Stein Akslen on Black Metal's Evolution - Insights from Minneriket

Stein Akslen on Black Metal's Evolution - Insights from Minneriket
Stein Akslen on Black Metal's Evolution - Insights from Minneriket

Minneriket is one of the promising indie black metal bands from Norway, who recently released a new single; "Sorg og Savn" in 2021, and featured here on Metalhead Community with Sorg og Savn review. We have made an exclusive interview with the mastermind behind this project, STEIN AKSLEN, and he was brutally honest with his answers.

In case you'd like to know more about Minneriket,

Norwegian Romantic Black Metal band Minneriket is the work of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Stein Akslen, who created the project for as much a philosophical and spiritual channeling as a musical outlet. Drawing on influences as various as punk, goth, and classical yet steeped in the intensity of the early Norwegian black metal scene, Minneriket returns in 2021 to present 50 shades of blackness.

Q1 - Stein Akslen, please tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do for a living? When and how Minneriket was born? And what does Minneriket mean to you?

A1 - Nothing special really, just a regular bureaucrat trying to make the ends meet. Luckily, since Minneriket isn’t a touring act, I can combine keeping a regular job with working extensively on the music and still have some spare time for other hobbies.

As a musical outlet, Minneriket was born out a desire to create something truly personal. Just take pieces of my heart and soul, bottle it up, drive it through the grinder and see what comes out on the other side. When you’re thinking beyond blood and flesh, what are we really made of? Memories. Experiences. Feelings. I am the sum of all my parts, and my body is a vessel to experience the external forces while at the same time it is a prison for the mind obeying the laws of both science and morality.

Minneriket became kind of an “what if”-project, pure expressionism. What if I go this way? What happens if I push this button? There’s no agenda, no ideology, not doctrines, no orthodoxy. Minneriket is the inside and the outside, the energy I’m feeding of, the logos and the pathos. If the Gerasene demoniac was Legion, then I am the Devils Gaul.

Q2 - What can you tell us about the story behind the name; MINNERIKET?

A2 – It translates into “The realm of memories”. Originally it was the title of a book I published, containing a translation I did of the old Norse poem Voluspå, a commentary and some other art pieces. Just a small, print on demand thing. It started as a lyrical project in nine pieces back in 2006 I think. Parts of that work went into the early Minneriket lyrics.

It’s… I am Loddfavne of the songs, and Minneriket is the well of Mimir. It’s Hlidskjalv, it’s Yggdrasill, it’s the Irminsul where I built my vision. Something personal, something close, while at the same time something general, collective, something we have in common. A core of being.

Q3 - Since your latest single; SORG OG SAVN, how is the feedback so far?

A3 – Mostly positive in my experience. Some mixed feelings of course, that’s natural seeing how it differs from previous work, but in general I think most listeners will see the complexity in it and the beauty between the lines. It might not offer the catharsis you’d expect, but the serenity of the soundscape hopefully speaks to people.

Q4 - What can you tell us about the thematic/lyrical approach in "Sorg og Savn"? What were the main influences? Are there any differences from the previous release in terms of writing?

A4 – It translates to “Sorrow and yearning”, so I guess it’s pretty self-explanatory. It’s a song about loss, while not in the traditional way. You need to let pieces of yourself go. Take one step outside of your sphere, carve the edges off what you see, squeeze what’s left into a diamond and trust the process. None of us are the same person today that we were yesterday, and the song is about accepting this change, while shedding light on how it is okay to mourn the death of yourself.

The funny thing with words are how they can tell you everything, but still not make any sense. How the words I use might alienate you or make you relate. You never know. Two people reading the same words will have different experiences. On the one hand I try to write in general terms, making the content accessible to the listener, but on the other hand what I write about is so personal, so… close to the ego, I just can’t wrap it up in general terms. It’s kind of screaming in your face, while also maintaining a poetic descriptive distance.

Doing some parts in English and some in Norwegian gives it a different flair. Even though the meaning is the same, you experience it differently as a listener. I worked a lot with that approach, how to translate a feeling into the art I present.

Q5 - Where did you record the song? Who produced it? And how are you feeling about the outcome so far?

A5 - It’s been recorded all over the world! Haha. I have my home studio where I’ve recorded all demos, etc. Guitars and lead vocals have been recorded here. There’s a lot of session musicians featured on their song which has recorded their parts on their own. Australia, England, Latvia, Russia, Venezuela, Chile… Some field recordings are done in nature. I did the production and mixing myself once all parts where done, and had it mastered in Chile.

I’m very satisfied with the outcome, and the greatness of it all. Sorg og savn is a taste of the upcoming album, and doing a full-length album of this grandeur has been exciting work.

Q6 – When you musically compare Sorg og Savn (2021) with Minneriket's debut; Vargtimen (2015), what is the picture you see as the main composer? Where was Minneriket musically back then, and where it's headed now?

A6 - I see evolution in terms of packaging, but similar in the core. I am still at the core here. I always make what feels right in the moment. Vargtimen is rough, cold and raw, exactly as it should be. It’s a musical thorn. I couldn’t have made this album today, just as I couldn’t have made songs such as Sorg og savn back then. Actually, it’s been in progress more or less since that time, but I work with parallel projects, changing focus from time to time while trying to keep things clean and pure.

At it’s core it’s the same kind of musical expressionism. It’s just shedding skin like a snake. Or the allegory of the buddhist, if you use a candle to light one more – is it still the same flame? I guess that is up to the audience to decide. I’m just going where the music takes me, trying to bring forth what I have inside without following any set blueprint.

Q7 - Is this musical direction what you have always imagined in your mind, or is it naturally heading somewhere it's destined to?

A7 - It’s right for this upcoming album, but the next one might be different again. I’m not like Darkthrone or Iron Maiden, I have no interest in releasing the same album 14 times in a row. I get it, it’s safe, but it’s boring. Mayhem had a good run, all their first albums where great, but everything after Ordo ad chao went downhill. They’re stuck. Caught up in their own thing, making it limit the creativity. Minneriket will never be about that, I’d rather quit the whole thing. Repetition or stagnation is not an option.

You can’t plan for creativity, but once it hits you like the divine spark, you can facilitate it, nurture it and agree with it. Sometimes even fight it a little, but the most important thing is to listen to whatever speaks to you and not be afraid of changes.

Q8 - Do you think that Minneriket has proved the world its true potential with these releases so far, or is it still early to say that?

A8 - If I were to reach my potential I’d have no reason to keep carry on. So hopefully not. I’ll always strive to be better. But it might show the world some different colours. Sorg og savn paves the way for future music, and those who enjoy that one and Hjemlengsel are in for a treat.

Q9 - How can you define the mission of Minneriket? Where would you like to see Minneriket in the end?

A9 - There are no real ambitions with Minneriket, other than presenting good music to good people. If the name lived on beyond me, I would have achieved more than I dare hope for. If it has to end before that, I will celebrate the funeral. It really doesn’t matter, as long as I do what I do with honesty, conviction, dedication and for the right reasons.

Q10 - If Minneriket was going on a world tour, name 3 bands you'd prefer to have with you on this tour?

A10 - Burzum and Darkthrone as opening acts. Co-headlining with Trelldom.

Q11 - Of course, the pandemic situation. How does it feel to be an indie artist trying to make records during such a dreadful situation?

A11 - The pandemic hasn’t changed how I work at all. If anything, I had more spare time to really focus on the art, putting the pieces together and create the best music I can. As a one-man band with session musicians all over the world, nothing changes. We all experience some fatigue from this of course, but in terms of actual work, I am completely unaffected.

Q12 - How is the current situation there in Oslo in terms of live music? Do you feel like everything is getting back to normal?

A12 - The last concert I went to before the pandemic hit was Slipknot in February 2020. Huge crowd, great show. After that I attended a small show by Klovner I Kamp, a hip-hop group in December 2020. I loved how it was all seated audience, no ruckus. Everything closed down again after that, but I hear there are gigs happening again now. I don’t really know how it is these days. I guess that’s kind of a curse about being a musician yourself, what other people are doing is really not that interesting. I mean, I like concerts for inspiration, and just to feel the energy of great performances, but it’s really, like… If I have all this music in my head that I am able and capable of creating myself, why should I spend time going to see what other people do?

Q13 - What can you tell us about the Short and Long Term Objectives of Minneriket? What is the next checkpoint?

A13 - I’m 100% focues on releasing the full-length album now. Hjemlengsel from February and Sorg og savn in June were the first two tastes of what to come, there’s a whole album ready to go and in the mastering process as we speak. I only set one goal at the time, helps me keep focus, so now I’m all in on releasing this album sometime this fall.

Q14 - What was the image of Minneriket in your heart when you first started? As a special collective of individuals, a full band where everybody's contributing, or a special project of you with session musicians?

A14 - Oh it was all about me, all the way from the beginning. The only reason for including others is that I’m not competent to play all kinds of instruments or do all kinds of voices myself. What I lack in talent and capabilities I need to get elsewhere. Even if I might include one or two people more full time as sparring partners, Minneriket would never be an ordinary democratic band. I’m just not interested in having others meddling with my art. I’m an only child, I never learned to play well with others.

Q15 - What can you tell us about the black metal scene in Norway? About the general mindset and approaches? Any successful acts you'd like to give a shout out here?

A15 - I don’t know, do we still have a Black Metal scene here? I thought it’s mostly stale leftovers or idol-worshipping kids? There’s a few good people of course, competent musicians and solid artists. But this whole Black Metal thing is pretty dead to me. It’s a relic. Like they say, don’t cry ‘cause it’s over, smile ‘cause it happened. Some bands did a fantastic foundation, made history. And we all continue in their legacy. But as far as a scene, a movement or a subculture, that doesn’t really interest me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of the whole cultural value, but you might as well let it rest. It’s been done to death. Tradition is one thing, but orthodoxy is destructive. Self-rightous justice, internal affairs… I prefer the unexpected, and right now Black Metal in Norway is pretty fucking conform and predictable.

Q16 - Which bands are leading the black metal scene at the moment, and how special they are in your opinion?

A16 - Something tells me I’m not the right person to ask this, haha. Gaahls Wyrd did a very interesting album a few years ago which I enjoy. Looking forward to seeing what Satyricon does with the upcoming Munch-exhibit. The latest Wolves in the Throne Room has some great atmospheres, but nothing I haven’t heard before.

I think part of the problem is that the big acts make so much noise that they take up all the space. And every fan has about three bands each, where all their friends are session members. It’s difficult to find any gems. I’m sure there are great bands out there, but as far as anyone being genre defining, I think the throne is up for grabs these days.

Q17 - About the current situation in the music industry, do you believe up-and-coming bands have a better shot than before? or they have lost the essence to make the necessary impact on listeners because there are so many people out there constantly making releases?

A17 - Ah, great question! This is the problem with democracy and equal opportunities! When everyone has a chance things drown. It’s almost impossible to find new and good music when everyone has a band and spamming their social medias and whatnot. You need to navigate a sea of shit to find that one little jewel. When everyone gets a chance, noone has a chance.

Q18 - Top 5 artists/bands influenced Minneriket?

A18 - In general? Burzum, Mortiis, Trelldom, Gorgoroth, Shining.

Q19 - Top 5 albums influenced Sorg og Savn?

A19 -

Stormblåst” by Dimmu Borgir,
On Dark Horses” by Emma Ruth Rundle,
Til et annet…” by Trelldom,
Thirteenth step” by A Perfect Circle,
and “
Hvis lyset tar oss” by Burzum.

The references might not be all that obvious, but I assure you they are there if you peel away the skin and look underneath.

Q20 - Lastly, what would you like to say to our readers?

A20 - Be sure to follow Minneriket on all relevant platforms for the latest news about the upcoming album. If you like it, stream it, buy it, get a t-shirt or just tell your friends, us musicians are nothing without our listeners. You are the underground.


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