Lovecraft reimagined through a Norwegian folk lens.
Words by Luis (@heaviestofart):
From Behemoth to Primordial and Gorgoroth, there's no shortage of standout collaborators under French artist David Thiérrée's roster. Among them is Norway's Mork, who are set to release their new album, Dypet, this Friday, March 24th via the always consistent Peaceville Records. At the forefront of it all is another somber David Thiérrée contribution that does more than garner intrigue upon a passing glance, but builds upon Mork mastermind Thomas Eriksen's vision of a Norwegian take on the H.P. Lovecraft mythos. More than it being an alluring visual, it becomes one with the scope of the record as a whole, which could arguably be Mork's most forward-thinking endeavor yet.
Dive into a Behind the Cover discussion with Mork's Thomas Eriksen and David Thiérrée to truly indulge into Dypet's cover, their partnership beyond the latest record, visual intention, and more:
Before anyone gets a chance to listen to the magnificent record you've put together, they're introduced again to the work of David Thiérrée, who you've worked with before in the past of course. It's quite towering in scope and serves as a compelling introduction to 'Dypet'. Visually, what were you envisioning upon approaching David for this project? You also had Jannicke Wiese-Hansen contribute some work too.
Thomas: For years now, I've been intrigued with Metallica's 'The Call of Ktulu', ever since I first heard it really. I've been fascinated by Lovecraft's storytelling and the Cthulhu Mythos, so I always wanted to make my own version of sorts of that Metallica tune. A bit later on, I discovered the 'Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth' game on Xbox. There's an incredible atmosphere in that game that I just got drawn into. Something about the soundtrack and the level design just amplified the interest for me. I have now finally found the excuse to extract that Lovecraft and Cthulhu passion that I have into my music. However, I used the theme about the sea and just exchanged it into a Norwegian folklore thing, which is Draugen — Norwegian folklore about a sea ghost.
From there, I just told David that the premise was that of a fishing village in Norway, hundreds of years ago on the coast, that worshipped this Draugen. I basically ripped off Lovecraft and made it into my own thing, but I just had to get it off my chest. The album itself is actually not a concept album though. It's only the one title track that fits with the artwork.
There's something magical about David and we seem to be connected somehow. I can't explain it. When I look at plenty of his works, and then I look at the work he has done for me, it's totally different.
Jannicke is a legend in in her own right. These days, she's a famous and talented tattoo artist, but she was around back in the days when she was making drawings for Burzum, Satyricon, Enslaved, and so on. I had the pleasure of working with her on my third album, 'Eremittens Dal' (2017).
For this album, I asked her to do a couple of little pieces. She made a shield of arms and a coat of arms, which would represent the fishing village cult that worshipped this Draugen.
It's beautiful. It's not the main piece this time around, but it's used on the actual physical CD and vinyl record. She got the same story that I gave David when approaching the visuals.
At this point in your partnership, you don't really have to explain yourself much to find common ground. You just give loose ideas and themes and David just kind of runs with it. The same happens with Jannicke, I'm sure, which ensures you establish a strong visual identity and complete the whole audiovisual experience.
Thomas: Agreed, and it's extremely important. From childhood on, I have always been drawing, though I quit drawing a few years ago because of music. My entire childhood, I used to love to draw and even went to fine art school. I think I've always had an eye for the arts. I mean growing up, I would just stare intensely at album covers.
I remember going through AC/DC album and Metallica covers and looking at the artwork, listening to the music, and finding connections, you know? I was fascinated just learning how the covers were made. A perfect example was Iron Maiden's 'Seventh Son of a Seventh Son' (1988). The fucking landscape that Derek Riggs drew was based on Salvador Dalí with the floating icebergs and everything being blue and icy. The sound on that album is icy too, if you know what I mean? That kind of connection has always been important for me.
Here's a funny little side note. When I was about 15 or 16 while being in fine art school here in Norway, I actually reached out to Derek Riggs by email and he answered me. We had a little correspondence going and I remember poking his head about connections with the covers and everything. We as fans make up our minds about what covers mean and how they relate to the music. All this to say that if my album cover doesn't look right, then I can't release it. I have to be 100% content with my album cover.
That Maiden cover, along with 'Somewhere In Time' (1986), remains one of the best in their legendary discography. David, how would you characterize your working relationship over the years? Judging from Thomas’ enthusiasm towards your work, one could say that there’s a great level of mutual respect and admiration for one another’s artistry.
David: Indeed! His music is one of the rare, very rare blends of Norwegian black metal that catch exactly the spirit of what Norwegian black metal is. He also has the luxury to make it sound unique to Mork and not like a pastiche or a gimmick, and also adds a modern flavor to the whole thing.
Our relationship has been a mix of smooth communication, smirk humour, and being on the same line of thoughts concerning art almost one hundred percent of the time.
As Thomas mentions, he has a strong fascination with Cthulhu and the H.P. Lovecraft mythos as a whole, which influenced the Norwegian folklore approach on ‘Dypet’. From an artist’s perspective, how did you aim to capture that through your own lens?
David: Well, I wanted to really capture the “Lovecraft Country” feeling is that old America, being very linked to northern Europe: wet, rainy, windy costal towns full of sailors and their wives. These are hard men and women and death is waiting at sea everyday. Sea is dark and angry most of the time. It's full of everything humans fear and feverish dreams can produce. Having travelled to both countries and having a slight knowledge of Lovecraft’s works, it was an easy ride.
Like with ‘Katedralen’ (2021), the ‘Dypet’ cover illustration is grand in scope and evokes a haunting atmosphere to fit well with the album as a whole. Does the music play a role in your creative direction at all?
David: Listening to Mork’s music helps a lot of course, to try to be in the “zone” and try to be inside Thomas’ head. That’s the point of art by the way. It’s like someone opens his head and spills his/her brains in front of you. Art says “this is what I am” to the world.
In a more general scope, music is important, but sometimes, so is silence. It really depends on my energy of the moment, my mood and what pace I need to give to the work. Sometimes music needs to fit what’s on the trade, and sometimes it can be quite the opposite. It really depends on what my state of mind demands.
What does it mean to you to have developed Mork’s contemporary visual identity? As a longtime illustrator with a wealth of cover illustrations in your resume, you understand the role that the arts play in visual interpretation.
David: It’s primordial indeed. A record’s visual identity is as important as scene costumes, band pictures, etc. Some cover artworks and logos go way beyond the sole record and become cultural landmarks. I can’t pretend I developed Mork’s visual identity as the most important visual identity of Mork is Thomas himself. On a personal level, having worked in the wake of Jannicke (Wiese-Hansen) was like pushing the concepts of the old-school tradition of black and white album covers, mostly pencil works, or in the veins of the golden age of illustration artists that depicted somber tales with these grey and black drawings and engravings. This is a wise move, as many forefathers of black metal used these classic engravings and old books illustrations to illustrate their music. So, more than giving Mork a visual identity, I try as much as I can to keep Mork in the good tradition of handmade Norwegian black metal. There's love and respect for tradition and sincerity.
That's quite interesting to hear considering Thomas' desired expansion towards less traditional black metal. Visually though, the black and white mantra works well. You partially answered this in your previous answer, but what role, if any, do you feel that the arts play in black metal? Beyond Mork, you’ve been illustrating for black metal bands for some time now and have seen all sorts of shifts in the genre.
David: I will add that I’ve seen a big shift since the end of the nineties when a lot of bands used computers to do album covers, which was a big mistake. Computers weren’t as powerful and hi-res as they are today, and the results were mostly ugly. Add to that a shift from spikes and leather to violet pirate shirts and cyber spandex and such, and you get the results you see today. Early Darkthrone and Beherit pictures are still kult and fresh, and all the rest is all kitsch and cringe.
Cover art is following the same fate: an old, even clumsy picture or drawing stands stronger against the test of time than a Corel Painter collage with lousy halo effects.
We're living in a special time for cover artwork, I'd say. We're in somewhat of a resurgence. Thomas, as you know, having great visuals goes beyond just having a marketable cover, but instead delivering something intentionally built to garner intrigue in the viewer. It happens compositionally as well, which is a result of your evolution and maturity as a songwriter. Reflectively speaking, in what state of mind does 'Dypet' find you in?
Thomas: I tend to repeat myself on this point, but if you go back and listen to the first couple of Mork albums, they are extremely strict in the way that they are really primitive. They are really "necro" sounding and they are simple, cookie cutter black metal. I still love that sound to this day, but over the years, albums three and four began to find their own place. It wouldn't feel right for me to take the cookie cutter black metal approach for each album just because it's supposed to be "true" black metal, if you know what I mean. I took a step back and looked at the bigger picture, and figured I shouldn't give a shit about the rules anymore. When I create now, I let more and more influences play a part. I think you can hear the results from album four and onward. There's a progression going on. The songs are opening up more and more, which I've actually grew quite comfortable with.
Mork has been around for a long time now and I think people have seen that it's not just a run of the mill black metal band anymore. I don't want to rob myself of my own creativity just to appeal to a particular style of the genre, you know? Mork is so extremely important to me. It's become my child. I've been shaping this now for 20 years next year. To tell you the truth, I have actually started something else on the side that allows me to get the more primitive side of my work out because that's still a yearning of mine. It's still not being released, but it's something fun to look after in the future perhaps.
We'll get to that when the time comes, but for now, Mork deserves its shine. Your contemporary output is stronger than its ever been, compositionally speaking, and its all a byproduct of your creative expression. As you tap into your own life experiences and emotions, is it cathartic to finally see it all realized?
Thomas: I'm extremely relieved to have it off my shoulders. It's been gnawing at me for a couple of years now and ever since I started leaving the black metal rules on the sidelines and started just being more creative, I've been a bit insecure about how the world will take it. That's still a question I have now because this album is even further out of the sphere of what Mork can be. I have no idea what people would think of this, but I can say that I tried to be true to myself mainly. I just do what comes naturally. The tracks are good to play live, they're fun tracks. To go back to your question, I'm insecure and relieved at the same time, but regardless, I'm very much looking forward to March 24th.
It's fast approaching! Touching on another neat element of the record, one of the tracks features Hjelvik from Kvelertak. It's always neat to see guest musicians from different sides of the genre feature on unique projects. How did that come about?
Thomas: When I invite guest artists to come along, the music is already finished, so I incorporated Hjelvik into it well. It's just fun to be on one another's music and promote each other's shit. I think that's a cool thing to do. I remember doing the podcast thing during the whole COVID situation and I did the interview with Hjelvik. I went back and listened to his stuff afterwards and man, I enjoy his voice. He has this punkish, raw metal kind of voice, which I enjoy, so why not just include him on a track here? I think it worked out quite well and I think it lifted the song.
Hjelvik's contributions honestly push it further into a more expansive, black metal beast, in the vein of Darkthrone and their punk laden efforts. You're extending the conventionalities of your own work, in addition to the genre's, which has a variety of subgenres in its contemporary stage. How do you see yourself evolving and expanding alongside it?
Thomas: Black metal today is really vast. It's already been expanded, but there will always be a niche group of people pointing fingers and criticizing stuff that isn't traditional. You can always find people who are really niche and it happens a lot in black metal, if not even more than other genres. There are a gang of people who do not appreciate what I'm doing but at the end of the day, I think that comes down to their own insecurity. They are stuck within that cookie cutter mentality I was talking about earlier just to say they're staying "true" to the genre. To me, I'd kind of call it fake. If you do the same kind of album over and over and over again, I would say you're kind of posing. You're robbing yourself of your own creativity and you're just making this cookie cutter album because you know that it's what the black metal fans expect. I'm against that even though I've done it myself at the start with the three first Mork albums, which are your typical Norwegian black metal stuff.
It's a love and hate thing for sure. For you, it's about pleasing your own creative ambitions. David, is there anything in particular that you wish to evoke upon the viewer when they come face to face with your artwork? You have a wide variety of audiences given that your talents are interdisciplinary.
David: My work is mostly an open window. One must add his own story to it. I just open the window and you have to travel. There's no mish-mash of pompous talk about my own ego, I just draw and I try to draw better and better, that’s all. The viewer does the job, but only if he fancies the image. Of course, there are failures and I fail each time when doing the job, which is why I’m never satisfied and try again and again. If the viewer is indulgent enough and wants to step inside the image, that’s a job done and I’m happy enough.
I would also like people to understand the importance of the fact that a human pushed strokes and lines to do something from scratch. It’s the expression of another human being, and it’s a physical deed: someone made it with his own hands, like an artisan would a wooden furniture, a clay sculpture, or a blown glass. There’s charcoal, paint, matter, a tree died for that sheet of paper, and you helped the artist to pay the rent, carry on, and see another day to do more art. This becomes a sort of political statement to support human artists against these terrible AI image generators that will be the doom of us all. Keep art human against the machine and don’t let the machines do in our place what makes us human.
Beautifully said, David. In closing, as we enter this new chapter in your discography and look back at where it all started, has Mork become what you expected it to be over the years?
Thomas: It's so much more. I went and made a debut, expecting it to be just a typical side project or whatever. I never expected to get picked up by Peaceville Records, to tour the world, and sell albums. I never expected that, so everything is a bonus. I started doing this melodic thing because it was something I needed to do, psychologically. It was important to me to get to extract those feelings and those moods as an artist. Mork allowed me to do that and it's been a hell of a ride. I'm really thankful that I see people enjoy my creation. It's all still a bit bizarre to be honest with you.
Dypet arrives on March 24th via Peaceville Records (Order).