One Tail, One Head | Interview
Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone: Norway’s position at the forefront of black metal has been carved deep into the ancient tablets of metal lore. The legacy of blood, evil and violence- both musical and physical- have been well documented and scrutinized ever since those characters crawled from (or maybe to?) their caves to slay and burn their way into the imaginations of metal-heads across the world.
Since the mid nineties, however, Norway has arguably lost its hold on the crown of black metal and more recent years have shown an increased interest in what the rest of the world has/had to offer. The past few years have, however, presented a number of new and exciting bands to emerge from the dark and cold climes of Norway, with Trondheim in particular spewing forth some of the most noxious black art of recent times, thus flinging down the gauntlet to any pretenders vying for the throne.
One such troupe is One Tail, One Head. Over the course of two demos and two 7”es the band has captured the imagination of the underground so it was my duty to get in touch and try to find out what it means to be a black metal band in Norway today. Turn off the lights, turn up the music and read on…
“One Tail, One Head was born at some point back in 2006. We were only two back then. We played around with a few songs and riffs with the aim of creating something utterly primitive and ugly, even more so than what we already did in other bands.
We both had a great liking for Ildjarn and bands like that, and probably wanted to pay some kind of tribute. It quickly developed into something different when we completed the line up the next year. As a full band we simple went with the flow and did what felt best at rehearsals, and thus the sound started to change towards what you hear today. We continued to work on four songs from the early days and these were recorded for our first demo.
The members of OTOH are also active in bands like Mare, Celestial Bloodshed, Altaar, Vemod and others.”
Your two demos have recently been re-released on 7”, albeit in stripped down form. Were you unhappy with the tape versions or had you always intended to release them on various formats? Why did you choose to omit certain songs from the originals?
“We were not at all unhappy with the tape versions. We all enjoy that harsh rehearsal-ish sound. The sound-scapes created in recordings like that is a great starting point for any underground metal band, and it was very natural for us to release something in such a spirit before taking the next step.
The tapes we released were also demos in the true sense of the word: demonstration tapes. We wanted to give people a taste of what we were doing. A rather foul taste to some, perhaps.”
‘In The Golden Light’ and ‘The Splendour of The Trident Tyger’, the two tracks found on the Tandava 7”, were supposed to be featured on an exclusive 7” EP all along. We recorded them on this rehearsal demo thing (the one people call ‘Demo II’) along with a few other tracks we were working on at the time, just to have something new to offer people at Nidrosian Black Mass II in 2008.
When in studio for the recording of the 7”, we found ourselves being more effective than we expected, and suddenly we had some extra time to record more songs. Thus we decided to go on recording and we did the four tracks from our first demo, resulting in a brand new 7” with the same name.
Some of the material off the NBM tape will be featured in our upcoming full length, sometime in the future.”
While your sound is rooted in traditional Norwegian black metal you very much have your own identity. Which do you think is more important, keeping tradition alive or forging your own path? Are the two mutually exclusive?
“Not mutually exclusive at all. No tradition is static. Everything is in constant motion. We tread our own path, no doubt about that, but at the same time we cannot deny that we naturally fall into some kind of tradition. No need to put tradition and identity up against each other, because the connection is always present.
You say Norwegian black metal, and that is fine. People seem to detect elements from many different sources in our sound, despite the simplicity of our music. We have our influences, both conscious and unconscious, and the music comes through quite naturally. With this natural process comes identity. We have an honest and passionate approach to what we do, and we believe this shines through and adds to the spirit of One Tail, One Head.”
There have been one or two minor developments that I can detect between both demos. The first demo pays more homage to the old ways both in terms of sound and image while the second demo has a little bit more of a rock n’ roll swagger, something that is reflected in your new photos, revealing a new ‘evil glam’ (sorry!) type of look.
The black metal world often presents itself as being both proud and stubborn, so where do you view the line in terms of representing an honest interpretation of what you are and what black metal is, or do such matters concern you?
“The “what black metal is” discussion is completely uninteresting to us as a band. We have never ardently proclaimed to be a strict black metal band either (this is rather the work of labels, distros, listeners and commentators), nor to represent what black metal is or should be. One Tail, One Head is clearly a metal band, and we leave any definition beyond that to listeners and outsiders.
We believe in the power to create and manifest our visions by our own premises. The danger of getting too hung up within the “discourse of black metal” is to somewhat lose yourself and let external factors (in this case the many unwritten rules of black metal and their defenders and even slaves) dominate your work.
This must be avoided. So, in other words, what we are matters, what black metal is does not. That said, OTOH does not encapsulate the totality of our beings in any way. You would not be able to discern the individual personalities behind the band by analyzing OTOH.
We look both forward and backward musically, without any particular emphasis on either of them. We simply do what we feel like. Your observation is quite interesting, as one could argue that these “rock’n roll” elements reach farther back in time than these “old ways” you speak of. This is just a matter of perspective. No matter how you choose to look at it, both of these stylistic elements have their rightful place in OTOH.
And man, evil glam? Seriously?”
The Nidrosian (Trondheim) scene seems to be bursting with activity. The few bands I have heard from there all seem to really capture the essence and magic of black metal. What bands do you support from there and what makes Trondheim so special? Do you feel like you are reclaiming the black metal crown for Norway?
“The special thing about Trondheim was simply the fact that several individuals with the same core interests gathered in the same place. This created fertile ground for bands and labels to promote their work, which often has been of considerable quality. Nowadays most bands here have their own identity and are stepping in quite different directions, making it all more interesting.
We can only speak for ourselves, but it is not our intention to reclaim anything. Our hope is to manifest our visions to the best of our ability, and maybe some of it will be worthy of attention in its own respect.”
The bloody past of the Norwegian scene has been forever set in stone and has added a tangible sense of danger to that particular time in metal lore. Arson and murder have given the old bands a certain ‘authority’, or ‘sincerity’, that has never been matched since.
Is it possible to invoke that sense of real fear again and do you think it is likely, or even possible for similar events to occur? Perhaps black metal has become too safe? Perhaps you could tell us a bit about the events surrounding Steingrim Torson (Celestial Bloodshed)’s death.
“It is not really our way to glorify crude acts of violence, at least not as isolated events. The authority is in this case highly questionable. Sincerity is fair enough. Upon further inspection these were the doings of rebellious teenagers living in a dream world. The larger picture is interesting and the phenomenon is definitely worthy of thought and closer study.
The fascinating aspect of it is what wheels the whole thing set in motion. Our society is different now compared to the nineties, and the black metal hysteria and the satanic panic probably played its part. Both the elements of danger and the narrow-minded banality had effects on the way culture is perceived.
However, our focus lies elsewhere – within – where the work that matters to us is done. The fact that we play blackened primitive music does not automatically mean that we use “the bloody past of the Norwegian scene” as a model. That would be folly.
Similar events will surely occur at some point, due to the cyclical nature of these things, but certainly in some new mutation of a subculture. It will be something different, but still the same in a sense. In all probability it will also come to life in the naive and irrational spirit of youth.
We do not comment the death of our beloved friend. May eternal light shine upon him.”
One Tail, One Head is such a fantastic name and one that paints immediate images in the mind of coiling serpents, the ouroborous in particular. What does the name signify to you and does it hold any particular meaning?
“Thank you – we agree. It is different, yet simple and easy to remember. The ouroboros reference is obvious. The name refers to the constant re-creation of oneself and the overcoming of all kinds of obstacles on the path towards tomorrow.
At the same time it is a symbol for some sort of returning point, always within reach, even though through hardships. It is the integration of the opposite and the eternal return. It is also a personal reminder of the work that is your life and the responsibility it brings (thus moving far beyond the borders of this one band, obviously).”
There are no lyrics printed on your inlay so what can you tell us in regards to subject matter? Is there a philosophy behind the band?< ?b>
“The lyrics deal with certain large and loose concepts, some of which are touched upon above. There are overarching themes rather than a set philosophy. Our group consists of four very different individuals, so it would be impossible for us to draw too strict a line. Our differences set the stage for a dynamic environment of creativity, hopefully to our advantage.
The lyrics differ from author to author, obviously, but they are all quite open and welcome individual interpretation. They should be viewed as fragments of inner experiences rather than some sort of message. Despite the simple and straight-forward language, they have more than one dimension to them, and that is kind of the point. We haven’t felt the need to print our lyrics in these “small” releases (demos and EPs) up to present, but they will very likely be included in the full length.”
Does Satanism play a part in the band in any form? What does it represent to you?
“For some members it does play a role, for others it does not. You could say that these aforementioned members bring certain elements into the collective in some ways, but then again it does not really play a crucial role in the band as such. OTOH will always be very eclectic in nature due to the individual differences already mentioned. The latter part of the question could only be answered individually.”
I think there is an interesting paradox in black metal. On the one hand it is often presented as being atavistic and destructive while at the same time it is responsible for some of the most forward looking and inventive music being made. Is this something you think about or is there a danger in over-scrutinizing something that should be borne of instinct?
“This paradox should perhaps be celebrated? It does not always have to “make sense”. It will probably never make sense on a collective level. On an individual level, you can probably to some degree blend certain atavistic elements with forward looking innovation in such a manner as to create fertile ground for constructive thought and action. When it comes to the music, both ends of the spectrum have its representatives.
At least some us give thought to such matters, but it does not necessarily reflect in OTOH as a band. OTOH is by nature quite primitive and thus somewhat limited as a platform for philosophical exploration. The same goes for the music. That said, these kinds of paradoxes are clearly depicted in our name. It is part of nature.”
Is black metal a particular sound and image or do you view it as a core idea that can be adapted and open to mutations?
“It can be both. We see both successful and unsuccessful attempts at both strictly traditional approaches and more innovative efforts. However, all things develop , constantly, all the time. That which does not will surely wither and die.
That, in turn, brings forth the question about the endless “what is black metal” debate – is it really worth it? Is there a core idea? What is it? Maybe there is time to focus on your own goals and visions (if any) instead of tiring oneself out on this one term “black metal”. Everything will relentlessly move forward, backward, left, right, upward, downward or inward no matter what.”
You have played a few gigs, but still maintain a fairly low profile. What could one expect from your live show? Is it important to uphold a sense of mystery around the band or is spreading your message your main goal?
“The strength of One Tail, One Head live is the combination of atmosphere and pure energy and aggression. This is hopefully also what one could expect from us in the future. It is difficult to speak at length about what it is like. It should be experienced. It is a very honest and up-front performance. There are quite a few events in the planning, so come see for yourselves.”
Many of the 90s bands have changed their sound drastically in the intervening years. What do you make of the way those bands have developed? Are they still worthy of your praise or have they lost their way?
“Most of them probably did what they always wanted to. Play more shows, sell more records, etc. It’s what most bands do. Just let them. Everyone who has a goal, and reaches it, has achieved something. It might not be to the taste of all, but who cares?
It is way too much whining in metal. It is probably better to focus ones energy on the creation of something great and strong rather than lament the new paths the older bands have taken (if not to your liking). It is up to you, me, and us to create what we want to see. Always. We can grab hold of old torches, reinvigorate them, or even better, ignite brand new flames and hold them sky high. We kill, we give birth, we decide. We can do anything.”
Do you have any new work on the way and what else can we expect from the band?
“A CD including both of the recently released 7” EPs (nearly sold out it seems) are going to press as this is written. Except for that we rehearse some new material when there is time. We are working towards a full length, which seems like the natural step from here. It will be a continuation of what we have done up to this point, but a natural progression as well.
When will this be finished? That is really hard to say at this point. There are lots of other projects consuming our time and OTOH will, as we mentioned above, do a few performances this autumn. We also have new merchandise in the making for those interested.”
Thanks for your time. The final words are yours…
Thank you for your interest in One Tail, One Head. Delve into the darkness inside, see what is there for you to learn. Firebirds fly from this death!
- Interview by Andy Cunningham
– With thanks to O.A.A. for the photos