Why Virus might be black metal's most enigmatic band

Virus black metal

Rising from the ashes of Ved Buens Ende – one of the more forward-thinking bands to emerge from Norway’s black metal scene in the 90s – at the beginning of the millennium, Virus have since made their name gleefully blurring genres and defying categorisation. Confidently debuting in 2003 with the Carheart album, they presented a unique musical vision whose dissonant, hectic and perplexing nature aptly complemented the curious vehicular and canine-related musing of their lyrics. Perhaps unsurprisingly, eccentricity has remained a keyword for the group ever since, the masterful Carl-Michael ‘Czral’ Eide – also active within Aura Noir, and a past contributor to such name acts as Cadaver, Dødheimsgard and even (once upon a time) Ulver and Satyricon – carving out a niche with the assistance of drummer Einar Sjursø (also known for his work in Beyond Dawn and Infernö) and bassist Petter ‘Plenum’ Berntsen (of Audiopain and Manimalism).

With an arsenal of dense, twitchy, technical and intense songs, the band continued to confuse and elate on both 2008’s The Black Flux and 2011’s The Agent That Shapes The Desert. The absence of Petter on the latter, however, would slow the band’s progress considerably and the band went relatively quiet after their last release, 2012’s Oblivion Clock EP. Thankfully, they are now very much back, their brand new album, Memento Collider, proving that there is plenty of life in the old dog yet. It’s arguably their liveliest work to date, the three original members having reunited to create a driving and surprisingly catchy opus.

“I think Petter’s leaving absolutely did affect things,” begins Carl-Michael. “He is sort of the motor that drives this forward and we knew when he quit that we had a huge problem and that it would be impossible to replace him. We tried… and it worked so-so. I think he is more important to the band than even we knew and now that he has come back with even more zest than ever it’s really lifted the band, both as a constellation of people, and as a musical thing. He quit during a period of his life where he had to work all the time. It took a while to lure him back… Well, it didn’t take that much actually; he heard the demo of one of the songs and liked it, so we invited him back!”

There’s no doubt that Virus sound rejuvenated on Memento Collider. Despite the impressive technicalities and detail involved within the songs, the band have created a far more upbeat and lively sound this time around, the various nuances of the individual performances never detracting from the twisting but strangely emotive songwriting. In fact, one notable point of the record is its ability to maintain a sense of drive and motion while also allowing plenty of space for diversions and sidesteps.

“It’s usually an organic process with Virus,” says Carl-Michael. “I think the most thematic album we did was the last one – we had clear goals there – but this time around it was a completely organic process. I think we sort of opened up more and it’s created more space to experiment. We’re more tight now as a unit. I think the most important thing now is to stay together as a trio and keep playing, because whatever comes out of it is going to sound like Virus.”

Though one could easily imagine the next record offering another sizeable stylistic leap, speaking to Carl-Michael there is a sense that the band have found their identity with Memento Collider. The sense of freedom is tangible, something of a contrast to the more clearly defined black thrash perimeters of Aura Noir.

“It really is. It’s a playground, Virus. Aura Noir is very strict and I like that a lot, I like to have a formula to work with, but I also like to have a playground, so it works well. I think it’s an organic thing, it’s a process, like raising someone, having a child and raising it and it becoming something on its own. So it’s not that personal. I think The
Black Flux was a personal album for me, with the stage I was in back then. This is a more open album.”

There is certainly plenty of room for interpretation lyrically this time around, but the overall tone is noticeably more playful and less dark than previous works. One wonders – given Carl-Michael’s role as main songwriter and his comments regarding The Black Flux – whether this is a reflection on his life and a shift toward a more positive space?

“Yeah. Hopefully I’ve become a more positive person – it’s not easy to say sometimes. But there is far more joy with this album, it has been more joyous to make and is not forced in any way. I think it is partly down to us having created a sound, so it’s not something we’re having to strive to achieve – it’s already there. I think we wanted to create something unique and now we have that behind us, so to say.”

The band’s unique approach has, of course, also always made it very hard to place (and perhaps market) Virus, the band lacking even the tenuous connections Ved Buens Ende had to certain metal subgenres. Indeed, while Virus have always maintained that they are not a metal band (“I think it’s obviously a rock band,” he states), they clearly have a considerable number of metalheads within their fanbase. Do the band have any sense of what their demographic is these days?

“That’s what makes it so exciting,” he concludes, “it remains to be seen. It is the first time in a while that we have proper distribution and proper promotion apparatus behind us and it is very exciting. From my point of view onstage I’m so engulfed by what I’m doing that I don’t really notice who is watching us. But I think a lot of different people catch onto Virus and I’m very excited to see what kind of audience we will have in a year or so. What I want to do now is play lots of concerts because I feel more confident about that now. I’ve grown to really love
being onstage with this material and it’s the same with the other guys. The new material is probably going to just come along, now during rehearsals a riff will just come along during rehearsals a riff will just come along and it grows into a song.” He laughs before adding, “It’s like a pregnancy!”