Somewhere deep in the black heart of Oslo, Carl-Michael Eide is telling us why Aura Noir is the self-proclaimed "Ugliest Band in the World."
"Because we make the ugliest music in the world," he deadpans. "It's obviously not because we're not handsome."
As the Norwegian black/thrash trio's bassist, vocalist and former drummer, Eide is perhaps in a unique position to comment on what constitutes "ugly" music. He founded Aura Noir in 1993, after a brief stint playing drums for future black metal stars Satyricon and during a period in which he was also the drummer for esteemed experimentalists Ulver. His Aura Noir bandmates — guitarist Rune "Blasphemer" Eriksen and drummer Ole "Apollyon" Moe — are former members of corpse-paint luminaries Mayhem and Immortal, respectively. The trio made their full-length debut with 1996's Black Thrash Attack, a snarling mixture of Teutonic thrash and Norwegian black metal that they've since honed to a gloriously jagged, Venomesque edge on their sixth and latest, Aura Noire.
Though he goes by the nom de guerre "Aggressor" in Aura Noir, many fans also know Eide as "Czral," vocalist-guitarist for Oslo avant-rock trio Virus, a band that features former members of Eide's revered one-and-done metal outfit Ved Buens Ende. Did we mention he also played guitar for about 20 years with Norwegian thrashers Infernö? In the interview below, we talked to the man of a thousand bands about green corpse paint, being "too cheerful" for black metal, and his lifetime of experience in the Norwegian underground.
THE NEW AURA NOIR ALBUM IS ALMOST SELF-TITLED, BUT NOT QUITE. WHAT'S THE STORY THERE?
CARL-MICHAEL EIDE To us, our band name is international. Everybody knows what an "aura" is; everybody knows what "noir" is, so it's not a distinctly French band name. But the French have always been pointing out the fact that the band name misspelled. They're very concerned with having the right gender in their grammar — "aura" is female, so you would write "Aura Noire" with an "e" at the end. So we thought this is a great chance to have a semi-self-titled album, where we just spell the name correctly. [Laughs]
WHAT KIND OF STATEMENT ARE YOU TRYING TO MAKE WITH THIS RECORD?
I think we are trying to underline that we're a trio, so we recorded only one guitar on the album. There are no overdubs or anything. You can hear during the solos that there is bass and drums only in the background — no second guitar. It's not only an homage to Venom; it's also something we wanted to do to challenge ourselves a little bit. In this way, I think we sound more like ourselves than ever.
DID YOU LOOK TO VENOM AS THE BLUEPRINT FOR AURA NOIR WHEN YOU WERE FIRST STARTING OUT?
Not necessarily musically, but the attitude and the image of Venom and the fact that they're a trio. I think my favorite live video of all time is The 7th Date of Hell [Live at Hammersmith Odeon] video with those three guys and the lasers, ruining their instruments, and all that stuff. It just looked so cool. So I think from early on, I thought that trios were the ultimate constellation in a band.
YOU'VE BEEN QUOTED AS SAYING YOU HAVE ABOUT 20 COPIES OF VENOM'S WELCOME TO HELL.
[Laughs] I think it's a little bit more now. I'm one of those collectors. There's a whole community of Venom collectors, but I'm not gonna brag about it just yet because I don't have all the really rare, expensive stuff. But I'm a collector, yeah. If I see an edition of that album that I don't already have, I'll buy it.
YOU MUST'VE SHARED FESTIVAL BILLS WITH THOSE GUYS AT SOME POINT OVER THE YEARS. HAVE YOU EVER MET THEM?
No — never. You know, I'm a bit shy. That's just how I am. I never seek out people. If I want something signed, I'll probably just ask someone else to go and have it signed for me. [Laughs] I saw Cronos having a cigarette at a festival in Norway once. That was cool. But I kept my distance. [Laughs]
AURA NOIR HAS HAD THE SAME THREE MEMBERS SINCE '96. WHAT DO YOU THINK IT IS ABOUT THE THREE OF YOU THAT WORKS SO WELL?
We never had our success early on. We've grown very slowly as a band, and the demand for us has grown slowly. So we never did the heavy touring in the beginning. After a while, growing up and becoming adults or whatever, I guess we tolerate each other. [Laughs] We wouldn't have the same tolerance when we were younger. And of course we have the same kind of humor, which is very important in every situation I think.
BEYOND THE MUSIC, I THINK AURA NOIR'S SENSE OF HUMOR IS ONE OF THE MOST APPEALING THINGS ABOUT THE BAND. WHY IS THAT IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I think when you're taking things too seriously it becomes comedy involuntarily, you know? John Cleese from Monty Python said that's the best basis for comedy: People who take things too seriously. So we don't do that. We have to leave some room for living and having a laugh about everything.
YOU WERE PLAYING WITH BANDS LIKE SATYRICON, DIMMU BORGIR AND ULVER IN THE EARLY DAYS OF NORWEGIAN BLACK METAL. DID THE PEOPLE IN THAT SCENE TEND TO LACK A SENSE OF HUMOR?
[Laughs] Not in the beginning, but then they kinda started to dismiss their sense of humor because it was not politically correct to have a sense of humor. It was very strange. In the mid Nineties, if you were laughing about something, it was frowned upon. But of course this is no longer the case. People have thawed out a little bit now, and that's good. Some people, like Fenriz [of Darkthrone], had more of a sense of humor than any of us — even back in the mid Nineties. I might have tried to be more serious myself back then, but I don't think I succeeded. [Laughs]
IN THE EARLY DAYS OF AURA NOIR, YOU GUYS WOULD SWITCH INSTRUMENTS WHEN YOU PLAYED LIVE. DO YOU STILL DO THAT ONCE IN A WHILE?
No, not anymore. I had an accident like 13 years ago and some stuff happened to my back so I can't play drums anymore. Apollyon is doing all the drums, which he does very well, so there is no point in me playing drums anyway. [Laughs]
DO YOU MISS PLAYING DRUMS?
Not physically, but in my head I'm still a drummer. I still think about the drums when I'm writing music. I don't really miss it, though. I think it's exhausting. If you're a drummer, you're never really happy. If you played one hundred percent well, you think, "Ok, then." But if you make one mistake, you think everything is a disaster. Being a drummer is a thankless task, so I don't miss it. [Laughs] These days, I tend to steer away from any physical activity.
AURA NOIR'S GUITARIST, BLASPHEMER, LIVES IN PORTUGAL. HOW OFTEN ARE YOU GUYS ABLE TO GET TOGETHER TO WORK ON MATERIAL?
We just meet up whenever it's convenient. For this album, we rented a house in Portugal for a week after playing some gigs there and wrote some songs. Then we rented an apartment in Bucharest, Romania, where we borrowed a studio from a friend and rehearsed every day for a week. I think maybe two-thirds of the material happened that way. Then we wrote some things on our own and rehearsed a little bit in Oslo as well. It's kind of messy, but this is the way we have to do it.
YOU USE A DIFFERENT STAGE NAME IN AURA NOIR THAN YOU DO IN YOUR OTHER BAND, VIRUS. WHY IS THAT?
I think because it's two different worlds. With Aura Noir, this is the music that we have in our bloodstream. With Virus, it's more of what we can conjure up with our minds, using our imaginations to stretch the whole rock n' roll concept. Aura Noir is more instinctive. In Virus, we're more like scientists.
VIRUS IS ALSO A TRIO. DOES THAT BAND OPERATE DIFFERENTLY THAN AURA NOIR?
It's a little bit the same, but in Virus I think we wanted to challenge ourselves by being a three-piece. It's actually a little overwhelming to be a three-piece in Virus, but in Aura Noir it's fun; it comes out very naturally. In Virus we have to work more and rehearse more. It's a bit more torture in Virus. [Laughs]
WHAT'S GOING ON WITH VIRUS THESE DAYS?
We've decided to go on a hiatus for a while. It's mainly because we have this very distinct sound and sometimes I have the feeling that all the songs that can be made within this sound have now been made. So we need to take a break to see if we can come up with something in time. You're actually the first journalist I'm telling this to.
WE APPRECIATE THE SCOOP, BUT WE WISH IT WERE BETTER NEWS. ARE YOU ABLE TO SUPPORT YOURSELF FROM MUSIC THESE DAYS — OR WERE YOU ABLE TO BEFORE THE HIATUS? DO YOU HAVE A REGULAR JOB WHEN YOU'RE NOT ON THE ROAD?
Not at the moment, no. I don't make a living off of music, but I have my ways of surviving. [Laughs]
LET'S TALK ABOUT THE OLD DAYS A LITTLE BIT: YOU PLAYED DRUMS ON A SATYRICON DEMO BACK IN 1992. WHAT WAS THAT EXPERIENCE LIKE?
It was so long ago that it's kind of a blur, but I was a really crappy drummer back then. Also I was a bit too cheerful, so I was thrown out of the band, of course. [Laughs]
YOU ALSO PLAYED IN ULVER CIRCA '93, '94 …
With Ulver, it was a little bit the same, I think. They wanted to make it a little less proggy than I wanted to make it, and my drumming just didn't fit into that vibe. So I got thrown out of Ulver as well. [Laughs] And I was still too cheerful, I guess. That's when I started Ved Buens Ende, where I could run free with my drumming.
VED BUENS ENDE SPLIT UP AFTER JUST ONE ALBUM. WHAT HAPPENED?
At that time I started to play in too many bands because I started Infernö and Aura Noir on the side, and we [Ved Buens Ende] kind of lost our focus a little bit. We also didn't get the support that we thought we deserved because everyone thought this music was way too weird for the mid '90s. That was one of the aspects that made us break up.
THE VED BUENS ENDE ALBUM, WRITTEN IN WATERS, HAS QUITE A CULT FOLLOWING THESE DAYS.
That's true. I even see tattoos and everything. All these years later, it's fantastic to see a cult phenomenon going on. If I were to make that record today, it would sound quite different, I think. Whenever we're asked to reform or record new material, I'm quite ambivalent because I don't want to perform something that's far away from myself.
AFTER VED BUENS ENDE, YOU DID A STINT AS A TOURING DRUMMER WITH DIMMU BORGIR. WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
I was basically hired as a session drummer, but I always thought that corpse paint was a silly thing. I remember I was told to wear corpsepaint, so what I did was … I bought green makeup. I painted my entire face green and wore aviator shades. I think we did like forty or so gigs together. It was right about the time Dimmu Borgir was really taking off. I remember we were opening for Kreator and it was evident that everyone was completely wild about Dimmu Borgir. I was actually offered to play with them full time but I didn't end up doing it because I'm not so much into this ... how to say? Pompous black metal. [Laughs] I wanted to work with Infernö and Aura Noir instead.
SO THEY WEREN'T UPSET ABOUT THE GREEN CORPSEPAINT?
I was eventually forced to wear regular corpse paint. I think I did maybe two or three gigs in green corpse paint before they told me to wear proper corpse paint. But then luckily, in the middle of the tour, I got an eye infection. So I was exempt from doing corpse paint. I just wore the aviator sunglasses.
I'M PRETTY SURE NO ONE HAS EVER UTTERED THE WORDS, "LUCKILY, I GOT AN EYE INFECTION," BEFORE …
[Laughs] That's probably true. But I was on a sick leave from corpse paint, so it really was lucky.