With new album Katedralen, Thomas Eriksen has taken Mork to new heights. Rich Holmes found out what makes his black metal mind tick…and why the Coronavirus pandemic has broadened the Norwegian’s horizons.
“Black metal to me is really solitary. It is about being a hermit…and the coldness of just being yourself.”
Thomas Eriksen, founder and sole member of Norwegian black metal act Mork, has no desire to let others dilute or distort his musical vision.
He is following his own path.
Eriksen’s journey has taken him from the bare foundations unveiled in 2007’s Rota til ondskap demo collection to the spectacular, black metal edifice of Katedralen, which was released this month.
Along the way, he’s signed to legendary UK label Peaceville, performed across the world and gained a reputation as one of Norwegian BM’s most enthralling songsmiths.
The vocalist/guitarist is joined by a full live band while on stage.
But the creative architecture behind five albums, three EPs and two splits belong solely to Eriksen.
Given the success of 2019’s landmark Det svarte juv and the acclaim heaped on Katedralen, the approach has clearly paid dividends.
“I grew up as an only child and played alone,” says Eriksen, from his studio in Halden. “It makes you a creative person, but also a total egotist!
“I know what I want. When I sit down with a guitar and a drum beat I can already see the full picture of what I am after, so letting someone else into the creative part of Mork would just take away from it in my eyes.”
At its core, Katedralen stays true to Eriksen’s love of Darkthrone and Burzum.
But Mork’s fifth full length is adventurous and expansive, a place where the melodic tinges of previous records are more deeply embedded, an album where – on the likes of Arv – choruses soar.
Eriksen has spread his blackened wings over Katedralen’s eight songs.
“For each album I have done, I have been opening more creative flow,” the Norwegian explains. “I have been playing music since 1997 and have been going for a long time but my first black metal album (Isebakke) came in 2014.
“Going back to the first Mork demo, when I started out I hadn’t found myself within black metal, it was new. I was inspired by these old bands and it was based more on the atmosphere back then, and it came out a bit ‘stiff’.
“I have a lot of experience in music but I hadn’t dared to let all of it into Mork.
“But when I come around to the present day I don’t care. I Iet the creative flow to be what it is.
“It is important to me to use everything, all of my mind and body, in these songs.”
Katedralen encompasses abrasive, black ‘n’ roll groove, chilling atmospherics, Arctic blastwaves and ferocious, intricate fretwork.
Listen to the album, and you’ll get the sense that Eriksen is using all of the tools at his disposal.
He’s not holding back.
And a notable addition to Katedralen is the mournful organ tones which both herald the album’s arrival with Dodsmarsjen and draw it to a spectral close on De Fortapte Sjelers Katedral, Mork’s longest track to date.
The song was inspired by Eriksen’s vision of a chain of lost souls walking towards a gigantic cathedral, where they’ll be kept for all eternity…and the organ work by Eero Pöyry, of Finnish funeral doom outfit Skepticism, helps to bring this vision to eerie, bleak life. “It’s a story I have been dreaming about for many years,” says Eriksen. “And finally I found a place where it belongs.”
Skepticism’s music has had a deeply profound effect on Eriksen…and the collaboration with Pöyry feels like it was destined to be.
“When I found black metal I also found funeral doom,” Mork’s mainman explains. “And when I say I found funeral doom I basically stumbled across Skepticism. I remember listening to Sign Of A Storm (from 2002’s Stormcrowfleet) and it was extreme, but in another way.
“I had never felt so alone, hopeless and overwhelmingly depressive as when I listened to that track and I will never forget that feeling.
“They pushed some buttons in my emotional register and that has remained with me ever since.
“When I made De Fortapte Sjelers Katedral I remember I came to the end riff and started to feel that it was reminding me about funeral doom.
“The cathedral has an organ, so I thought why not reach out and find that guy in Skepticism?
“I got hold of Eero just before the pandemic bullshit broke out. He accepted my invitation to be on the album and he delivered magic!”
Mork and friends…
Mork might be a comparatively recent addition to Norwegian black metal’s pantheon, but Eriksen is held in considerable esteem by the scene’s old guard.
Kampfar vocalist Dolk, for instance, appears on Katedralen’s Født Til Å Herske and Darkthrone’s Nocturno Culto – aka Ted Skjellum – lends his rasp to Svartmalt. It’s the second time he’s contributed to a Mork record, after featuring on Hudbreiderens Revir from 2016’s Den Vandrende Skygge – a song Skjellum has performed live with Eriksen since then.
“I got to know Ted in 2014 or 15,” Eriksen recalls. “The first time around it was really special that Nocturno Culto was singing my lyrics to my song. He did that in his own studio back then and we weren’t together when he laid down those tracks.
“I received a CD in the mail with his tracks and I remember listening back and it was really special, because it was my music and that guy!
“It was way more laid back this time around, as we are now at the point that we are buddies.
“Obviously when someone from those bands actually shows me some interest and appreciation as a creative artist that means a lot to me, but I am not a big fanboy.
“The first time you bump into these people it is of course a bit special, because they started that ‘process’ in your head. But I see these guys as my peers and not really as rock stars.”
Indeed, the songwriter’s close relationships with black metal’s progenitors and innovators has played a large part in the success of The Thomas Eriksen Podcast, which he launched in 2020 during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Eriksen’s relaxed style – and his evident bonhomie with many of his guests – has attracted thousands of black metal fans, who are eager for an insight into some of the genre’s finest (and in some cases most mysterious) musicians.
Its popularity has taken Eriksen by surprise…
“I have been a fan of podcasts for several years and have been dreaming about doing something like that.
“My main concern has always been, ‘how the hell can I sit down and talk for more than five minutes?’.
“And not only to talk for a long time, but keep it interesting, so I kind of surprised myself.
“I will keep it up as long as I have time and as long as the guests keep coming!”
Reflections on Mork
A 17-year career in black metal and a back catalogue that dwarfs that of many older, more ‘legendary’ artists…it’s one hell of an achievement by anyone’s standards.
And you sense that thanks to Katedralen’s impact, Mork’s momentum is accelerating – pandemic or no pandemic.
“Mork really took off at a faster pace than I expected it to,” says Eriksen, looking back. “When I made Isebakke I thought I would make 100 or 200 CDRs and perhaps do some YouTube and smaller stuff.
“All of a sudden I got signed. And then I got signed to Peaceville and we started playing live all over the world. It escalated so fast that things are a bit unreal.”
Yet there’s no sign of compromise. Eriksen is resolute in his desire to make music on his own terms.
“I really don’t create my music for people, I do it basically to please myself,” he concludes. “Mork has become a really big part of my life and being. If I didn’t take myself into consideration it could never have lasted.”
Mork photos by Meta Photography – Terje Johansen.