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Producing Norwegian Black Metal: Part 2

Black Arts | Kark & Necromorbus By Jillian Drachman
Published March 2024

Producer and musician Kark leads a new generation of torchbearers for Norwegian black metal.Producer and musician Kark leads a new generation of torchbearers for Norwegian black metal.

Eirik ‘Pytten’ Hundvin’s work with Mayhem continues to inspire producers, 30 years on. Two of the genre’s leading lights explain how they are taking black metal forwards.

“Black metal is art in its highest mode of expression. To me, it has always been synonymous with total musical, spiritual, creative and emotional freedom.” Kark is best known as the guitarist, bassist and vocalist of Dødsengel, the Norwegian band that represents his shared vision with lyricist, drummer and scholar Malach Adonai. Dødsengel have greatly expanded the genre with their radically individualistic art, which transports listeners to new realms through the use of unusual instrumentation, unexpected ingredients such as components of classical music, haunting and often cinematic atmospheres, and mind‑bending, acrobatic versatility. Dødsengel’s second album, the otherworldly Mirium Occultum, is considered one of the best black metal albums of all time.

Dødsengel’s Mirium Occultum is a Norwegian black metal classic.Dødsengel’s Mirium Occultum is a Norwegian black metal classic.

Kark handles all aspects of Dødsengel’s production, and is also an in‑demand engineer and producer, working mainly with underground acts. His clients have included the legendary Manes, Behexen, Djevelkult, Askeregn, Jared Ambience Inc (the solo project of Seigmen’s Sverre Økshoff), record label Terratur Possessions and countless others. Located in Ikornnes, Sykkylven, Kark Studios offers mixing, mastering, re‑amping, recording, audio restoration, proximity to the mountains and eloquent company. At present, Kark is constructing a second building with an even bigger room for live performances. The addition “will have the same aesthetics as the existing one with a heavy focus on atmosphere. I have always felt that recording studios should be a place for creativity and recreation, a place that feels like home.” Kark Studios’ decor conjures dark romantic vibes and a dreamlike visual experience.

Raw Power

The work of Eirik ‘Pytten’ Hundvin, profiled in last month’s SOS, has been a constant influence on Kark. “Pytten is essential. In a way, you could say that my approach to working with black metal recordings, and even other types of music, is built upon the legacy of Pytten’s work. I suppose that in most art, in a sense, you have to ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’ to reach a new level beyond the old masters. You have to keep one foot in tradition and another foot in innovation. Thus, I take the old‑school way of recording and work that into a modern setting.” Kark has learned from pioneers like Pytten that “the production is as much a part of the music as the music itself. In most other types of music, I feel that people mostly speak of sound in terms of only good or bad, and that everything is usually oriented around being as hi‑fi as possible.”

Kark believes “the idea that you have to choose between having a full‑range punchy sound and a more lo‑fi sound” is a total misunderstanding. Rather, both options “are completely compatible with each other, and should be embraced instead of shunned”.

As a musician and engineer, Kark strives to “combine technique and emotion so that they work together to bring out the full potential of each piece. Rawness is one of the key elements of black metal. Yet the kind of rawness is not limited to just one type of expression — going full‑on mono and cultivating a sound that almost could have come from a faulty tape recorder. All of Dødsengel’s recordings, for instance, have varying styles and degrees of this element. This can be summed up by having the sonic aspect match the emotional rawness. An example of this could be that very passionate vocals can drive a tube preamp to the breaking point, and this element becomes a part of the performance, rather than seen as something ‘wrong’. Another example is not to polish the guitar sound in a manner that removes the ferocity of a high‑gain amplifier. Rawness should not only be found in the actual performance, but also in how the performance is captured.”

Going Bad

As one might expect, Kark’s decisions regarding equipment depend on “taste, atmosphere, and the chosen colour. It’s not about ‘technical quality’; it’s about what fits and what you want.” He notes that although Pytten has always operated out of excellent studio spaces, he also made strategic use of “very bad gear, which gave a very unique sound. That concept can be turned in any way desired to achieve some very interesting results. So, when I record guitar, I use my Peavey Envoy 110 amp, which I have had since I was a kid. Then, I combine it with something like a Mesa Boogie MkIV and blend the tones to get something unique. So, you have the very dirty side of it and the very sophisticated side of it, and together they make something very special.

Kark’s Mesa Boogie combo is often paired with a lowly Peavey practice amp and Palmer speaker simulator to create his distinctive guitar sounds.Kark’s Mesa Boogie combo is often paired with a lowly Peavey practice amp and Palmer speaker simulator to create his distinctive guitar sounds.Photo: Nicolai Karlsen

“This setup is something of a standard in my productions, regardless of whether or not they are my own, or if I am working with someone else. The usual setup is to have one of the amps miked with two SM57 microphones, using a Fredman mic clip. This clip gives a combination of on‑axis plus off‑axis mic placement, which gives endless possibilities in the blending of light and dark in the guitar sound. This is usually for the amp with the most gain. In combination with that, I split the guitar signal with a simple splitter box, and the other signal can go into another amp with less gain, which will be blended to complement the more high‑gain amp. This amp will usually not be miked up but will go into a Palmer PDI 03 speaker simulator. I am not that much into using pedals, and prefer the amp’s distortion. However, I can sometimes put something like a Tubescreamer in front of the amp, or even use another distortion pedal, and utilise only its tone colour, not the actual distortion section.

“For the bass guitar, I split the signal and use a Mesa Boogie Subway DI and whatever high‑gain dirt amp I see fit. Usually, an old Peavey Bandit does the trick. It is key to have the bass come through as both distinct in its own frequency range, yet somehow gel completely with the low end of the guitar. This is achieved by a blend of this description.

“Vocals are recorded through a Universal Audio LA‑610 MkII with a medium peak reduction rate, and smoothed even further during the mixing with a Hairball Audio 1176 Rev...

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