Metal is a genre of music in continuous flux. Trends fade as quickly as they bloom making it nearly impossible to stand on the cutting edge, yet Arcturus has done so since their inception. Born out of the need to revolt against rebellion, a group of well-known extreme artists formed an avant-garde vessel, with the intention of touring the universe in cosmic reflection. Producing timeless sounds, often open to individual tastes and interpretations, utilizing the best these varying styles have to offer.
May 23, 2015 marks the US release date of Arcturus’ latest effort Arcturian. (May 8th for the rest of the world). I recently had the opportunity to speak with Arcturus front man Simen Hestnaes aka ICS Vortex about this latest release, upcoming tour dates, his other projects, and 80s metal videos.
Please enjoy some excerpts of our 4/30/15 interview.
David Halbe: What made this the right time for a new (Arcturus) release?
ICS Vortex: Well, it’s been a good time for quite some time. I think it just took some time to allow us to meet up. We’re all old men now, we all have day jobs, fucking schedules but it was important for us to get it out and to do it right. I think doing it right was the most important.
The whole process was not stressing, any part of it. We allowed the music to grow, as it should. Finally things began to take form, slowly, but you know it’s a fun process and the whole reason why we keep doing it. I think I first started announcing the album’s impeding release back in 2011, and again in 2012. Now here we are in 2015, you know it took its sweet time but here we are, finally.
Dave: Can you give me an idea what was the creative process like?
ICS: Well, I had one song that I introduced to the guys. It was in a very early stage I think I did that the same time I did the Storm Seeker album (ICS Vortex – released 2011), it was all keyboard-based, I thought it was perfect for Arcturus so I just let it rest. That song is now called “Warp” on the new album.
Knut, the guitar player, wrote four songs and I believe Sverd has written five. We did our own compositions and basic arrangements working with Mollarn (Engineering, mixing, mastering – Arcturian) but of course when Hellhammer (Jan Axel Blomberg) says “Enough pre-production, I’ll take the songs and I’ll walk into the studio with them”, and then he does all of this new weird stuff and it takes us in a slightly different direction maybe than what was first intended.
Dave: Wow, that’s cool.
ICS: A great example of this is a track called “Demon”. That song was re-arranged after it was pretty much done, we twisted it around and it worked. I was skeptical at first but you know stuff like that when you are working with amazing musicians, there is so much creativity, you can’t always ascertain the direction but it’s good for the band and since we all are from different backgrounds musically, I think that makes it more interesting for the listener, different input from multiple personalities, makes it a unique take.
Dave: I read you wrote most of the lyrics on the album from stories of your personal life. Can you give me an example?
ICS: Yes, I picked up pretty much where I left off with Sideshow Symphonies, keep it simple, keep it straight. For example, there is this song on Sideshow Symphonies called “Deamonpainter”, this piece is about the same guy in “Demon” on the new record, just a tribute to an old friend of mine. He was a bouncer at Elm Street, which was a legendary rock café in Oslo.
Dave: I know it.
ICS: Right, well he was just there. He used to sing in a band back in the 80s (laughs) whatever, you know?
ICS: Well, he was this huge Viking dude, a bouncer, Hells Angel’s kind of guy. He knew his music but he had problems with heroin in the past and, unfortunately, he fell back into his old habits. The painting was a process for him. It meant a lot to him at the time when I wrote “Deamonpainter” so that was just a tribute to him.
Dave: So he knows you wrote the song about him?
ICS: Yea, I remember I played for him for the first time before the album came out. He was extremely honored, now it has been out for ten years. You know, he’s still alive, just an old warrior. He helps people on the street with addictions, he’s got this medical kit and he revives people who overdose.
It’s a pretty strong story, he’s been marked by his abuse for so long, of course he’s different now but the core person is still there so I just wanted to revisit him again and pay my respects with a proper follow-up. Even though the new song is mood setting, reflecting from the old days, a hollow shell, roaming the streets, not giving a fuck.
Dave: What an awesome story, glad to hear he’s cleaned up his act and is helping others. What can you tell me about the artwork for the new album?
ICS: Well, we had Costin (Chioreanu) on our team. He’s just a brilliant fan. He contacted us and said “hey guys, I don’t need any money, I just want to do your artwork, I love your music, can I please be a part of it?”
Dave: Really? What happened?
ICS: Well, of course we were like yeah, let’s see what you’ve got and the first cover for us he did was the cover for our reunion show in Helsinki which was a picture of a ship’s rudder or what do you call the steering of a ship? (Laughs) Is that a rudder? Probably not, but anyways he did that with the stars and all, it was just so epic and looked so right. I thought to myself ‘this guy is amazing’.
Of course, we got a pretty good deal with Prophecy Productions so we paid him a respectful amount of money and now everything is as it should be. When you have a starting point like that it’s really special so I feel really fortunate that we have this guy on our team. We are planning a video with him now, where we are just going to give him artistic reign, you know, pick a song and go for it.
Dave: Kick ass, so there will be video support for Arcturian?
ICS: Yes, we plan on doing two videos. They are probably not going to make it out before the album release date but they will be out to support the album at a later stage. I’m guessing it probably shouldn’t take too long but I don’t know about Costin because he works alone but we have this other production company that has presented some ideas that I think may be doable. I mean really, I’m kind of afraid to do it because the cost is so fucking high and you’ve got to pay a lot of money because you’ve got to have beautiful big breasted girls.
ICS: Or whatever they have in mind theatrically that’s gonna ruin everything. Honestly I’m kind of scared about it but fuck it, nowadays if you’re going somewhere, you need a video to promote your shit so I’m gonna go for it and hopefully I can control the unnecessary as much as possible so as not to have a sell-out video in my lap, that I will just hate.
Dave: I get you.
ICS: It’s because, I’ve seen so many bad metal videos. Cliché after cliché and everything is so bad, the acting is bad, the plots are bad, everything just sucks and it gets me really embarrassed for those bands, like in the old 80s metal videos.
Dave: Yea, like Celtic Frost’s “Cherry Orchards”? You remember that one?
ICS: Oh yeah, terrible.
Dave: I know Celtic Frost as a glam band, made me want to vomit.
ICS: It’s like you know something is gonna go wrong but fuck it, it’s just gonna be a video, you don’t have to stand there glaring at the camera or whatever shit is being planned right now so hopefully it will work.
Dave: I can’t wait to see it. You played Inferno Fest recently, how was that?
ICS: It was great fun. We were playing the Vulcan stage which is kind of a terrible stage because the base elements are right underneath and is kind of improvised but it worked, the audience doesn’t know this but it was good fun. It was packed even though we went on really fucking late, it was like 1:45 in the morning or something.
Dave: Holy shit!
ICS: Yeah, I thought it was way too late. I figured people would be off partying somewhere or something, which is cool but it ended up being packed.
Dave: That’s awesome.
ICS: Yeah, it was a really good time.
Dave: Did you feature any new material at that show?
ICS: Yes, we included two songs off the new album. We didn’t want to do anymore because the album is not out yet. Maybe, when the album hits we will play three or four songs.
Dave: That reminds me do you know why the street date for the album has been pushed back from May 8th?
ICS: I just saw that today, I was online earlier.
Dave: Yeah, it’s moving from the 8th to the 23rd I believe.
ICS: Yes but that’s only for America, the 8th release date is still valid in Europe but I have no idea why the date in America has been pushed, which really sucks because we are playing Maryland Deathfest.
Dave: You might have to rethink your set list for that show, play less off Acturian.
ICS: Yes, probably two or three songs, tops. I wish I knew why the album was postponed, I’m gonna write an angry email about that.
Dave: (Laughs) Right.
ICS: I do know they’ve sold out the first print, so that’s good.
Dave: Hell yeah.
ICS: It’s great to sell it, so that’s sweet.
Dave: Absolutely. So, are you excited to play Maryland Deathfest?
ICS: Dude, I wish I was going right now. I’ve just been craving America, it’s been so long since I was over there. I’ll have many friends at the festival too, it’s just going to be a total blast for me. I’m really looking forward to it.
Dave: I can’t make it to Maryland, will there be any more North American dates?
ICS: Absolutely, that’s the plan anyways. I guess it depends on a little press and how the reception of the album is but our management has been in contact with a guy who handles North American tours so there is at least a dialogue. If it’s just a break even tour, I don’t care, I just want to go. Fuck it, fuck everything.
Dave: Man, I am so glad to hear you say that! Chicago would love to have Arcturus play here!
ICS: I am so up for it, you know? I just hope we can hit as many places as possible, it’s been too long. There are so many things about America I like, I can’t wait to get back over and do a proper tour.
Dave: That would be excellent. Hey, I know you’re active in other bands and have some side-projects, can you tell me what’s happening with Borknagar and your solo project ICS Vortex?
ICS: Yeah, sure the new Borknagar album is due out in September I believe.
Dave: Really, how about a North American tour with Borknagar? It’s been a long time since they have played here.
ICS: Dude, that would be awesome.
Dave: Fuck yeah.
ICS: (Laughs) I haven’t heard anything about it but the last album, I think we under-toured it.
Dave: That was also a couple years ago, 2013 I think? A North American tour would be fantastic.
ICS: You never know, it might happen, I mean, I would definitely be up for it, if we got an offer on the table, sure.
Garm (Kristoffer Rygg (Ulver) – Borknagar vocalist 95-97) is gonna do some guest vocals for the new album which is good news for the old-school fans.
Dave: Yeah, for sure.
ICS: ICS Vortex is pretty much on hold now, I’ve written music for it, maybe six songs that are basically ready. I just picked up my guitar, I’m sitting in my studio right now (laughs), (the strum of a guitar can be heard in the background) I write music when I’m in my workspace most of the time. I just love to compose it when I have no stress to complete it, not to get it out there because I need money or something. It’s just gonna take its time, I don’t like to rush anything.
Right now, I’ve been concentrating on Arcturus as much as possible just to prepare myself to get the show on the road, play some dates, unveil the album; just keep continuing as a group. That would be ideal but you never know what the road brings. You just got to keep a positive perspective and you’ve got to be hungry for it, I think otherwise the next album will suck.
Dave: I agree with you 100% and I’m glad you have the mindset to continue.
ICS: You know, we’re already talking about it now; we have some new ideas on how to improve what we’ve done with our stage show etc. There’s a lot going on with Arcturus right now, the vibe with the band is just so right, it’s an exciting time for sure.
Dave: That’s excellent to hear. Hey Simen, thanks a lot for your time today, best of luck with the new album and upcoming tour.
ICS: For sure, thanks for calling buddy, I hope to see you in Chicago soon, man, take care.
Steinar “Sverd” Johnsen – Keyboards
Jan Axel “Hellhammer” Blomberg – Drums
Knut Magne Valle – Guitar
Hugh Mingay – Bass
Simen “ICS Vortex” Hestnæs – Vocals