Torstein from Manes on holding your breath, Vilosophe and Grease


Jul 15, 2001
The starry attic
Manes recently released their latest album, “Vilosophe”, on an unsuspecting public through code666 records. The genre-defying sextet originally began life as a duo, playing bleak, traditional black metal; a style which shares few similarities with their more recent music.

This change in focus is a “much-asked-about topic in recent interviews” according to the unfortunate recipient of my questions, bassist and lyricist, Torstein. “And I can understand it to some extent, but am getting dead-tired of it! The fact is that all the pre-Vilosophe-recorded material is 8 to 10 years old now. The last album – “Under Ein Blodraud Maane” – consisted of re-recorded songs from the 3 previous demos. There really wasn’t a drastic change, only a slow and steady development to what we are now.”

“As nothing has been documented, or put down on tape, there hasn’t been any big ka-boom, and nobody has seen the light or been to India or hey-diddly-ho. Only progression, evolution or whatever. Cern has been into and used sequencers and samplers etc. since way back on the old recordings, so it’s more of a change in pace. There are more people involved now – all pulling in different directions. So that’s something maybe. And we like it!”

The group’s sound contains dance elements, and nods to jazz and blues within a rock/metal template, while dripping with memorable melancholic tunes. With solid songwriting and a personal feel, this makes “Vilosophe” hard not to play on repeat. “Cern has written most of the music on this album”, informs the lyricist.

“Eivind has also written some, and I guess everybody in the band has been a part of the arranging and composing of the songs on one level or another. Cern, however, has more or less done the skeletal work – the framework - for the songs. He has stuff lying around from the demo-days up till now, so I guess we have like 30 or 40 “themes” - full songs, loops, ideas, riffs or whatever, just waiting to be recorded or discarded. This is mostly digital stuff with a few guitar-parts - basically foundations to build whole songs on with the band. We often start the creative process of a 'song' from just one (or two) themes that we have long jams around. Try out different stuff, you know – hear if it sounds cool with blastbeats, without beats at all and stuff like that. Then we begin to think of ways to build a song from that.”

It is at this point I begin to get confused – largely because there are no band members in the liner notes known as Cern. ‘So, is Cern, Tor-Helge Skei? Just to get it clear in all our heads?’ I ask.

“If you want to get your head cleared, this is not the place, I would suspect. Let me redirect everybody to perhaps… I wouldn’t normally make a point about not answering something like this, but as it’s not of much importance I’ll just keep you in the dark on that one…”

As I’m groping in the dark here, ‘how long can you hold your breath for?'

“Wait, and I’ll check………. Until my face turns red.”

‘Dude, try harder, keep it up at least till it turns blue?'

“I get the blues from having a red face.”

‘Does holding you breath come in useful when diving with your hands bound?'

“I guess not. A red face is never useful unless you’re trying to sell fire-water to the Cherokee…”


Back on topic, Manes’ music and lyrics seem quite personal, while vague, and a wistful sadness runs throughout. As well as wondering what inspired this feel, I’d also like to know how Torstein feels about people applying his lyrics to their own feelings and situations.

“That’s it, you know. Brilliant! We’ve done all we wanted to do with Vilosophe. This wasn’t really part of the plan – with interviews and stuff – to have to talk about stuff afterwards. The ‘product’ Vilosophe is finished, and that’s it. If we wanted to include ‘instructions’, they would have been there in the cover… Open your mind. And your ears will follow. Or vice versa…”

When enquiring whether the lyricist wanted to explain some of the inspiration behind his work, it transpired he doesn’t. “It’s like you ask in the last question: how do you feel about people applying your lyrics to their own feelings and situations? I feel great! Mission accomplished, or whatever. We hope to ignite a little spark in the cells up there, you know. We don’t want to say like; the 1st song is about suicide and it’s a very sad song but it all ends well – and the 2nd song is about Christmas but without the food cause the drums ended up a little too meaty etc. People should let the music in and let it ‘speak to them’ – isn’t that the best way? Maybe I’m repeating myself a little, but who cares. Read on.”

‘It is indeed the best way, but I feel the question still has some validity - I certainly have strong personal interpretations of your lyrics (as I’m sure do many of your listeners), based on prior experiences. Hence it would be interesting to see how closely related these are to your own, and the intention behind the lyrics, no?’

“Yes, it’s surely a valid question. But I don’t feel secure enough too take part in an analysis of the lyrics here (or anywhere). By secure I mean articulate and nifty enough, so I really try to avoid this question as best I can. I know it would be cool to compare my intentions with your interpretations of what is said in plain language, but that could also destroy the song’s effect on you, don’t you think?”

‘That is true, it could make my interpretation seem less valid and the songs less effective, so let’s leave it there!’


This said, Manes’ lyrics are relatively ambiguous, and have, to some extent, mystique – one of the reasons I find this interview (and topic) so interesting. This ambiguity could be deliberate - to enable personal interpretation/to cloud their true meaning, or it could be a natural consequence of the music.

Both are true, according to Torstein. “And I guess they are not really ‘regular’ lyrics either, being more like poetry – I’m not saying they are – but they serve more to induce a feeling or set an atmosphere than to tell a linear story. Like some poetry, that is - and some lyrics too."

“Hmmm, I’ve tried to dig rather deep, with some of the stuff on there, but some of the lyrics were changed/re-written and re-arranged all the way up to the actual recording, so it’s a mish-mash of odds and ends. Some of them I really feel have something to say – and I hope someone gets it, you know – but with some of the stuff I’ll be amazed if anyone even understands (to exaggerate a bit).”

“Some of the lyrics deal with stuff close to politics, you know – and there’s some love/hate/death/life there too… I don’t know what more to say… I’ve tried to use a quite plain language and a lot of first-person – prompting questions like what is he talking about’, you know – ‘why does he say what he says. That’s where you come in…”

Also featuring strongly on “Vilosophe” are distinctive vocals, courtesy of Tommy Sebastian and Asgeir Hatlen. Their fragile, high, fragmented singing contrasts with occasional harsher - yet melodic – screaming. “There’s actually just one [full time vocalist]” the bassist relates.

“We’ve brought along Tommy Sebastian to ‘add another dimension’, I guess – to say it in a pompous manner. I hope we will have two vocalists on our next album, though. The full ‘Hello-Hey/Up and dance’-choir and the whole gang from the ‘Alabama Paddle-Fiddle Roots band’. That would be cool. We’ll see… I’d like to try some stuff out with some female vocals as well, but we haven’t tried it yet, so no-one knows.”

‘Great’ I laugh, ‘May I suggest you get the cast from Grease to add a fifties vibe, and you could all have quiffs and fast cars?’

“I don’t like cars, but Grease is a classic! Didn’t they send a copy of that out in one of those capsules that orbit the earth? To ‘represent’ us earthlings to the aliens or whatever? If they didn’t – they should”.

‘Hmmmm, wouldn’t that categorically prove to any extra terrestrials there is no intelligent life on earth and dissuade them from contacting us?’

“What would better prove intelligent life on this planet you feel? A montage of world politics the last 100 years?”

‘Point taken! How are you planning on finding a female vocalist, if you decide to follow that route?’

“We know some competent vocalists among said gender, but it’s basically just an idea at the moment. We haven’t marked any verse with an X in lipstick for moans and whimpers just yet, but I really like the contrast it can provide. And the sensuality too. I don’t know. I hope we can try it out and I hope it will work.” This topic expired, I move on to the subject of touring, especially the UK (self-interest being paramount). No live shows are planned, but the group are open to serious offers of one-off performances, or even a tour."

“We don’t focus on the live side of the music, really, so I guess it’s more like ‘we don’t want to walk to the mountain – let the mountain come to us’. We haven’t renewed our passports and polished our guitars just yet, to tell you that much… But to do a show in the UK would be cool, you know – I love England myself. I’ve been over there lots of times, mostly in London, and I’ve met some cool people that I wouldn’t mind meeting again…”

“There’s only ever been one gig in Manes’ history – with Red Harvest here in our hometown, Trondheim – but we’re up for more shows. Basically, for us to do something like that, a lot of planning is needed. We want to do something special, not the typical rock-show with some slight nodding of hair and us just playing riff after riff on stage. We want to create more of an atmosphere around the whole thing – make it more visual, you know… We’ll see what happens.”

‘So, if you were to play, how would you try and make it more visual? Videos playing behind you, unusual set design and lighting?’

“Having started to discuss this, we know what we can do and what we probably can’t. I guess we can’t really do all the stuff we’d like at all the venues, but we’ve started to play with ideas for a show here in Trondheim. We want to take it a step further than the average rock-show, and yes; including video-projectors, live-feeds etc. We want to make that aspect – the live-show – of Manes a creative outlet too, not just a performance or recital.”

“Maybe we’ll do a candlelight acoustic gig, and you’ll all get disappointed. Hmmm. Maybe it’s best to end this by saying we’ll never play live again. If you see a ‘Manes Live!’-poster it’s not us, and they don’t have a good show. No videos. No disappointed faces.”

Another unusual element about Mane’s recent sound is the instrumental variation; as well as synths there are numerous other sounds rarely used in metal, including a saxophone in 'Ende' . Torstein isn’t “much of a sax-person, but used in such a manner it works great I think…”, something I am forced to agree with. The well chosen instrumentation is used to good effect, placed to accentuate the feeling of the songs, giving 'Ende' a seedy feel, and 'Diving With Your Hands Bound [Nearly Flying]' a dreamy atmosphere.

“I’m really into the sax-like stuff Ephel Duath uses as well” he continues. “I just saw them at the Quart festival here in Norway, and Davide and the guys really delivered the goods! I don’t know if it’s sax they use, but it works great…”

‘Isn’t it a trumpet dude? I saw them live here in the UK a month back, and they do rock live! Is there going to be any more sax in your next release, or haven’t you planned that far ahead yet?’

“ Yeah, I guess it’s a trumpet, but a damn good trumpet it is! That stuff was sampled for the gig, so… I’m not very well educated within the blow-able kind of instruments - it’s all horns to me, basically. Up the horns!”

“We haven’t used any sax just yet on any of the new stuff, so don’t expect that to become our trademark. ‘Neo Avant-Sax Metal’. Talking of which, what is it with that ‘genre’ Code666 has placed us in (or labelled us with)? “Neo Avant Metal” – that’s just hmmm… silly!”

While we are (vaguely) on the subject of specific songs, I feel the need to ask what the German speech that constitutes the final track 'Confluence' is about. This track comprises a monologue which becomes more distorted as the speaker's anger slowly intensifies, above sound effects that gradually increase in volume. It turns out the speech is “about a mans’ relationship to his wife. It’s from a movie called ‘Der Todesking’ – watch it if you haven’t already… Life and death and everything.”

Hence films must be an influence for the band, and I wonder from where else they draw inspiration?

“We are not your typical ‘we want to be Iron Maiden/Darkthrone/whatever’ band, so I’d have to go for the ‘everything’ answer. Then this, all of a sudden, became the part of the interview where I can insert my ‘list of favourites’ answer, right?

‘Damn right man!’

“OK, but this is more of a tribute to the whole ‘list your faves’ answers of yesteryear… Or something. Have you read/seen ‘High Fidelity’? Be sure to interview me when you decide to do an interview of ‘top 5’ questions. Like, ‘Torstein, name your top 5 head-wear’ – and I’ll go
5. Fez
4. Magician’s hat/goth, or the synth-dude in Dimmu Borgir on the Enthrone album
3. Plain black cap
2. etc. etc. … Wouldn’t that be cool?”

‘OK, top five.. black metal albums?’

“5. Burzum - ‘Burzum’
4. Emperor - ‘Emperor miniLP’
3.Mayhem - ‘De Mysteriis...’
2. Samael - ‘Worship Him’
1. Split: Bathory - ‘Under the sign…’ / Darkthrone - ‘Under a funeral Moon’

“Honourable mentions – in random order:
Ulver ‘Nattens Madrigal’
Rotting Christ ‘Thy Mighty Contract’
Gorgoroth ‘Under the Sign of Hell’
Darkthrone ‘ A Blaze in the Northern Sky’/’Transylvanian Hunger’
Immortal ‘Pure Holocaust’
Burzum ‘Hvis Lyset Tar Oss’”

These favourites listed, I return to the band’s history; the original duo that formed the Manes in ’93 were Sargatanas (who has since left), and current unidentified member Cernunnus. The new line-up was formed by both chance and luck – some members come and some go.

“The line-up on Vilosophe is not the First Breed Of Full Manes Line-Ups (FBOFMLU). When we first became a full band Sarg was still onboard doing vocals and Krell from Bloodthorn did the bass etc. Things happened, you know, as they do, and Eivind (+ Cern, of course) are the only ones left from the FBOFMLU. Now we have Rune from ‘3rd and the Mortal’ onboard as well as Asgeir and myself.”

“Also I play in Chton– got to spread the word as much as I can! Check out Chton, you know – hehe, I’ve done an interview for Chton here on UM as well. You can find it in the “Unsigned Spotlight”-section. Check it out and compare my answers, like ‘but he said he didn’t like mayo… Hmmm, what a two-faced son-of-a-bitch!’”

‘Yes, yes you did! I just had a chicken sandwich with mayonnaise on it. What do you have against mayo?’

“It’s revolting stuff. I’d rather chew on some cold dog-flavoured lard.”

Following this slight side-track, and the shocking revelation that Manes hold anti-mayo views, I inquire if any session musicians perform on ‘Vilosophe’?

“I guess we can call Tommy Sebastian a session musician” comes the reply. “But maybe more a kind of permanent session musician. I don’t know… He’ll still do stuff with us live etc.. We don’t know (or care), I guess. We want everyone to come join us. One big happy family. No session musicians – just things that happen and stuff that’s cool…”

‘Excellent! Can I come onboard as your triangle player?’

“Are you any good?”

‘I can keep a beat.. Good enough?’

“Ahh, you’re just a little too late. We just found a girl who can pose topless for all our future covers and dance seductively at our gigs, shaking her tush – so now all we have to do is teach her how to keep a beat on triangle. We’re really looking forward to learning her language too. She just smiles and says ‘yes please’ through her heavy make-up…”

‘Well, I’m insulted, first because you don’t think I can’t dance seductively at your gigs, and second because you make it sound like teaching someone the triangle is easy! Anyway, are you pleased with the album?’

“I like it a lot.”

‘Do you have a favourite song?’

“Difficult one this. I really have a soft spot for ‘Diving with your hands bound’. And maybe also a combination of the last two tracks… What’s your favourite?”

‘Well, it has to be Ende, I love the feel of that song… But they’re all great!’

“I really love Ende as well. Basically, I like all the songs too. I like it as a whole, you know. Good flow and stuff… But I’m not really objective on that matter, so we’ll leave it there.”


Manes’ music is hard to pin down, there are elements from many different styles, as well as the group’s unique identity. Influences range greatly, so I ask Torstein for some of his biggest musical inspirations - Slayer and Motörhead it transpires. As for non musical sources of inspiration, there are “lots of them. But we’re all different - in that sense - within the band.

“Have you seen Fight Club? That got me going for real. But also a lot of other stuff… I saw the French film ‘Irreversible’ yesterday, but it didn’t hit home as much as I thought it would… I know my “interview-favourites 101’, you know – like American Psycho, HR Giger and stuff, but I must say I’m really a film-buff and I get inspired easily by them as well. Directors like Kubrick, Lynch, Coppola, Buttgereit, Fincher etc. But as far as “influences” for what lands as an idea for Manes, I can’t really say. We prefer to use our own imagination, you know, not someone else’s…”

‘Yeah, Fight Club is cool. ‘Irreversible’ was only released here a month back on Tartan, I was considering buying the DVD, so haven’t seen it yet… Here, of course, we could argue that by the very fact you watch and enjoy these films, to some degree they influence your work, even if subconsciously, i.e. your own imagination could be shaped, to a small degree, by what you respect in others.. Agree?’

“Yeah, totally agree. But we don’t make stuff directly influenced by, for example, Fight Club, you know. Or we haven’t yet, at least. That’s basically what I mean – we use our imagination (something that should be more widespread), and our imagination is of course the spawn of all that we see, do, hear and feel. And eat (not any mayo-influenced songs here). So, we agree basically.”

Back to the blatant mayo hating! To change from this most upsetting subject for us mayonnaise lovers, I ask Torstein how he sees than band’s music changing in the future. Their sound “changes all the time. Cern would like to make a non-percussive, one-song ambient album, so we’ll see. Sounds like a cool idea… I’d like to experiment a little with noise and harsh industrial, but we haven’t come to the point that decisions like that matter - we’re not recording anything just now… We don’t feel bound by anything, and are always open for anything we think can and will sound good, so it’s not easy to predict, you know… Total nekronoizeblackfuckinggospelcore with an Arabian scent maybe?”

On the subject of a new album, the band have started work recently; so far the music seems to be “heavier and harder. We’ll see what happens. There are lots of ideas, riffs, themes, loops and tapes to build songs from, so – as I said - we’ll see what happens.”

Another feature which sets ‘Vilosophe’ apart from it’s contemporaries is the subtle yet effective use of samples, giving an edgy atmosphere. For example, opening track ‘Nodamnbreaks’ begins with a woman talking about a “very secretive cult”, who ate all the evidence… When asked where this materialised, Torstein relates “Cern found that somewhere, and I don’t know much more about it. It’s from a TV-program or radio or whatever and it’s not fictional.

The only stuff that’s from a movie is ‘Confluence’, everything else is the real deal from TV or radio. The screams in the break before ‘no need to sleep…’ in ‘Nodamnbreaks’ are also ‘real’, you know. They were recorded from TV, I think – they are the screams of a woman getting electroshock treatment for her mental illness. When you know that, the screaming gets a little more disturbing…”

Moving onto the aesthetics of the album, I wonder about the science-based cover art, as there is little to support this lyrically.

“The cover art sort of has a concept of it’s own. It’s connected to the music/lyrics in more ways than one, but still stands alone. It’s got this “grand-unification-scheme-theme” going, you know. Connect the dots. The actual front-cover ended up with more qualities than I had imagined, actually. It’s total chaos wrapped in empty tranquillity, don’t you think? If you just see it as a visual that is, and don’t go deeper than that. Well, it has many levels and I don’t want to say too much about it. You should give it a meaning of your own, that’s maybe the real essence of it.”

‘Agreed, it is an intriguing cover!’

“Cool – thanks! But it’s not just random imagery, you know – we try to make a point, yet a slightly diffuse one.”

Referring to elsewhere in the cover, the ‘particles of light can’t be imprisoned in matter’ quote relates to “the religious sect of Manichaeism, based on the primeval conflict between the realms of light and darkness (like most religion, I guess)… That’s it with religions, you know – it doesn’t have to be possible, you just have to hope that it may be if you close your eyes, bite your teeth hard together, and believe…. And pop go the particles of light. Spewing from the dark matter… Manichaeism was founded by the prophet Manes.”

‘Was this part of the reason behind the choice of name? Do you feel as a band you represent/make use of the conflict between light and dark?’

“Nah, it’s more of a ‘link’. It’s not the reason behind the name at all – the name has many intriguing meanings – not to do with what you’re referring to.”

Next I think it’s time to talk about Manes’ label. code666 records is quickly building a reputation for innovative, unusual metal, so Manes seem right at home on their roster. The band feel code666 are “doing a great job! They are ambitious, and dare to tread their own path. They’re a metal-label, but they don’t just go for the gold or whatever. They search for bands that they feel have something going, and not just music they think has sales potential. Plus they work hard, so I’m very pleased, you know. No complaints. They support us and they don’t try to pull us in some direction nor try to make us do this and that. Apart from interviews, which basically is just tiresome, not negative…”

‘So you’re finding this interview tiresome huh?’ I laugh ‘Hmm, it could be worse, I’ve asked people maths questions in the past..’

“You could have asked stuff like ‘is time linear?’ etc. That would pull my ‘no comment’ answers more rapidly, I guess… Anyway – I wasn’t referring to this interview, but interviews in general as something time-consuming and totally besides the actual music. It’s not negative, as I’ve already said, but something that takes a lot of time – and I find myself saying the same stuff over and over again, and that’s not cool.”

‘Well, I just like to have fun while doing them, and hope the people being interviewed and reading it will have fun too, otherwise it makes for very dull reading.. especially if they’re this long!’

“Yeah, I guess nobody’s read this far... Everybody’s stuck at… Hehe”

‘Ah well, at the end of the day, what more can I say?’

“Just shut up…”

‘It’s an option, not always a preferable one.. Any last comments?’

“OK, I’ve got to mention that we’re working on a website right now. I don’t know what the address will be just yet, but be sure to check in on to find that – and other news and updates – when it’s time.”

“But anyway – something completely different (well, not completely…) – have you read ISTEN#100? Or any ISTEN magazine at all? You should! I didn’t expect the bloody Finnish Inquisition, but there they are: if you are to buy one magazine this year, buy ISTEN one hundred! Go to - I kid you not. Know-it-alls from Finland spitting on our grave. And they damn well should…”

‘Sounds intriguing’

“If you think so, order it! Well-hidden cash in an envelope; that’s the way to enlightenment. If you do so, and you should, you’ll see why mentioning this is valid here.. I’m sorry if this interview turned out just plain ‘turn in, tune off, drop by’ – or was that ‘tune out, drop off, turn in’ – anyway; thanks, this was fun.”

And so another extremely entertaining interview ends, leaving me with the sole job of thanking Torstein for his entertaining answers, and for humouring some of my less than serious questions... Hopefully, if you’ve read this far, you’re either a fan, or you’re intrigued enough to buy “Vilosophe”. A very sensible move!
Great interview / discussion!

OK first of all, Vilosophe is a great album - almost certainly going to be in my top 10 for 2003. I also think Under Ein Blodraud Maane is excellent, so I guess that makes me a Manes fan.

However, his interview answers got a bit tiresome after a while with him purposely trying to be cryptic, and for so long as well. It got to the point where I was initially interested as to who this "Cern" band member was, and then eventually feeling like I couldn't give a shit.

Also, I'm not sure if the questions and answers can be modified with different colours or something, but it became a little difficult to tell who was saying what...:erk:

Otherwise, nice going Russ!
Great interview Russell! :)

“Yeah, I guess nobody’s read this far... Everybody’s stuck at… Hehe” :lol: :Smug: