Pytten, the producer, has had an enormous amount to do with how the Norwegian black metal sound was represented. He was one of the first people to help give birth to it. He helped make the soundscape and mood that the rest of the world later tried to repeat." The legendary punk vocalist, journalist, and author Harald Fossberg thus praised Eirik "Pytten" Hundvin on the documentary Helvete: Historien om norsk black metal (2020-2021). If a Norwegian black metal album does not bear Pytten's name, the chances are that it's either second-rate or it's Darkthrone.
Emperor's Ihsahn elucidated the origins of Pytten's nickname during an interview with AllMusic: "Pytten… basically means 'a puddle of mud.' He got it from falling into a puddle of mud when he was a kid." Pytten was born on February 8, 1950. The masterpieces that he created in Bergen's Grieghallen, or "Grieg Hall," are among the most "Grim and Frostbitten" of all time. In 2013, Pytten finally shuttered his famous Grieghallen Lydstudio, or "Sound Studio." Over two decades of magic happened in this room, which was owned by NRK, a.k.a. the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. Pytten informed Dagsavisen: "People continue to come from all over the world and want to see the studio in Grieghallen where we recorded. The music has struck deep in many people."
The beautiful and spacious Grieghallen is named after the great composer Edvard Grieg. The concert hall not only houses the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, but it is also a conference and exhibition center. The stage is used for modern music events, opera, ballet, and so forth. The contrast between the bestial black metal that was recorded within this architectural gem and what Grieghallen signifies challenges our conception of the music. Grieghallen epitomizes sophistication and cultural progress. Black metal, on the other hand, often lends the impression of having been recorded by Urmenschen in caves, forests, and dank basement dwellings. (After all, Immortal, for example, practiced in the woods where they scared away blueberry pickers and the like.) It is an art form that taps the wellspring of primordial chaos and that which is eternal in man — brutality, existential angst, bloodlust. Pytten utilized the dynamics of the spaces within Grieghallen to produce epic works that have an incredible sense of atmosphere. He played with distance and intimacy. His records are always organic.
Pytten is a true professional. He is distinguished by his style, tolerance, and generosity of spirit. His fellow artists describe him as supportive, enthusiastic, and an excellent team player. Abbath Doom Occulta told Terrorizer: "Pytten is a man of enormous patience." He continued: "We gave him a hard time as we knew what we wanted, but not yet how to get it." Who knew that it takes a saint to make great black metal?! By focusing on the music, Pytten has avoided drama while dealing with some difficult personalities. Although several of the musicians with whom he has collaborated have committed outrageous crimes, Pytten stands in opposition to violence. Pytten prides himself for having maintained longstanding personal and professional relationships with his clients. As we will see, many of the musicians with whom Pytten worked would take their friend along with them as their careers evolved and they formed new bands.
Ironically, Pytten is far from what one might call a "metalhead." Contrary to the Satanic ringleader that early journalists assumed Pytten to have been, he is thoroughly rock n' roll and even a little bit country. Pytten is affectionately referred to as a "hippie." Pytten is able to come to a mutual understanding with the bands that he produces because he is a musician himself. He is a bassist and has played with outfits like Tornerose, Blind Date, and Elektrisk Regn. In 1995, Pytten joined The Rolling Stones tribute band The Rolling Clones, which has been active since 1982. Pytten even performed on an album by the electronica/hip-hop group Ralph Myerz and Jack Herren Band.
We must not neglect to mention that Pytten hosted a youth program in Norway in the late '70s, early '80s. According to Gaahl, Pytten continues to produce music. He also doubles as a concert producer. In addition, Pytten wears the hat of a family man: He is a grandfather and the father to Mia Hundvin, who is a former handball player. Surprisingly, Pytten's career in Grieghallen began with a song for a football club. Soon afterwars, he would lend his technical skills to fiddle music. Pytten has not shunned the opportunity to become involved with various genres and has even worked with bands like the folk-pop indie duo Kings of Convenience. Yet, we headbangers honor him for having produced some of the most twisted songs known to humanity, such as Gaahlskagg's "Skullfuck."
We can debate which title represents the greatest (Norwegian) black metal album of all time until God's light takes us. Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994) is the quintessential black metal album. However, like many serious listeners, ex-Mayhem's Maniac casts his vote for Burzum's Filosofem (1996).
He expressed his position bluntly to Contraband Candy: "It's the best black metal album ever made… Where can you go after that one?!" Immortal's Pure Holocaust (1993), Emperor's In the Nightside Eclipse (1994), Gorgoroth's Antichrist (1996), Enslaved's Isa (2004), and Taake's Hordalands doedskvad (2005) have been named as some of the movement's crown jewels. All of these albums and many more "bests" have been produced by Pytten. That is why his status as black metal's greatest producer cannot be challenged.
Pytten is also credited for producing, mixing, engineering, recording, and/or mastering releases from a long list of other bands: Windir, the Germans Dark Fortress, Aeternus, Borknagar, Helheim, Einherjer, Satyricon, Trelldom, Ov Hell, Molested (one of Norway’s most memorable death metal bands), etc. Pytten realized that black metal bands wanted to challenge modern societal norms with the revival of Old Norse culture. Of course, some of the outfits named were at the forefront of pioneering Viking metal. Most importantly, however, is that all the groups that were lucky enough to benefit from Pytten's expertise bore the flame of true individualism. For example, we adore Tartaros' wacky EP, The Grand Psychotic Castle (1997), which Pytten engineered, and Obtained Enslavement's Witchcraft (1997) and Soulblight (1998), both of which Pytten produced. This all begs the question: How could one man be behind every great release "Under the Freezing Moon"?!
"It started off with a dad." In 1990, the father of an aspiring death metaller named Jan Alte Åserød phoned Pytten, his former classmate, to ask if he would be willing to help his son's band record their second demo. Despite the fact that the boys had no funds, Pytten replied: "Yes. Of course, it's going to be fun!" Pytten recalled that Jan's father then warned him: "Do not say that. You have not heard the music yet…" When Pytten heard the music, it was a “brutal awakening,” as he reflected on Helvete: Historien om norsk black metal. Although traditional ideas about music theory seemed to have gone out the window, Pytten remained fascinated. He quietly cleaned up what the boys were doing without robbing their material of its esprit. (Borknagar's Øystein G. Brun explained Pytten's general method to Tegler Audio Manufaktor: "… instead of upholding an conservative approach to sound engineering in order to make it sound 'good' — he played along and tweaked some sort of ugly sound, but with passion.") Pytten appreciated the intensity of the music with which he was presented. As entropic and extreme as Old Funeral's artistic expression seemed, Pytten recognized the intentions of his teenage comrades.
The result of the effort described above was Pytten's first metal cassette — Abduction of Limbs (1990). Abduction of Limbs was mixed and recorded in about the span of a week. As Metalion of Slayer Mag wrote, it is a "remarkable" tape. Yet, if Old Funeral’s first demo had been called The Fart That Should Not Be (1989), this second product was truly born of the recording session that should never have been. What could have possibly inspired Pytten to charitably assist a self-described group of "little snot nose kids"?! (You can watch Old Funeral goofing off in the video below to get an idea of what Pytten was working with.) Pytten must have been a prophet. Jan, whose nickname "Padde" / "Padden" means "toad" / "the toad," co-founded Old Funeral in 1988 with his childhood besties: Tore Bratseth, who has gone by aliases like "Ali Gathor" and "Stud Bronson," and Olve "On the Egg" Eikemo, whom the world knows and loves as "Abbath." The original trio had known each other since 1982. Old Funeral's first rehearsal was held on May 17th, Norway's Constitution Day, which is quite fitting since Abbath has become his nation's pride and joy.
Because Old Funeral formed a tight relationship with a group called Amputation, Pytten would soon produce Amputation's second demo, Slaughtered in the Arms of God (1990). According to Abbath, his friends first connected with Amputation's Harald Nævdal, who would later rechristen himself as "Demonaz," at a Slayer concert in 1989. Demonaz had founded Amputation, which began as Secrecy, together with Jørn Inge Tunsberg. The Amputation boys quickly recruited Padden as their drummer: He is credited on Slaughtered in the Arms of God as "Padda." (Five months after Slaughtered in the Arms of God, Pytten produced the debut demo, Pludd , by the band Paraplegic. The group's guitarist and vocalist Truls Kvernhusvik had played on Amputation's first demo.) Given the tight relationship between Amputation and Old Funeral, it is not surprising that they shared a rehearsal space. In fact, Demonaz played with Old Funeral early on for a period of about 2-3 months (depending on the account). Jørn would join the ranks of Old Funeral as well. In 1991, Jørn replaced Varg Vikernes, who had been added in 1990 when the band decided that they could benefit from a second guitarist: In those days, Vikernes was still named Kristian and was credited as "Christian." He played on a song called "Forced to Be Lost" and the Devoured Carcass (1991) EP, which Pytten also produced. Varg, Abbath, and Demonaz briefly formed a band of their own called Satanel.
In the autumn of 1990, Abbath quit Old Funeral and formed Immortal with Demonaz and Jørn. Or rather, it has been said that Amputation morphed into Immortal. In any case, Jørn only played on Immortal's first demo in 1991. In 1992, he co-founded Hades/Hades Almighty, with whom Pytten would work. Immortal enlisted Pytten to engineer their historically significant 1991 EP that marked the band's shift to black metal. This change was partially due to the influence of Euronymous. Immortal truly hit the ground running. Lyricist Simon Dancaster told Terrorizer: "I recall the ferocity and excitement of Immortal's first gig in the early '90s. You could tell they were going places." Meanwhile, Old Funeral would not disband until late 1992. Six songs were recorded with Pytten that year. These tracks would come out later on the Our Condolences (2013) compilation.
Thank you, Pytten, for Immortal's Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism. It has been 30 years since this killer debut album was unleashed on July 1, 1992. The record presented us with what can best be described as a "A Perfect Vision of the Northland Rising." Our lives would not be complete without "The Call of the Wintermoon" and the fun "mistake" of a music video that followed. All black metallers know that Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism was one of the first Norwegian black metal studio albums. Darkthrone's A Blaze in the Northern Sky, the very first full-length studio example of True Norwegian Black Metal, came out earlier that year on February 26th. Between these two classics, Varg Vikernes saw the release of Burzum's self-titled debut album in March. (While Burzum was being recorded in Grieghallen with Pytten, Demonaz and Euronymous were often present in the studio. They helped Varg carry instruments. Euronymous played guitar on "War" and pounded with his fists on a gong for "Dungeons of Darkness" and the intro to Burzum's next record.)
Pytten would continue to produce Immortal through Battles in the North (1995). After that iconic album, Immortal would make the disastrous decision to record Blizzard Beasts (1997) at a swanky studio. Never has a band erred so badly: The production and mixing are notoriously dreadful. Immortal would go on to work with Peter Tägtgren of Pain and Hypocrisy. Although produced and mixed All Shall Fall (2009), Immortal reuniting with Pytten for the engineering of All Shall Fall (2009), although Tägtgren produced and mixed the album. Tägtgren is a great artist, but Pytten's Midas touch cannot be rivalled. Pytten has worked with Abbath's solo project I and Tore's defunct supergroup Desekrator. Interestingly, after over two decades, an album that Pytten produced called Örth, which features the drumming of ex-Immortal and ex-Gorgoroth's late drummer Erik "Grim" Brødreskift," by Nocturno Inferno was released in 2017. It was recorded in two sessions during 1995 and 1996.
Pytten's involvement with Burzum continued up until he closed his studio. No other black metal band, except maybe Darkthrone, has been as influential as Burzum. We can even argue that Burzum ironically provides us with the earliest example of depressive suicidal black metal. The sounds created by Pytten and Varg certainly served as a template for countless DSBM artists, not to mention most BM bands. In regard to Aske (1993), which came with Zippo lighters, Pytten told Dayal Patterson: "We were searching around trying to find different sounds on different amps and speakers to get this cold and narrow sound, which we have on at least the first three Burzum albums." Filosofem was recorded before Varg was sentenced for murder, arson, and possession of explosives in May 1994. Nevertheless, this sublime album still had to be mixed. As Gaahl told Mork's Thomas Eriksen: "Of course, Pytten had to ship this back and forth to prison… Pytten had to do a lot of work there." As Shining's Niklas Kvarforth remarked, Filosofem is "perfect" beyond belief. It is authentic to the point of claustrophobia. If journalists initially failed to appreciate the aesthetic value of such cultural treasures and therefore believed that Pytten deserved a boot up his rear, black metal is currently regarded as one of Norway's greatest achievements.
Naturally, word spread quickly that Grieghallen was the "it" place to record. Everyone wanted to follow in the footsteps of bands like Immortal and Burzum. This was certainly the case for Emperor. Ihsahn told Decibel: "It [Grieghallen] was like the Florida studio that had all the death metal bands. Morrisound." The difference is that unlike Morrisound, which resulted in different bands sounding the same, Pytten allowed the individuality of his clients to shine through. The rest of Ihsahn's statement reaffirms our understanding of Pytten: "A lot of the black metal bands were teenagers, with hard empathies and sympathies, extreme philosophies, ways we looked at the world. He had absolutely no problem with that. He treated us a young people. With respect. He took us 100 percent seriously. But he understood we were young. He understood what we wanted to achieve. He understood that we wanted this sound, drenched in reverb with explosions going on. He was very open-minded. He still is. People his age are normally put off by what we stood for and would be much more moralistic about the bands and the guys in the bands. At the time, because we had such extreme views, we were confronted as adults. He managed to see through all that. He was a friend and a collaborator." Pytten and Ihsahn have recalled that the mixing of In the Nightside the Eclipse, Emperor's debut album was a labor-intense process. Up to 32 tracks were used. "The Majesty of the Night Sky" was remixed 17 times. Although the album was recorded in 1993, delays set its release back to the end of 1994, despite the false February 21st release date that usually appears on the internet.
Mayhem's Hellhammer revealed that the band chose to record De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas at Grieghallen because of Varg. At the time, Varg, of course, lived in Bergen and had replaced Necrobutcher on bass. The album was recorded in 1992 and 1993. Hellhammer explained to NRK that Pytten is not a normal producer. He went above and beyond. Pytten worked closely with Mayhem's members and accommodated their strangest requests. Pytten arranged for Attila Csihar to record vocals in the dark with only candles, as he desired. His theatrical performance evokes the image of a phantom gone wild at an opera house, which, as we now know, was not far from the reality of things. Although Attila was a great choice to step in for the late Per Yngve "Pelle" Ohlin, who had expressed his love for Attila's band Tormentor, we wish that Pelle had been around to bounce crazy ideas off Pytten. Pelle even asked his Italian penpal, "The Old Nick," if there was any chance of recording the intro to the title track "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas" at St. Peter's Basilica.
Euronymous had very specific thoughts about how his magnum opus ought to sound and the impression that it should have on listeners. Abundant echoes were essential for this haunting album. Pytten implemented "genius ideas" to realize Mayhem's visions. Hellhammer's drums were recorded on the Grieghallen stage to give them enormity and depth. Pytten built a small cage for his drums on the sides so that the sound would not be swallowed by the vastness of the space. The effect of nine stories of height, however, was kept. Pytten told author Dayal Patterson: "A lot of the guitars were done with closed miking, but all of the stuff with reverberation on the record was done with a Marshall stack and one microphone in a huge room, the main hall, and we were just moving about until we thought, 'Ah, this is it.' You find the sweet spots then you start working and you can’t play that sort of loud music during daytime because the place is full of people, so we did that kind of stuff at night. You really needed thorough planning, you needed mix-downs — think about it, you only had sixteen tracks and at times you’re using nine just on the drums." Pytten confessed to NRK that De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas "is the album that I like best to listen to and perhaps am most fond of."
In 2021, black metal finally returned home. In an event dubbed "Grieghallen MCMXCIV," Emperor, Mayhem, and Enslaved graced the famous stage of the Bergen concert hall as part of the festival Beyond the Gates. (The same trio will rock Grieghallen again on August 5th.) These powerhouse groups performed in honor of In the Nightside Eclipse, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, and Vikingligr Veldi. Again, these three classic debut albums all came out in 1994 — the year after Euronymous' death. Enslaved's former drummer Trym Torson described the situation surrounding Vikingligr Veldi when speaking with Dayal Patterson: "… we all were a bit star-struck to be in this situation [with Pytten]… he was also more open to new things, and pushed us to perform the best we could at that time." Pytten would play bass on the track "Svarte vidder" on Enslaved’s next album, Frost (1994). Having attained a level of comfort with Pytten and their musical abilities, Enslaved turned up the aggression and speed on Frost. The sky is the limit when working with Pytten.
As Satyr has said: "Black metal's true nature is being limitless…" No one who understands black metal will doubt Pytten’s assertion: "The music we made has had enormous meaning." In fact, when Pytten's work plays, "life [itself] has new meaning." Pytten’s records will never be "Buried by Time and Dust," but rather give us a taste of "Life Eternal." They remind us of "Det som engang var" / "What Once Was" and will always be. That said, let's give the final word to Pytten himself. Watch him sing with Tornerose in the video below from 1979 —