Abbath Doom Occulta on New Album 'Outstrider': 'Black Metal, to Me, Is Rock'n'roll'

Francisco Munoz
Abbath Doom Occulta

Extreme metal band Abbath is set to release its second album, Outstrider (Season of Mist), on July 5. The follow-up to the group’s 2016 self-titled debut — a punishing collection of heavy riffs and galloping drums — “is about a rebel with total cause,” says its namesake, Abbath Doom Occulta. “Seized out of Heaven and hounded out of Hell!”

What would that cause be? He cites the Outstrider song “Harvest Pyre,” for which the band released a beautiful, chilling black-and-white video in April: “[It’s about] bursting out from the ashes, burning the past to move on.”

The singer is arguably the most famous musical act to come out of Norway since a-ha, due to being a founding member of the extremely influential Immortal, one of the bands from the early Norwegian black metal scene. What set Immortal apart from other such groups is that, instead of satanic-themed lyrics, the group focused on darkness and evil in the fictional kingdom of Blashyrkh, which is based on the country landscape of Norway.

Abbath’s first solo outing was a project called I in 2006, when Immortal was on hiatus. Its debut album, Between Two Worlds, had a more traditional heavy metal sound. He left Immortal in 2015 due to creative differences, and 2016’s Abbath showed a return to the heavier, extreme style of Immortal under his own name.

Reached by phone at his home outside of Bergen, Norway, Abbath is chatty and joking — characteristics not usually associated with black metal. Asked what he thinks of the genre now that it has become much more popular, he says, “Black metal, to me, is rock’n’roll. It’s Venom in 1982.” He sings the chorus from the Venom song “Black Metal”: “‘Lay down your soul to the gods rock’n’roll! Wow! Wow! Black metal!’ We just borrowed that word, you know, because ‘death metal’ just wasn’t dark enough anymore.”

Outstrider features new members Ukri Suvilehto on drums, Ole Andre Farstad on guitars and Mia Wallace on bass. Two other songs have been released from the album: the title track and “Calm in Ire (Of Hurricane).” Abbath’s sound is fast, thumping and aggressive, but incredibly catchy. He growls the lyrics, which are written by longtime collaborator Simon Dancaster and carry forward the themes of darkness.

“With Immortal lyrics, that was about Blashyrkh and the things that inspired us,” explains Abbath. “That was my thing with [Immortal guitarist] Demonaz, and he’s still trying to be in that realm. But we’re not using the Blashyrkh theme. There’s more freedom without it.”

He calls Metallica’s Ride the Lightning album “a big inspiration” for Outstrider. “I’d been thinking about doing a cover of ‘Trapped Under Ice’ and was listening to a lot of Judas Priest, Venom, Bathory’s Blood Fire Death, one of my favorite albums of all time,” he says. “No one was more influential to Immortal than [Bathory singer] Quorthon. There wouldn’t have been a Norwegian black metal scene if it weren’t for the Swedish Bathory. Which is why I did the cover of ‘Pace Till Death’ [on the new album].”

He says that making Outstrider “was a different process, but there’s always drama because it takes time. With the I album, Immortal was on a break, and I had all this material. With the song ‘The Storm I Ride,’ the opening riff was heavy, but that album was inspired by Manowar’s Into Glory Ride and Kiss’ Dressed to Kill album. Then, after that, I did the first Abbath album, which was much heavier. But I’m working on music all the time. I have material for two more albums standing by: Like, for the next album after Outstrider, I’m thinking differently. Right now, I’m experimenting with some Creatures of the Night [by Kiss]-meets-Exciter shit.”

Outstrider came together when Abbath started pre-production with Dag Erik Nygaard: “Dag, who worked on the first album, programs drums for me when I have this idea, and then Ole Andre Farstad, he’s a guitarist who did four leads on the first album, came in, and then Mia came in and did the bass from Italy — she’s a bass player from Milan, and she’s amazing — and Ukri Suvilehto, who is only 25 years old but the best drummer in the fucking world. I did the pre-production, and then each of them came back with their parts.” 

Abbath’s music always has been greatly influenced by his country, a majestic land of fjords, mountains, forests and ice. However, he prefers to sing in English, and the frontman laughs when asked why.

“I like rock," he says. "I like music in Norwegian, like Age Aleksandersen, one of the godfathers of Norwegian rock, early TNT [a Norwegian heavy metal band]. But to sing in Norwegian, it doesn’t work very well for the form. Imagine Manowar with Norwegian lyrics: That would be a fucking disaster. Forget about it. I love my language; I’m proud to be Norwegian, but rock’n’roll is English. That’s it.”

The album was recorded in Norway with engineer Endre Kirkesola, who runs Dub Studios in Oslo; he, Abbath and Farstad co-produced it. Abbath says, “I’m a lucky boss to have all these amazing people working with me. We have new management now and the record label, Season of Mist, is doing a great job. We couldn’t have done this without Season of Mist. They’ve been great.”