Under the Oak – Rabid About MetalThursday, 22nd September 2022
Intertwining a love of thrash and classic heavy metal, Under the Oak are a quartet from Norway that take influences from the old school scene to develop new material through their two album releases. Their latest record Rattus Norvegicus contains straightforward riffs, plenty of rhythm section propulsion, and vocals that mirror the likes of Overkill meets Virgin Steele for power and depth. We reached out to guitarist Thomas Bolverk (aka Thomas Hansen) who was happy to let us into the process of how these musicians came together, their confidence in injecting a love of classic heavy metal into the thrash mix, the accessibility of music today versus the past, special show memories including a specific stairway incident at an outdoor show, plus plans into 2024 for the band.
Dead Rhetoric: What were some of your first musical memories growing up around childhood? How did you make the progression into heavier forms of music, and eventually wanting to pick up an instrument and develop your own music?
Thomas Bolverk: The first music was like kids’ music to sing along to. Then my cousin was into metal, like Motörhead, Bulldozer, and a bit of early extreme metal. I was influenced by him, and then Kiss came along. I was born in 1971, so I am a part of the Kiss generation. Like everything, you want to grow your hair, you want to play an instrument to take part in the scene, not just listen. I had a calling for this, I think. I was thirteen when I picked up the guitar, in 1984. I had two lessons. They wanted me to learn notes, I learned them by heart and then I thought it wasn’t for me. I just liked playing. I’m pretty tactile, to do stuff with my hands, if I am watching tv I still play the guitar.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us how Under the Oak came together a few years back – did you know these gentlemen through their work in other acts, and is the name a tribute to the Candlemass song from their first album?
Bolverk: I knew them, but I wanted to start a thrash cover band. I called a friend of mine, and wondered if he wanted a guitar player, and if he wanted to join. He had already talked to Jostein the singer about a thrash tribute band. They asked Steinar the bass player and Marius the drummer, I knew Steinar from the old days. We wanted nice guys, friendly guys, and we just wanted to have some fun. And we rehearsed a lot of covers, and still do some covers, the original thrash riffs started coming. It just drove on from there. It’s just about coming together and having fun. Most of us do several projects, so we are kind of busy.
The story is… we are huge Candlemass fans, since the old days. We all belong to this metal club called the Oak Metal club. The band was called Oak Thrash Tribute. But when we started getting our own material, I said we need another name. We can’t have tribute in the name, so we called ourselves Under the Oak, because we meet at the club and because of Candlemass. The fascinating thing about Candlemass – they were part of the thrash scene back then, even if they are doomy. They had a similar audience as all of the thrash bands.
Dead Rhetoric: The debut album Ripped Up by the Roots came out on WormHoleDeath during the fall of 2020 – what were the songwriting and recording sessions like for this material? And how did the band decide on the tributes to Candlemass and Exciter with “Solitude” and “Pounding Metal” as covers?
Bolverk: The writing process is always I have a bunch of riffs and I try to put them into an interesting sequence. And then I send suggestions to the guys, and we meet in the rehearsal room. We arrange the songs, try to move stuff around. Sometimes I have a chorus or lyrics, but most of the lyrics Jostein does himself. This is the kind of band that rehearses together, meets up and finishes the songs. Everybody prepares themselves at home, so we are more effective. That’s how Ripped Up by the Roots was made. We are a little better now in the process. We have a little more self-esteem going into Rattus Norvegicus because everybody was surprised by the debut album. We wanted to have fun, now people have expectations.
The cover songs. I think we tried to chose specific songs. We play “A Lesson in Violence” by Exodus, Testament, Flotsam & Jetsam, Metallica, Metal Church, all these bands. I thought the idea on the first album was to do two cover songs that weren’t obvious thrash songs. That’s the philosophy – on the new album we did “Echoes of a Distant Battle” from Tank and also a medley of two Destruction songs. For the first album, we wanted to be a thrash metal band – when all these heavy metal riffs turned out, we were scared of them. It’s only natural we have one foot in each camp, we come from that background. We have the heavy metal side with Motörhead, Accept, Saxon, you know what I mean. We are happy now with the mix, and it looks like people like the new album. We did our best, and we hope other people like it too.
Dead Rhetoric: Your latest album is Rattus Norvegicus – where do you see the major differences in terms of songwriting, production, or abilities compared to the debut effort? Do you believe you have more confidence in showcasing the mixture of classic metal and thrash influences in a balanced manner?
Bolverk: The songs are better. The choruses are better. I put a lot more work into the songs, trying more stuff. As a band, we were more confident. We are melodic with stuff you can sing along to. Music overall is about melody, really.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe Under the Oak live versus what people hear on these records? Do you believe that people are coming out more to not just hear you pay tribute to your favorites in the classic metal or thrash genres, but also appreciate and understand the original material as well?
Bolverk: I think yes. We don’t really play that many covers anymore live, because people want to hear the original material more. It’s really cool. We can be booked for a general tribute shows to do 25 covers, but usually people want to hear our songs. We had this support slot for At the Gates in May in Oslo, three hundred people that I didn’t know were singing along – we had some friends turn up who enjoy us, but this was different. For the fall we have a lot of shows. We had this incident during the summer where we played this party on an outside stage. They took away the stairs to the stage, and we didn’t get it back until we played “Tribulation” from the first album, it was very funny.
We have a lot of fun live, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. It’s a lot of entertainment, a few jokes. A really relaxed atmosphere. We are a tight unit, a good live band. Our goal is to do these songs a little bit better live than on record. The recordings, there aren’t too many overdubs or crap that you can’t really do live – it’s all made to play live.
Dead Rhetoric: Given Norway’s long-standing affinity and appreciation for the more extreme forms of metal (you yourself being a part of this with your Bolverk output), has it been more of an uphill climb to gain appreciation in your home country for the work of Under the Oak versus other European/ international areas that appreciate these classic/thrash styles a bit more?
Bolverk: There are a lot of black metal bands in Norway. Having a classic, traditional/thrash metal band, there is a lot of interest. We have that also, thrash bands, death metal, heavy metal and hair metal. But the black metal thing is big in Norway. I played that for many years in Ragnarok. There is a lot of good music coming out of it, but I’m a bit old because when the churches were burning, I had been a musician for almost ten years. It was pretty stupid.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the state of heavy metal in these current times? Do you believe things have gotten easier as far as promotion given all the social media platforms at your disposal – or do you believe it’s harder to navigate the scene considering the thousands of other artists that are vying for attention at the same time?
Bolverk: I think everything is better. We are back to having a scene, like we had in the 80’s. Some people go to shows, bands try to support each other, to stay together. It’s very cool, I don’t do streaming myself, I only enjoy the physical formats. When you go somewhere to play in the past, when someone was coming to hear you play, they would buy an album, borrow it, or steal it. Now they just listen to Spotify and hear if it’s something they like. Music is very accessible, and I didn’t really make any money at music. I feel for those people that used to make a living from music and now are struggling, it’s very unfair. I like the music that is accessible, and it’s cool to play guitar in many different countries and that people discuss the songs, hear your music and appreciate it. You couldn’t do that necessarily without the accessibility, I think. The money though is total shit.
There are a million awesome bands. How can you really compete with that?
Dead Rhetoric: What would you say are some of the biggest obstacles and challenges facing Under the Oak currently at this point in your career?
Bolverk: I don’t think we really have that many challenges. We play some shows, we can write and release music, we are friends, getting better at our instruments. We would like to play a little more abroad, maybe some German festivals like True Thrash fest or the traditional metal festivals. Getting into that is difficult, but easier than the bigger festivals which are more about a bigger record company support. We played last weekend, we are playing in Bergen, we play the weekend after that, it’s pretty good.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you have a preference between playing clubs versus the festivals – or do you enjoy both for different reasons?
Bolverk: The club shows are awesome. When you play a big festival and it’s like twenty meters to the next guy, it’s very scary. I always think am I going to hear the drums, am I going to hear anything, is the guitar too loud? It’s worse when the guitar is too loud. I think the club shows are safer, cooler, there’s a bigger possibility to get okay stage sound, to relax and do your thing. If you have to concentrate for forty-five minutes to hear the drums, it’s not… fun. At least my hearing is so-so these days. When you have a small venue with two hundred people, it’s awesome.
Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned you love physical media over streaming. What’s your most prized possession in your collection?
Bolverk: I have Ace’s solo album from Kiss, dedicated to Thomas signed when I met him. It really has to be that. Ace Frehley is an awesome guitar player; he inspired a lot of players like Dimebag for instance. I used to collect more, now I collect more guitars these days. It’s much more expensive.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your hobbies, interests, and activities that you like to pursue away from music when you have the free time and opportunity to do so?
Bolverk: It’s a lot of music. I enjoy some sports, ice hockey. And some motor sports, mostly on the speedway. And television shows, and I used to read a lot in the past, but now I’m too lazy. There are too many good shows on the television. It’s a lot of music, it’s natural to all of us metalheads. A lot about the music.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Under the Oak and other projects/outside band activities over the next twelve months?
Bolverk: Now we will promote the album, do some shows. I will release a new Bolverk album in May, so I am recording guitars for that today. I hope to finish the guitars in a week or two, we will do the vocals soon. We are a new band, and old guys, we were going to get a couple of albums on the table in a couple of years. The first one was received very well, hopefully the next one will be also. It’s almost a double album, we did the writing in the same period of time. It was meaningless to release two and a half hours of music at the same time, we did it with a year in between. We have booked out November, and hopefully some festivals for next year. Bands are still dealing with a tight market for shows. We will get some shows. I have a Venom tribute band called Welcome to Hell that I play out with a bit. We do some live shows, it’s very entertaining.
I will work on new Under the Oak songs. We will start in January, rehearse for a year, then record in January 2024. That’s our goal, at least. An album doesn’t really live very long today. For myself, I discover bands after they’ve released three or four albums, maybe when we release our third album, maybe things will grow a bit. The title is ready, the title song is ready, it’s all about doing a little work all the time, with small results now and again.