Mortiis is hailed by many/most as one of the greatest originators of the now greatly expanding dungeon synth genre. His Era 1 releases considered classics, and highly sought out by the dungeon synth community, as well as by fans of the Cold Meat Industry label, in general, which was home to Mortiis Era 1. With a new round of concerts featuring Era 1 material, a re-issue of his book ‘Secrets of My Kingdom’, and re-issues of many Era 1 albums, it seemed like a great time to have a conversation with the man behind Mortiis and pick his mind about the new book, his re-emergence within the Era 1 context, the Cold Meat Industry 25th anniversary festival and more!
Interviewee: Håvard Ellefsen a.k.a. Mortiis
Conducted by: Michael Barnett
Michael: The last year or so has been pretty crazy for you, it seems. Since your re-emergence in 2015, there has been a simultaneous flow of new fans to your Era 1 material, which culminated in the recent tour and appearance at the Cold Meat Industry 25th anniversary festival. In general, how have you been feeling about all this change?
Mortiis: Good. The only regret I have is that everything should have happened sooner. Especially the release of The Great Deceiver. But a lot of shit got in the way of that, so it wasn´t so much that we were dormant or inactive prior to 2015, we were just dealing with a ton of crap in the background. All that bullshit culminated in us getting rid of some, let´s say, obstacles in the “organization”, that had been wasting a lot of our time, especially in the couple of years leading up to the release of The Great Deceiver. From that moment on, you could almost physically feel the shifting of gears and actual forward movement.
Michael: More specifically, are you pleased to see your old work coming back to prominence so many years later?
Mortiis: To be honest I think it´s cool that people like my music, regardless of when it was made. I just think it´s cool to see people dig my stuff…I didn´t always feel this way…A few years back, I wanted people to feel the way I did, which was, invariably, that my latest music was the best…That´s not realistic, obviously. But I wanted things to be like that. Needless to say, an artist should always feel that the latest work is the best, but it´s not realistic to expect everyone else to agree.
Michael: After this round of 1st era re-issues, the touring, and the re-printing of your long sold out, and greatly sought after “Secrets of My Kingdom” book, what is next for Mortiis? Will the full focus return to Mortiis, the band, as opposed to Mortiis, the dark dungeon music guy?
Mortiis: We´ll have to see about that. I´d like to get another album out of the Era 1 style stuff, but brought into the light on current times. The band will resurface, because so much of my heart and soul has been vested into it, and the music and energy that it inspires in me, so I could never let that go.
As of right now. I am committed to a lot of shows for the rest of the year, and beyond that, I have many plans and ideas, and I´ll just reveal that along the way, when the time is right, haha!
Michael: Your own music aside, what are your feelings on this huge re-emergence of dungeon synth?
Mortiis: It sort of happened in my absence, and I wasn´t really made aware of it until I peronally came to terms with my musical past, which I had a lot of personal issues with up until about 2-3 years ago, when my mind became less foggy and judgemental about it. By that point, it seemed to have been growing to a decent size…It´s interesting that its happening now. Because, I don´t think my reissues had anything to do with this emergence. I think it´s a monster all on its own, so to speak. So it would appear it´s really just a very cool coincidence. I still haven´t been able to check out a lot of it. Although, I have done shows with projects like Old Tower recently, which sounds pretty cool me.
Michael: You’ve marked your stamp of approval on several recent dungeon synth releases, including Machina Coeli’s Gnosis, and at least one other that escapes me at the moment. I’ve also seen your name in the “thank you” sections of many artists’ albums. What do you think your position is within this new dungeon synth community? Are you keeping an eye on new projects, or do you mostly ignore these trends/communities and focus on your own work?
Mortiis: I don´t ignore them, I´m just not as good as I should be on checking them out. It´s all about lack of time really. I´m pretty swamped at the moment, and have been for some time… I see the forums online and I notice a lot of these names. So, I think a good portion of what´s out there, at least I´ve seen their names around, if nothing else. As for my position, I don´t know, I don´t really want to speculate in that. And, it´s not really up to me anyway, to place myself in any sort of hierarchy. If that makes any sense. I think I´m well respected by most people into dungeon synth. Although, I remember one douchebag being very personally offended at me for posting in a forum that was for French DS people only, which I missed. He got all worked up about it. Maybe he hoped for some sort of response. He never got one, so he was probably punching a screen somewhere. Hopefully it broke.
Michael: If you had one piece of advice to give new dungeon synth artists, what would that be?
Mortiis: Don´t post on French DS forums, haha! Nah, the French are OK, except this one dude, haha! To be honest, I´m not a DS expert, I don´t have it “all figured out” or anything. When I started out, I took a lot of shit for being an outsider visually, and making music that was hard to pigeonhole, so my best advice is to just keep at it. If it feels right, then let the world burn, fuck the critics, be yourself.
When I started out, I took a lot of shit for being an outsider visually, and making music that was hard to pigeonhole, so my best advice is to just keep at it. If it feels right, then let the world burn, fuck the critics, be yourself.
Michael: I mentioned earlier the CMI festival. How was that experience for you? Was it surreal to come back together with so many of these people from your formative years?
Mortiis: It was cool to meet guys like Tomas from Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio, Peter from Deutsch Nepal and Peter from Raison d’etre, as I hadn´t met them for years. Jouni, from In Slaughter Natives, I worked with a few years ago on mastering some of my music, so it hadn’t been that long since we´d last met, but of course it is always nice to meet Jouni. The experience was cool, I mean kind of scary, since it was my first Era 1 show in about 18 years, and I was doing things a bit different than the past anyway, so in a sense this was almost like a debut show. I think a lot of people got into it, but of course CMI attracts a lot of somewhat elitist types, with very specific tastes and with strong opinions on what they like and don´t like, so I think there was a clique of guys like that that probably had no time for me, to put it that way, but I knew that was going to happen. In that sense nothing has changed since the old CMI days when I used to go out and do shows with Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio, Raison d’etre, In Slaughter Natives, and so on.
Michael: You have been taking Era 1 on tour recently. What are your general thoughts on live performances of dungeon synth / dark dungeon music? Do you think this is an important aspect for any musician, or is it personal taste?
Mortiis: I think it´s all personal. Either you want to go out and play live, or you don´t. I´ve gotten used to it, so I´m always up for doing a show, as long as the promoters aren´t trying to pull quickies and pay peanuts and fuck you over, but I usually catch those fuckers out before the 3rd email, so they´re goners if it doesn´t feel good. We´re done at that point.
Regardless, I think all music deserves a shot at proving itself on stage.
Michael: You’ve re-released “Secrets of my Kingdom”, now entitled: “Secrets of my Kingdom: Return to Dimensions Unknown”. How has the response to this been from fans?
Mortiis: Very good. I think people really appreciate the additional work we put into it. There´s about 100 pages of bonus material consisting of unpublished texts, artwork, interviews, and so on…The response has been nothing but positive, from where I´m standing anyway.
Michael: Are you personally pleased with the final product and working with Cult Never Dies?
Mortiis: Yes, totally. Dayal is a pretty passionate guy about the product he makes, so he really pushes to make it the best it can be.
Michael: This book re-issue, as well as the era 1 album re-issues, contain artwork by David Thierree. Are you personally acquainted with him, or did you two only work together on these releases? Will you be planning to contract him for work again in the future? Also, I wonder if you have a favorite of his re-imaginings?
Mortiis: We´ve known each other for a long time, but we only really reconnected over these reissues I guess about 2 years ago. We´ve been in pretty steady contact ever since. He also worked with me on a bunch of pieces for my live show. There will be at least one more release coming shortly, that includes his artwork, and that one may well be my favourite. Other than that, it´s a hard choice. I think the Født til å Herske artwork looks brilliant, but the Keiser Av En Dimensjon Ukjent artwork has so many hidden signs and symbols and references, it´s kinda hard not to pick that one as a current favourite.
Michael: In your interview within the new book, you mention that most of this body of work comes from your teenage years, and that you don’t fully appreciate it as much as you might like. What were the changes/arguments made that brought you to re-release this book? Do you feel that this newer version has been redeemed of any potential flaws you saw in its original form?
Mortiis: There´s the intro from the original 2001 version, that was written at some point during the year 2000, and at that point I was very disillusioned with my ’90s output. All across the board: music, lyrics, etc… That had more to do with me sinking into a depression that was deeper and darker than I realized at the time. I can see that now, in retrospect. In the interview, in the book, that I did with Dayal across several 2-3 hour phone conversations, I did probably touch upon this a lot, too. Because, it´s the main reason Era 1, to me, was locked away in some deeply hidden mental closet, and I threw away the key, just to use a worn out cliché.
I don´t think the original book was flawed, it has many things about it that I like. But the new edition is better, improved in the sense that it´s physically larger, it has more content, and I personally shed a lot of light on those days, which we thought would be interesting to the hard-core fan, if no one else. All the material was written between 1992 and 1999, though the bulk would have been written between 1992-1996, so I would have been 17-21 years of age when most of that was written.
Michael: Are there marked differences between your fan-base for Era 2/3/0 and those of Era 1? Would you say one group or another has a sort of darker mentality?
Mortiis: Not sure. I mean, if I was to point anything out, I think metal people, for a reason I still can´t properly understand, beyond the fact that they may be connecting with some sort of primal atmospheric element in the era 1 stuff, seem to like Era 1 a lot more than everything else that came after. But it´s not a rule of thumb. I get people that are fans of everything I´ve done, then I get the sort of industrial/electronic/goth person that got into Mortiis post- Era 1. It really varies, but it´s not like I could point at a guy in the room and tell you what Mortiis records he´s going to be into.
Michael: I recently discovered your 25 minute music video ‘Reisene Til Grotter Og Odemarker’. Those dark and smoky corridors and stone towers were the perfect accompaniment to your sound and your image. Would you be open to doing something like this again? Or is this something that you lost respect for over the years?
Mortiis: I didn´t lose respect for it. VENOM did shit in castles, so how can I lose respect for it? Haha! I just completed filming for a new video to be used for some Era 1 stuff down the line. It´s not in a castle, though, but it´s pretty damn dark stuff anyway.
Michael: Can you remember back to a time when these ideas of “Mortiis” first came into your mind? Were you a child, imagining these dark images and soundscapes, or did this come to you later as you began discovering black metal and the darker side of the global community?
Mortiis: The first lyrics I wrote that became the Mortiis mythology, in the summer of 1992, were all supposed to be used for a planned Emperor concept album. That never happened obviously, since I didn´t last very long in the band after that. I had sketched out a dark otherworld in those 10-12 lyrics, and I brought them all with me, because I knew I wanted to base my music around them. That´s how it got started.
Michael: Politics are on everyone’s minds these days. No need to give an affiliation or ideology, but I wonder how you generally feel about this political landscape? Will it all calm down, and life go back to the mundane boring nature of the last 30 years, or are we headed for darker, more uncertain times?
Mortiis: Well it´s steadily been becoming more and more uncertain, and increasingly hostile and violent, and we have world leaders that seem more occupied with feeding fear and stroking their own egos, than actually going to work, so as it stands right now, I don´t think it´s looking that great. I hope things will get better. I have kids, and I don´t want them to grow up in some sort of dystopian, cynical future. But when people think they can run the world like a company, with no real interest in ramifications and the ripple effects of your actions…Who knows where things will end.
Michael: Thank you so much for your time. Is there anything else you would like to tell readers, which I have overlooked?
Mortiis: Thanks for your interest. Check out www.mortiiswebstore.com for vinyl, CD, shirts and other merchandise. Thanks!
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