By Liam Carroll

Once dubbed ‘the most evil man alive’ by Terrorizer magazine,  the ex-lead singer and founding member of black metal giant Gorgoroth – Gaahl – sat down for a chat not long after completing a grueling, yet exhilarating, performance with his new band, Gaahls Wyrd.

Dressed in his usual black overcoat, with an upside down cross hanging from his neck, Gaahl sported left-over black marker around his eyes following his set at Tons of Rock, a three-day metal concert in Halden, Norway.

Bass player for Gaahls Wyrd, Frode “Eld” Kilvik stands high playing at Tons of Rock.

“Lets start the interview once I’ve emptied my bladder,” chuckled Gaahl, whose real name is Kristian Eivind Espeda.  Upon his return he quickly reviewed Gaahls Wyrd’s  performance on the opening day of Tons of Rock. “It went better than I felt prior. We were a bit amputated before the gig, due to a death, so our main session guitarist couldn’t join us.” Swirling his beer in a wine glass, he continued: “Only last week we had someone step in for us, so we had to learn a couple songs in very short notice.”

Gaahl has caused controversy in the past and spoke about church burnings  in Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey (2005):  “Church burnings are, of course, a thing that I support 100 percent. It should have been done much more, and will be done much more in the future. We have to remove every trace of what Christianity, and the semitic roots, have to offer this world.”

He has also served time in prison for aggravated assault. More recently, however, the singer’s public image has been more positive. On Day Two of Tons of Rock he could be seen walking casually through the festival grounds, chatting with fans and letting people take pictures with him. Gaahl, who was born in the western Norwegian district of Sunnfjord, now spends a lot of his time in Bergen, where he opened an art gallery in May.  He is often seen around in Bergen and stops for pictures with people as well as speaking with people in his gallery.

Two huge parts of Gaahl’s life are his music and his artwork. His style could be described as hauntingly striking, and his paintings generally feature people in dark moments. Asked if he could choose between music and painting he gave it a quick thought and said, “no.” Opening an art gallery has been a different experience for him. “Yeah, at the moment, by all means the gallery is very new to me but the gallery is, at least, representing one of my passions.”

Active in the music scene since 1993, Gaahl has been in numerous bands, starting off with black metal band Trelldom and moving on to Gorgoroth, God Seed and Wardruna. Balancing his gallery and his music can be challenging, he said. “At the moment it’s a bit stressful, but I have a tendency to get into a proper focus when something tries to distract you ,so it might actually help me in the sense of becoming lazy,” and added, “I’m originally extremely lazy, so its good to have something that you can push yourself with.”

man in scary-looking make-up sings on stage
Gaahl used costumes and makeup in previous bands Gorgoroth and God Seed. He’s stuck with the aesthetic in his new band, Gaahls Wyrd. Photo by Liam Carroll

When performing, the members of Gorgoroth wore dark-inspired costumes and makeup. Gaahl favored a look featuring spikes coming from his arms and blood makeup covering parts of his body and face. Gaahl continues to use costumes and makeup when performing live with Gaahls Wyrd. He compared his love for creating artwork and costumes, “Performing live is sending out energy and that’s what you’re trying to do in music and as an artist. I’d say describing performance as a type of artwork qualifies.”

Gaahls Wyrd is currently recording new material and tells fans to expect “something unexpected.”  His enthusiasm waned and his answers grew shorter as two full plates of food were placed next to him. When asked if black metal is a big part of his life was, his response was, “It turned into it.”

The dark side of Gaahl’s life and career is well documented. Watching the singer once dubbed “the most evil man in the world” stopping to talk or take pictures with people he meets in the street is something new. Perhaps his public image is changing. Speaking about the possibility of a transformation Gaahl said: “A lot’s happened, so certain things have shaped me in some sort. But, then again, I have only walked the path I want to walk. So, (one) shapes ones own destiny, in that sense, but that’s what it has become.”

Video: Interview highlights