SARKE – Jaunt Of The Obsessed
Sarke (l-r): Thomas ‘Sarke’ Bergli, Steinar Gundersen, Nocturno Culto and Asgeir Mickelson
Norway’s Thomas ‘Sarke’ Bergli – whose credits stretch to Khold, Tulus, and stints within Old Man’s Child and Sensa Anima – harboured desires to spearhead a solo outfit for a number of years. By 2008, Thomas had penned the requisite number of compositions. This would culminate in namesake solo preoccupation Sarke, Thomas recruiting Darkthrone vocalist Nocturno Culto to occupy the microphone stand.
“I just wanted to do an album by myself, where I could have control over everything,” Thomas reasons. “I talked to Indie about it, and they liked the idea. I wanted Nocturno Culto to do the vocals, mostly because I like his vocals very much. I think he has a very cool voice; it’s pure, honest, and raw. I think he has a good extreme metal voice. I asked him, and after a while he said ‘Yes.’ Therefore, we just went into the studio, and recorded a full album. I did everything else except for the keyboards, which Anders (Hunstad) did – he did all of the keyboard work. I had known him for a long time, but I just chose him because he’s very easy to work with. He’s also very good, so I knew he was able to play the ideas that I had for the keyboards. When I make a song, I know where I want the keyboards to be. I told him where I wanted the keyboards to be, and he knew how I wanted the keyboards to sound. He was very easy to use on this, because he knew what flavour I wanted when I asked him. In all, there was only the three of us on the first album.”
The drummer is a longtime Darkthrone fanatic. “Of course I got into Darkthrone when they did their early demos,” he recalls. “When they made their first album (Soulside Journey, January 1991), it wasn’t so usual for a Norwegian extreme metal band to have a contract to release an album. I liked that one very much, but when they released Transilvanian Hunger (February 1994), I thought that was very good. Their second album A Blaze In The Northern Sky (February 1992) was very good as well. I liked the first album when that came out, and I also liked their changes when they went into black metal. I think that was very good.”
Metal’s elder statesmen arguably form Sarke’s musical influences. “It’s bands that I have been into, like Black Sabbath, Celtic Frost, Slayer, Motörhead, and maybe Mercyful Fate and King Diamond,” Thomas cites. I just look at it as dark rock music, maybe. It’s not black metal, and it’s not heavy metal, and it’s not rock ’n’ roll. It’s darker rock metal, maybe? It’s elements of a lot of things.”
The Sarke founder’s moniker dates as far back as 1991. “When we started Tulus, we found an old book containing Norwegian names from the 18th century,” he remembers. “There I found this old Norwegian name, and just chose that one.”
In February 2009, it was revealed that Sarke had inked an album contract with Indie Recordings. “I guess it was back when we were signed to Tabu Recordings with Khold,” Thomas figures. “A lot of the same guys who worked for Tabu started Indie Recordings, so I knew them from before. They also have us for Khold. I just said that I was going to do a solo album, and asked if they were interested. They said ‘Yes.’”
Vorunah arrived two months later, in April of that year. “I’m very comfortable when I’m alone,” the composer divulges. “I don’t need to discuss anything with anyone. I did the guitars myself of course, and it’s a bit cool for me to play guitar and bass – I usually only play drums. I experiment a lot in the studio, because often when I go into the studio, the songs aren’t completely done. I make some of the songs in the studio. I have some riffs and ideas, and so I make the songs in the studio. I like to record fast, so a lot of the takes on the first album are the first take. That could be guitar, or drums, or bass.
“On the first album, some of the guitars are actually the guide guitar. In the studio, when I did it myself, I recorded the guitar tracks first. I then played the drums, and then I played the guitar again. I actually used some of the guide guitar, because they sounded okay. I kept them, and some of the drum tracks are the first take. I usually play the whole song through. When I play the drums, I improvise all of the time. I haven’t played the drums at rehearsals, and then done exactly the same in the studio. I just play as I go along.”
Across several instruments, Thomas is proficiently skilled. “I would say that I’m maybe average on all instruments,” he critiques. “I’m not very good but I guess I’m not very bad either, so I would say average. I never rehearse, so I guess my skills are average (laughs). I would say that the drums are my main instrument, though. I play guitars more than drums, but drums is my main instrument. I always make and create songs on guitar, but if I compare myself to Steinar (Gundersen) who’s in the band, he’s very, very much better than me on guitar because he’s a very good lead guitarist. My main instrument is the drums though, so if I had to choose, then it would be the drums.”
Queried regarding his drumming influences, the Sarke lyricist finds it difficult to cite specific examples. “I’m not sure if I have any,” he ponders. “I have some local dudes that maybe taught me some stuff when I started playing drums. Of course, Sean Reinert (Cynic) who did the Human album with Death (October 1991), he sounds very good, but I don’t have any particular influences. A lot of jazz players are very good, but I don’t think so much about that now. I’m not sure. I don’t have any favourite drummers, but I’m more of a rock ’n’ roll drummer. If I had to choose between Dream Theater and AC/DC, I’m much more AC/DC.”
Thomas shares positive sentiments with respect to Vorunah. “For me, mostly I like it, because it’s my solo album,” he explains. “I did everything, and played most of the instruments. It’s very honest and pure. I wrote the lyrics. I usually don’t do lyrics, but I did lyrics for the whole album. I would say it’s a bit special because it’s my solo album, mostly.”
The band’s inaugural effort was cut at H10 Productions in Oslo, Norway, the first of three Sarke outings to be recorded at that location with producer / engineer Lars-Erik Westby. The Sarke bassist “just met him through other bands that had been there. He also liked that style of music; he likes a lot of 70s rock and 80s music, and he knew what sound I wanted. I think he’s very good to create that sound with. I know how I want the songs to sound, but he helps me out. He doesn’t produce the songs so much, but he maybe helps me to produce the sound. He helps me a lot by doing the sound on the guitar and the bass, and he also helps me out on the keyboard side, but my own songs are produced by me of course.
“A lot of the new studios have a lot of technical things; everything’s done on the computer, and they trigger the drums and that sort of stuff. I like to keep analogue drums and do the guitars through an amplifier, and not a computer. It’s old guitar boxes, and amplifiers. I just like old stuff.”
Indie Recordings requested that Sarke perform on their ‘label night’ at the Inferno Festival in Oslo on April 8th, 2009. Rounding out Sarke’s live personnel were Asgeir Mickelson (Spiral Architect / ex-Borknagar) on drums and Cyrus (Susperia / Dimmu Borgir) on guitar. The five-piece’s studio debut arrived in the form of April 2011’s Oldarhian. “The record company asked me if I could do a second album, but I didn’t feel like doing a second solo album,” Thomas admits. “The second album is different, because then we were a band. They also asked for me to play live, so therefore I needed to make a band to play live. Then I thought that maybe the live band could also do the album, so I just called around people I knew.
“Every member I have known for at least ten years, because I just called the people that I wanted to have in my band. Of course I also have Khold and Tulus, but I didn’t want to involve any of those people. I wanted to work in a band with new people. They all live quite near, except for Nocturno – he lives far away. I called friends I knew who were very good, and could play. They also live near me, so it was a bit easier to rehearse. That’s why I asked them. We did some live shows and stuff, and then I asked them if they wanted to do the album. They all said ‘Yes’ – it was quite easy.
“Four different people wrote songs. Of course instrumentally it’s a bit stronger, because better people are playing, and there are some very good songs on that album. It has a very good sound and everything, so I like the second album as well. Of course it was a bit different for me since I wrote maybe five, six songs, though. The other people collectively wrote four, so for me of course it was a bit different.”
Possessing songwriting abilities wasn’t a prerequisite for joining. “They didn’t have to be able to write, no,” the Sarke mainman confirms. “I could’ve done all of the album, but they wanted to make some songs.”
Critiqued against its predecessor, Oldarhian is a more varied affair. “Asgeir wrote the songs in the spirit of Sarke, so it’s not so easy to hear that it’s not me who made some of the songs,” Thomas judges. “Cyrus made a big difference, but he also made a song in the spirit of Sarke. Nocturno’s song is a bit different, because he does what he does. You can hear a bit of difference, which just makes the album a bit more varied.
“With Cyrus for example, his was a bit more melodic. He’s a guitar player, which is a bit different than how a drummer makes songs. He likes to play more on the guitar, and so he can play more notes, and the riffs are more complicated. Nocturno’s also a guitar player, so there’s much more going on in his songs. I’m a drummer making songs, so I guess I make the songs more in a drum type of way. That’s why it’s a bit different. Maybe for some people it’s better to not have one songwriter on an album, to have more different songs. It could be a good thing.”
Playing as a member of a group or as a solo artist both have their advantages and disadvantages. “When you’re solo, you can decide everything yourself,” the sometime drummer muses. “You don’t think so much about the live aspect. I also make songs that I can play myself on the guitar. I just do everything at my pace. When you’re a band, you have to ask other people ‘Is this song good?’ or ‘Do you like this?’ Other people in the band, maybe they play different. The drums I also played myself. Now when I make a song though, I know the drum pattern, but Asgeir of course does his own style on the drums. When I make a guitar riff, maybe I think of the drums, and then he plays a bit different. I always have to talk to other people and have that in the back of my mind, but when you’re solo you do everything yourself, and you don’t think to ask anybody else.”
Albeit a democracy, not all Sarke members share equal power within the group. “It depends on who, because some people are more in the band than other people,” Thomas reveals. “I am of course the mainman, so if I don’t want it, then it’s not gonna happen. Everyone can make a song, though. Everybody can ask and everybody can have their wishes, but if I say to everybody else that a song isn’t so good, then we don’t use it. On the new album though, there are nine tracks; I made eight, and Asgeir made one. Asgeir made song number eight – ‘Icon Usurper’. He wrote the lyrics himself. It’s quite cool, a bit uptempo, and it’s also heavy. Maybe one of the most black metal songs on the album, one of the most extreme songs on the album.”
The Sarke founder nonetheless has the final word on the assortment’s affairs. “Yeah, and I also should,” he argues. “This is a solo band. If everybody has to decide, it can sometimes be a bit more messy. I think it’s okay if one person has the final vote.”
Surfacing during September 2013, Aruagint is Sarke’s third outing to date. “The start is that I make songs of course, and then we rehearse a little bit, working on the songs we want to,” Thomas discloses. “We went to the same studio that we went to for the two other albums, and we recorded the album with the same guy. We also used some of the same equipment that we used on the first album – like the same drumkit, for example. We did it in the same way as the first two albums. We recorded the drums first of course, and then guitar and bass, and then vocals and keyboards.
“I would say that the new album maybe reminds me more of the first album. It’s a bit rougher I think, a bit more straight to the point. It depends on the song, also. Of course maybe the sound is a bit more heavy, but I think it’s a Sarke album like the two other albums were – so I don’t actually hear so much difference. Of course, these are new songs. I have a bit more feeling for the first album than the previous album.”
As was the case with Vorunah and Oldarhian, Aruagint is a fictional word. “Maybe I had picked out five to eight words to choose from to make this word,” the songwriter tells. “I think Aruagint is a place like Hell – a dark place.”
Generally speaking, Sarke’s lyrical content isn’t light in nature. “When I play dark music, the lyrics are often a bit dark and cold, and are about people who’re either dying or killing or having a dark time,” Thomas elaborates. “They’re usually dark stories. You have ‘Skeleton Sand’ for example, which is a place where people can go to die and sink to the bottom. Their skeleton turns into sand, so the whole bottom of the sea is just skeleton sand. ‘Jaunt Of The Obsessed’ is about a guy who wants to find a formula for something, so he’s looking for some papers, or a script. That’s the story there.”
Aruagint’s front cover photograph was discovered online by Asgeir. “He contacted the guy who took the photograph, and he then did some more layouts for the album,” the Sarke wordsmith informs. “I don’t know if you have the booklet, but there’s some stuff in the booklet which is quite cool, stuff that he made for this album. Asgeir handled all of the layout, how it looks. He got this guy to do some paintings, and some drawings.”
A music video is in the pipeline. “We were supposed to do a video this summer for ‘Strange Pungent Odyssey’, but that has been delayed because Nocturno is doing a film, and our band is going to be in that film,” Thomas illuminates. “We were supposed to do a video at the same time, but we have to wait a little bit.
“That song is about a person who’s dreaming actually, so it’s just a dream. If you read the lyrics, you’d know that. There are lots of things going on in that dream – he’s on a journey, where he’s being followed. It’s a bit catchy that track, a bit light. Maybe you don’t have to be an extreme fan to like that song – maybe it’s the most easy-going song on the album.”
To date, Sarke has performed live infrequently. “We did some gigs at the start, but there have been few gigs,” the Sarke bassist affirms. “I’m not sure why that is, but we’ve talked about doing a bit more live shows now. Our booking agent is looking into finding some gigs.”
Aruagint was released on September 20th, 2013 in Norway, Germany, Austria, and Sweden via Indie Recordings. The album was subsequently issued three days later worldwide through the same record label.
Interview published in September 2013.
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