Why are Dark Funeral black metal's most mocked band?

Dark Funeral 2016

What is black metal if not a giant, malevolent ‘Fuck you!’ to the mediocre and the mundane? While it may often seem like a genre with the slipperiest of identities, the spirit of black metal has long tended to evoke the ferocity of punk rock’s outlaw code with the added bonus of dark, philosophical substance to back up the bravado. With that in mind, few bands embody that adversarial ethos – that ennobling cry of ‘Nobody likes us and we don’t care!’ – with the same bombastic power and panache as Dark Funeral. Twenty-three years into a rollercoaster career that has taken the Swedes from frostbitten obscurity to their current status as one of black metal’s biggest draws, they are about as popular as this stuff gets, and yet they are also the band that black metal purists love to hate: either a big-budget, grandiose affront to primitive values and hyper-kvlt haughtiness or simply a grotesque, cynical mish-mash of every cliché imaginable.

In truth, Dark Funeral are a fucking brilliant heavy metal band, albeit one with the blackest of hearts. But, by Satan’s spittle, they don’t half wind up the purists and as insanely enjoyable as it is, new album Where Dark Shadows Reign seems unlikely to change that.

“I would put it like this: you have some people with small penises and some guys with big penises,” chuckles guitarist and founder member Lord Ahriman. “That’s what it’s all about. Of course, we’ve always beenone of those bands. We just got bigger and bigger on every record, and whatever kind of band you’re in, the bigger you get, the more trolls are gonna come out looking for you! That’s just the way it is. Music should force some kind of reaction. We win either way, and you need both, the positive and the negative. It would feel weird and I wouldn’t even believe it if everybody said, ‘Oh, your new album is fucking amazing!’ I wouldn’t like it that way. But yeah, you always get people saying, ‘Oh, those guys fucking suck!’ That’s OK. They probably suck, too.”

Arguably the biggest change undergone by the black metal scene over the last two decades is the way the internecine bickering of those hallowed early years has now morphed into a never-ending online argument about what is or isn’t ‘real’ black metal. Understandably, not least because Dark Funeral are doing better than most, Lord Ahriman remains unmoved by the debate.

“Of course, it will never stop,” he notes with a sigh. “If a 20-year-old guy or girl comes up to me and says I’m a fucking poser and they know the real deal… well, yeah, what can I say? Give me a fucking break. Go and change your diapers. But it’s always going to be like that. I find it sad because we should be a united extreme metal scene. It’s just childishness and most of the time it’s about envy. This is the metal scene. We should support each other, not behave like stupid imbeciles.”

Love them or hate them – and the former camp is huge enough for the latter camp to be casually dismissed – Dark Funeral are back in a big way. Where Shadows Forever Reign is guaranteed to be one of this year’s biggest extreme metal records; its thunderous and vast production, remorseless viciousness and Lord Ahriman’s unerring knack for penning insidious melodies will ensure that the band’s loyal fanbase will be more than satisfied, even after enduring a near-seven year wait since the band’s last album, Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus. The first Dark Funeral album since the departure of talismanic frontman Emperor Magus Caligula, it sounds very much like the explosive war cry at the end of a gruelling struggle.

“Yes, I’ve been through Hell and back to get to this point,” Ahriman growls. “At first, Caligula decided to leave the band and we brought in a German guy and then we decided to go on tour. We had to break him in on tour, and we were touring for about a year, but it just didn’t work out. In the end, it wasn’t easy to find the right guy. We had so many auditions and I got hundreds of applications but there are so many things that have to work. Of course, everything can’t always be perfect. We’re still black metal guys and our lives aren’t as normal as ordinary 9-to-5 people, but as a frontman, it has to be someone special.”

The new mouthpiece for Dark Funeral’s abominable tirades is Andreas ‘Heljarmadr’ Vingbäck: a relative unknown, but one who stamps his personality all over Where Shadows Forever Reign. Filling the boots of his revered predecessor could have been a task too far for someone with comparatively little experience of underground metal’s pointy end, but Lord Ahriman is eager to sing his new compatriot’s praises.

“He came in and just fucking blew us away with his vocal skills,” he says. “He was really convinced that he was gonna get this job, so he worked his ass off to improve himself and to get to where he is today, and he’s been on an enormous journey from the first audition up ’til now. That’s the kind of dedication you need from a frontman, someone who is really dedicated and focused on doing a superb job. One of his strengths is that his voice is so stable live. That’s what maybe impressed me the most. He doesn’t lose power. It’s just really strong and stable all the way, and that makes everything else so much stronger. And he’s just going to get better.”

One standard criticism levelled at Dark Funeral has long been that they offer a rather basic, simplified version of top-dollar black metal that brings relatively little to the creative table beyond ticking a few Satanic boxes. In truth, the band have always been much, much better than that, particularly if you value aggression and clarity over avantgarde vagueness. But while theirs remains a primarily straightforward attack, Where Shadows Forever Reign is far from formulaic. Songs like slow-burning declaration As I Ascend – the first tune written for the record, according to Ahriman, and “a very personal song” about the struggle to keep the Dark Funeral show on the road – and its warped, schizophrenic counterpart, Temple Of Ahriman, eschew all-out blast-worship in favour of oppressive atmospheres and barbarous, ululating grooves that belie Dark Funeral’s reputation as one-trick necro-ponies.

“We’ve definitely evolved. This record is much more dynamic,” Ahriman notes. “I’m kind of primitive when I write. I follow my own patterns, the way I feel things should be, and sometimes I maybe get a little bit stiff and stuck in a certain way of arranging songs. But this time I went with the flow. Fuck it, if it sounds good and this is the feeling I’m looking for, even if it’s not theoretically correct, I just go with the flow and keep working on it. So far people seem to be saying that they can hear that, so maybe I should work more like that in the future and not get so fucking stuck in my own formulas! Ha ha ha!”

Given their status as one of black metal’s biggest bands, it’s not hard to imagine how much pressure Ahriman must have felt while preparing what will be widely perceived as comeback. As he admits, the online era means that the demands of the faithful are hard to avoid.

“I guess it’s a first-world problem, but after a few years I was getting so many emails and comments on my Facebook pages, people screaming, ‘We want a new record!’ and so on, and there were some days I felt like, ‘Dude, give me a fucking break!’” he recalls. “It was insane. It was the same, every fucking day! Of course it’s great that people are so dedicated and loyal and keep following us. I’m very thankful for that, and for a while it was tough, but you can’t worry about whether the fans like the new record or not. I’m satisfied with what we’ve created and that’s the most important thing.”

As easy as it is to define Dark Funeral as purveyors of big, dumb black metal, Where Shadows Forever Reign exudes a confidence and command that few other bands can match in 2016. Despite all the trials, turmoil and personnel calamities endured by the band over the last few years, they enter their third decade as a vibrant entity sounding more potent and pertinent than ever before. Even if you don’t believe in karma, the rewards for doggedly forging ahead and weathering the storm are obvious: hard work and determination so often lead to unexpected good fortune, and Where Shadows Forever Reign is a more than fortuitous outcome for Ahriman and his comrades and another giant ‘Fuck you’ to unbelievers everywhere.

“There are so many pieces that have fallen in the right place for this record,” says Ahriman. “I can’t explain it, but it feels good. We’re working very hard behind the scenes just to be able to do this on a higher level than ever before. Soon we hit the road, and we know how important it is to really bring a good show for the crowd. So we work more than ever on being in good shape, physically and musically. We’re gonna do it for real, that’s for sure.”

WHERE SHADOWS FOREVER REIGN IS RELEASED ON JUNE 3 VIA CENTURY MEDIA

One standard criticism levelled at Dark Funeral has long been that they offer a rather basic, simplified version of top-dollar black metal that brings relatively little to the creative table beyond ticking a few Satanic boxes. In truth, the band have always been much, much better than that, particularly if you value aggression and clarity over avantgarde vagueness. But while theirs remains a primarily straightforward attack, Where Shadows Forever Reign is far from formulaic. Songs like slow-burning declaration As I Ascend – the first tune written for the record, according to Ahriman, and “a very personal song” about the struggle to keep the Dark Funeral show on the road – and its warped, schizophrenic counterpart, Temple Of Ahriman, eschew all-out blast-worship in favour of oppressive atmospheres and barbarous, ululating grooves that belie Dark Funeral’s reputation as one-trick necro-ponies.

“We’ve definitely evolved. This record is much more dynamic,” Ahriman notes. “I’m kind of primitive when I write. I follow my own patterns, the way I feel things should be, and sometimes I maybe get a little bit stiff and stuck in a certain way of arranging songs. But this time I went with the flow. Fuck it, if it sounds good and this is the feeling I’m looking for, even if it’s not theoretically correct, I just go with the flow and keep working on it. So far people seem to be saying that they can hear that, so maybe I should work more like that in the future and not get so fucking stuck in my own formulas! Ha ha ha!”

Given their status as one of black metal’s biggest bands, it’s not hard to imagine how much pressure Ahriman must have felt while preparing what will be widely perceived as comeback. As he admits, the online era means that the demands of the faithful are hard to avoid.

“I guess it’s a first-world problem, but after a few years I was getting so many emails and comments on my Facebook pages, people screaming, ‘We want a new record!’ and so on, and there were some days I felt like, ‘Dude, give me a fucking break!’” he recalls. “It was insane. It was the same, every fucking day! Of course it’s great that people are so dedicated and loyal and keep following us. I’m very thankful for that, and for a while it was tough, but you can’t worry about whether the fans like the new record or not. I’m satisfied with what we’ve created and that’s the most important thing.”

As easy as it is to define Dark Funeral as purveyors of big, dumb black metal, Where Shadows Forever Reign exudes a confidence and command that few other bands can match in 2016. Despite all the trials, turmoil and personnel calamities endured by the band over the last few years, they enter their third decade as a vibrant entity sounding more potent and pertinent than ever before. Even if you don’t believe in karma, the rewards for doggedly forging ahead and weathering the storm are obvious: hard work and determination so often lead to unexpected good fortune, and Where Shadows Forever Reign is a more than fortuitous outcome for Ahriman and his comrades and another giant ‘Fuck you’ to unbelievers everywhere.

“There are so many pieces that have fallen in the right place for this record,” says Ahriman. “I can’t explain it, but it feels good. We’re working very hard behind the scenes just to be able to do this on a higher level than ever before. Soon we hit the road, and we know how important it is to really bring a good show for the crowd. So we work more than ever on being in good shape, physically and musically. We’re gonna do it for real, that’s for sure.”

WHERE SHADOWS FOREVER REIGN IS RELEASED ON JUNE 3 VIA CENTURY MEDIA