Svart Lotus and I allow myself to do so - it's about my vision to a certain degree.”
It has been quite a journey for Svart Lotus, with more on the horizon and Tor reflected on the importance of expression in his music and the desire to create music that was just for himself.
“I’ve always done stuff that is very, very different from what I do with Svart Lotus. If we speak about 1349 which is kind of my main band, it has been going for the last 20+ years. It's a very serious, grim and focused band with no compromises on those aspects. I love it. It's been a kind of purification and refinement of a certain aspect of me, and I love that but I’m not that one sided either. I suspect there's this musician kid inside of me who wants to play weird shit, one who grew up listening to all sorts of music. In fact, I’ve never told anyone about this but I spent a lot of time in the 2000’s making very very strange electronic, improvised music under a totally different name. I will never tell anyone the name of that project because it’s terrible but I did it for fun you know.
“Luckily that hard drive is gone, all that stuff is gone and I’m super happy about it because it was shit but it was for myself and my own enjoyment. I think that's the way this kind of loops back to Svart Lotus - that spirit I hoped I could apply to Svart Lotus, I mean I have somehow managed to understand how I can put stuff into this black metal sort of thing that Svart Lotus is without making it silly or jarring because if you mix a lot of stuff it can easily get disjointed. All that being said, there will be another single this year and the full album next year. I mean it’s all written, just has to be recorded. Svart Lotus is digital more or less, and we release the music on my label but it's maybe not promoted as much and kind of gets lost because business isn't my thing. I need it to be released in it’s own time so it can go around easily, and give it its own breathing space.”
Speaking of 1349, the black metal band from Oslo has been around since the mid 90’s, one that rose from the ashes of Alvheim. The history of how bands came together, their purpose, vision, etc is something I’m always striving to learn and write more about and 1349 began with, in my opinion, a very exceptional vision in mind.
“Well the current vocalist of 1349, Ravn, was the drummer back then and he grew up in the same village that I grew up in. So we kind of experimented in dabbling in black metal but I mean it was just the two of us. Eventually he moved away to the big city and had bands, but was keeping the bass player position open for me. So as we get to around 1997, he called me and said that he had formed a band and that he wanted me to go to Oslo and play there. So of course, I went straight away. 1998 was the first album we released which I don’t think you can find anywhere. I don’t even have it myself.”
“Around that time though, there was this massive misunderstanding about 1349s because we don't like synthesisers. That wasn’t the problem. For me the problem was how the synthesisers were used. Dimmu Borgir had found a way to do it and then everyone else wanted to do it the Dimmu Way. I mean Emperor used keyboards all the time and I love Emperor, even Enslaved! Quite a few bands knew how to use it and use it well but then there were a lot of bands who played basically 80’s heavy metal riffs and added this weird (imitates weird sound) on top. What the f*ck! No it doesnt give me that black metal spirit, it doesnt give me the feeling that I want from black metal. Luckily, back then, instead of going online and saying f*ck this shit you say maybe we just try to make black metal the way we want it to be. If what you want doesn't exist right now, then go out make it. That was basically how 1349 began.”
With over 20 years of experience in the world of music, it was really nice to hear Tor look back on some of his favourite moments, hearing that passion in his voice and listening to just how much he loves what he does. There’s also a little Celtic Frost moment in there that he shared.
“I’m blessed because I love being on stage. With every show I play, as soon as I’m on stage, put on the cape and everything and I get into 1349 mode, then I love it! It’s the best feeling I’ve ever felt in my life, better than anything else. I’ve done quite a lot of shows, it’s hard to pinpoint one moment but I mean let’s be bloody honest. I’ve played a Celtic Frost song with Tom G Warrior and the 15-year old in me is still kind of thrilled about that. We did that at a couple of shows actually; somewhere in Switzerland in 2005, at Inferno in 2009. It has always been f*cking great. I mean, the best thing about 1349 is - well, the whole thing basically! For these 20 something years, I’ve been able to travel, play shows for a lot of people, get a lot of contacts, and actually meet those I wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for touring. Before 1349 I never travelled, I had maybe been to the other Scandinavian countries, like maybe Sweden and Denmark. I had never seen the world. I mean, you can still argue that I haven’t seen the world, I’ve only seen the venues and airports but I have been to many countries and met many people, and I love it.”
I had the honour of seeing 1349 live at the 15th anniversary of Inferno Metal festival in 2015 and they are arguably one of the greatest live acts I’ve ever seen. They brought this powerful presence to the stage and it was certainly a memorable performance.
“Thank you for saying that, it’s very nice to hear! 1349 is special in the way in that it’s greater than the sum of its parts. Because we are four indiviuduals that are very different in a lot of ways. There has always been this intention and spirit of why we’re doing this and that we’re going to do it properly. It has to be intense and it has to be proper. We can’t do anything halfway and I think we spend a lot of time before the show, getting ready, getting into the right spirit of the band. If your mind gets in the way, you can get self conscious, like what are we doing really, a bunch of dudes in white paint jumping around on instruments. It’s all about the spirit of the band - you just have to unleash the beast.”
With that, Tor Seidemann imparted one last piece of wisdom, bringing to an end a very insightful and thought-provoking conversation.
“I may have missed out on a lot of good stuff, but we toured with Origin some years ago and I realised that death metal was alive and well, stuff that I haven’t really paid attention to since the early 90’s. For me, as long as music has a certain heart and soul, it has a feeling, genres are really not that important. People have this saying - ‘guilty pleasure’ - but I’m like you’re not Christian so why the f*ck do you have to have guilt? If you like something, like something and that’s cool. Well, that’s my opinion. But thank you for the interview and I hope that eventually this craziness will pass so we can get out on the road again and play shows! I would love to come back to Australia, with 1349 and Svart Lotus last time was f*cking cool!”