Tómas Ísdal could easily be called the backbone of Icelandic black metal. In addition to co-owning Vánagandr—Iceland’s black metal cassette label—Tómas himself plays guitar, bass, or drums in Naðra, Misþyrming, Carpe Noctem, 0, Grafir, Nornahetta, and a host of other acts, so many that he usually loses count when naming them.
His presence is so pivotal that it’s actually become a running joke in the scene that if Tómas were to be—in true black metal fashion—murdered by anyone, there would be no more black metal in Iceland. Everything involves him. To understand the cardinal musician, we sat down with him to hear about some of his formative influences.
Darkthrone ‘Under A Funeral Moon’
When I was maybe thirteen, I got Darkthrone’s ‘Under A Funeral Moon’ on CD and that was the moment I got completely enveloped in black metal. The music sounded completely different from anything else I had ever heard at the time. It had this dreamlike quality to it. I liked that it was not trying to be super heavy but that it strived for different things. It felt like ambient music. I still play that album every time it snows—at least once a winter. I don’t know if any of my bands have any Darkthrone qualities but I don’t think I would have gotten into black metal if not for ‘Under A Funeral Moon’.
I’ve always been fascinated by nature and specifically the mountains in Iceland. My parents built a small cabin not too far from Skaftafell and my Dad would take me on hikes there once in a while when I was younger. Mountains pair very nicely with black metal. They are a very good match, and you can hear that when you listen to it.
Traditional Icelandic folk songs
In kindergarten, we would always sing the old Icelandic folk songs like ‘Heyr himna smiður’ and such. I really liked them and now I sing those same songs to my daughter. She’s five and very musical—she now knows all of them too. I think some of my black metal is highly influenced by those old folk songs. We all grew up with them so there is some part of them in all our music.
‘Because We Can’
A lot of what I—or any of the other guys in the black metal scene—have done with our music has been just because we could. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why Dagur and I started Vánagandr, but it was just that we saw other people across the world do similar things and it was like, why can’t we do it here? So it was just an idea, but with the internet, we realised it was possible and so we just did it.
Then without Vánagandr, we wouldn’t have done Úlfsmessa, which was a performance we did two years in a row at Eistnaflug. A bunch of Icelandic black metal bands joined together to stage a Black Mass. We rented out an art gallery and spray painted the walls with blood and covered the ground with earth and rotting meat. We only did that because the lineup times allowed for it and we realised we could so we did. And without those crazy weird shows, what’s going on now in Icelandic black metal wouldn’t have happened.