Cult Ritual: Celebrate SARKE With These 15 Awesome Songs

“Make it beautiful. Make it dark.” Make your evening count with Sarke tonight. Sarke is the incredible Norwegian band that you need to explore. Sarke is pure, honest, groovy, introspective, and raw. This group will take you on a “Strange Pungent Odyssey.” If you are a “Frost Junkie” with a “hate agenda,” Sarke will be your new medicine of choice. Sarke’s killer riffs and sometimes flamboyant solos are so phenomenal that they will put you in a “Glacial Casket.” Sarke feeds off contradiction — the tension between “sickness, avant-garde decay” and the rugged warrior spirit. The wonder of Sarke is that their music drags you down into the “Skeleton Sand” while simultaneously giving you the feeling of zero gravity.

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Sarke is the brainchild of Thomas SarkeBergli, who founded the project in 2008. Bergli brings his battle-hardened ’90s black metal background to the undertaking. He also incorporates varied influences from the ’70s and ’80s. Bergli and his Sarke bandmates animate their work with the spirit of the past by using equipment from the ’60s and ’70s. Bergli wants each of his albums to feel like a rehearsal, which makes them feel even more organic. While listening to Sarke, you will hear elements of old-school rock, speed metal, doom, thrash, occasional Viking vibes, heavy metal, punk, etc. The result is both primitive and polished in the best of ways. Sarke will help you to turn back time and “procreate the barbarian” within.

You probably know Bergli as the drummer for the black metal powerhouses Tulus and Khold. Bergli first chose the name “Sarke” as his alias within Tulus, which was formed in 1991. After Tulus signed with Satyr‘s Moonfog Productions, the group was persuaded to assume a new name. Thus, Tulus became Khold and added a second guitarist in 2000. Whereas Tulus’ style is more progressive, Khold‘s music is more accessible. In conversation with Jerry Kurunen of Rauta, Sarke clarified: “We just wanted to play live without the keyboards and the effect. Just be a heavy band. A heavier form of Tulus.” Sverre Gard” / “BlodstrupStokland, who acts as the frontman and guitarist for Tulus and Khold, stated: “We [Khold] wanted to be straight in your face black metal.” In the past, members of Khold and Tulus were recruited to perform live with Old Man’s Child. (Galder, the mastermind behind Old Man’s Child, made a guest appearance on the fifth track of Khold‘s debut album.) Although Bergli only focuses on one group at a time, he continues to make exceptional music under both the Tulus and Khold monikers. Watch out for Khold‘s upcoming album Svartsyn on June 24 via Soulseller Records. The first three singles — “Apostel,” “Demonens Bok,” and “EVIG” — have already dropped. 

Bergli founded Sarke at a time when Khold and Tulus weren’t that active. (To be fair, they had both already become relatively prolific. Tulus released an album in 2007 and Khold did the same in 2008, but Sverre needed a break.) Bergli viewed Sarke as an opportunity to challenge himself, continue to create, and explore his artistic liberty with new musicians. Bergli does most of the songwriting in Tulus, Khold, and Sarke. Whereas Sverre also contributes a fair amount to Tulus, Bergli confirmed on The Thomas Eriksen Podcast that he personally has more authority in Khold. Bergli is far from dictator and has allowed other musicians to create music for Sarke. He told Eriksen that Sarke‘s lead guitarist, Spiral Architect‘s Steinar Gundersen, sometimes changes things up a bit. Although Bergli almost always writes Sarke‘s lyrics, Bogefod, which we will discuss later, and “Icon Usurper” are examples of exceptions.

Bergli played all of the instruments on Sarke‘s debut album, Vorunah (2009), which he (of course) composed completely on his own. Keyboards, however, were handled by El Caco‘s Anders Hunstad. Let it be known that no other blackened band uses keyboards as well as Sarke. Despite the fact that keyboards can be a sign that a band has compromised their integrity when used incorrectly, Sarke is as far from a sell-out as Varg Vikernes is to a Christian saint. Bergli asked Darkthrone‘s Ted Nocturno CultoSkjellum, a friend whom he has known since the ’80s, to provide vocals for Vorunah. Although the legendary musician initially refused, Bergli visited his home. After Bergli laid out his ideas by means of a verbal explanation and a musical demonstration, Nocturno ultimately agreed. Convincing Nocturno was quite a feat considering that Darkthrone had been his main focus, aside from some work with Satyricon and a few guest appearances, such as on Enslaved‘s Isa (2004) and the experimental, star-studded album Secht (2006) by the short-lived Secht. In 2001, Nocturno was quoted: “I’ve never been involved in other bands. You see, Darkthrone is my life…” 

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The interesting thing is that Bergli started Tulus, and thus became a black metaller, because of Mayhem and Darkthrone. Bergli, who has seen both groups perform, recalls listening to Darkthrone‘s pre-black metal demos. Bergli was introduced to this music by his friends from an amazing group of “Soul Trip[ping]” “Stoneheads” called Valhall. Sarke‘s work definitely has its parallel in Valhall‘s epic psychedelic majesty. Fenriz co-founded this outfit in 1987 with Robin Olsen, Kenneth Sorkness and Ronny Sorkness. Fenriz quit Valhall in 1989 seeing as he had become too busy with Darkthrone. As a result, one of Valhall‘s guitarists asked Bergli to replace Fenriz on drums. Meanwhile, Valhall continued to rehearse in Fenriz‘s basement. Fenriz reunited with the band in 1991 as a session drummer. After Erik Lancelot, who would go on to become a member of Ulver, filled in for Bergli in 1992, Fenriz permanently rejoined the band in 1993. Because of his connection, Bergli had witnessed Darkthrone rehearsing prior to the release of their sophomore effort, A Blaze in the Northern Sky (1992) — Norway’s first BM studio album. Sverre told Rauta: “He [Bergli] came home and he said: “We [Tulus have] gotta do black metal!” 

After VorunahSarke‘s first record label, Indie Recordings, requested concerts and a new album. Bergli recruited a live lineup and decided to use these musicians for his sophomore album, Oldarhian (2011), because he did not want to make another solo effort. To this day, Nocturno Culto, Steinar Gundersen, and Anders Hunstad (who joined during the Oldarhian era) remain. In 2020, the group added drummer Cato Bekkevold — formerly of bands like Red Harvest and Enslaved. Bergli has played bass on all of Sarke‘s albums. Sarke‘s past members include Asgeir Mickelson (Borknagar and ex-Ihsahn), Cyrus (ex-Insidious Disease and ex-Susperia ), Terje Kråbøl (ex-Minas/Minas Tirith from Jessheim and ex-Faustcoven), and Stian Kråbøl (Khold, TulusMinas, and Funeral). Several former and current members have played live with Satyricon. Although Sarke doesn’t play many live shows, if you are lucky enough to catch one of their performances, you just might hear them cover Darkthrone‘s “Too Old Too Cold.” This is an incredible opportunity since, as Nocturno Culto told Metal Maniacs, “The chances you have of seeing Darkthrone play live are the same as seeing a giraffe wearing sunglasses trying to get into a polar bear-only golf club!”

Whereas Bergli has created his own sound with Tulus and Khold, his goal with Sarke is to make music that is inspired by others and to experiment with more genres. Sarke’s influences include Kreator, Black Sabbath, Celtic Frost, Motörhead, Candlemass, etc. Bergli‘s passion for music actually began with Kiss. He started picking up instruments because the parent of one of his friends rehearsed in his basement. Bergli initially gravitated towards playing mainstream music. Although he took some piano lessons, Bergli is mostly self-taught. In 1987, Bergli, who was born in 1971, commenced his metal journey: He played in a band called Nuclear Asshole. The outfit borrowed their logo from Nuclear Assault. In addition to the groups that we have already mentioned, Bergli has collaborated with Opera, Sensa Anima, and Minas.

Sarke is also shaped by Bergli‘s non-musical experiences. Bergli draws inspiration from nature, poems, darkness, coldness, and the general idea of “awesomeness.” Sarke‘s brooding cynicism is often reminiscent of great Russian literature from previous centuries. Nevertheless, Sarke‘s material is remarkably fresh and always seems updated. The collective surprises you with something different on each album. Sarke is distinguished by spontaneity, eccentricity, atmosphere, and vivid imagery. Sarke spins lively tales about killing and dying. All the same, you can tell that Sarke is the product of a collective of wholesome guys with good values. Sarke‘s music has the potential to fill you with a longing to return to a more authentic mode of being. In an odd way, Sarke will help you become reattuned to the world: “The smell of dead autumn. I cannot live without.”

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Now that you understand why Sarke rules, it’s time to whip out your headphones. Get ready to take a plunge into Sarke‘s ghoulish realm of “suffocating haze,” “dead caves, dead rivers, dead landscapes.” In Sarke‘s “Dead Universe” of “condemned… rotting torso[s],” you will come to know “tribulation and mourning and misery, the practice of torturing.” Your only way out will be to “rely upon the rats for salvation.” Get lost in the entirety of Sarke‘s labyrinthine catalog. But first, check out these 15 amazing songs!  

“Bleak Reflections”

“Bleak Reflections” kicks off with THE most wicked instrumental intro. Nocturno then begins: “A veil of light hides the darkest secrets. A mental door. Beyond any beliefs, the old spirit breeds a darkened mind.” “Bleak Reflections” is the opening track on Allsighr (2021), which blew us away last autumn. Allsighr is Sarke‘s seventh and most recent studio album. Every song on Allsighr is a “Masterpiss of Pain,” as Khold might say. This retro and whimsical record is divine from beginning to end. The effort takes its name from the Norse goddess who brings the dead back to life in a new world: “Allsighr — the goddess of moons and dreams. Allsighr — the mother of mortality.” Accordingly, Allsighr will reawaken those indefinable feelings in your soul that you probably haven’t experienced in years. (I should probably speak for myself when I say that listening to Allsighr will make you feel like less of a “cold subhuman savage,” to quote “Upir” from Sarke‘s fifth studio album, Viige Urh [2017].)

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“Primitive Killing”

Sarke‘s debut album, Vorunah (2009), begins with “Primitive Killing.” What better way to proceed upon a musical journey than with this spectacular tune that emits “Pure Black Energy”?! — “The moon is leading my path. In my hand a knife of bone. In the other a rope. For strangulation, to end it. Prey in sight. Blood will be shed this night.” Yes, “Death is life,” and Sarke is our lifeblood. This thrashy song proves that Sarke is a band with balls of steel and the authority of a loaded Kalashnikov rifle.

Vorunah‘s hysterical title track follows “Primitive Killing”: “Ripping. Dripping. Drooling on my boots. You’re on me like a uniform. Like a snake entwines its prey. Even though I hate you. You’re on me like an old man’s dog.” We love it!

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“Alternation”

The brutal and imaginative “Alternation” is wedged between two unforgettable tracks, which will fuel your nightmares, on the concept album Bogefod (2016): “Barrow of Torolv” and “The Wicked’s Transient Sleep.” If you are wondering about the origins of the album’s name, Torolv Bogefod is the Viking king who died and later awoke from his grave to terrorize the living in the Norse Eyrbyggja saga. Bogefod boasts the lyrical contributions of Hilde HildrNymoen. If that name sounds familiar to you, it is because Hildr writes the lyrics for Tulus and Khold. She is the wife of vocalist and guitarist Sverre StocklandBogefod is the soundtrack to the movie Saga (2016), which also incorporates the Eyrbyggja saga into its story. If you like black metal, motorcycles, zombies, and Vikings, this picture is for you. The film features Nocturno, Bergli, Steinar Gundersen, Asgeir Mickelson, and Terje Kråbøl.

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“Old”

Are you ready for what Tulus calls “Old Old Death”?! “Old” is the humorous fifth track on Vorunah (2009). It won’t just make you feel elderly: It will make you feel “Hundre år gammal,” “One Hundred Years Old,” a.k.a. the name of the title track of Khold‘s fifth album. Only the “Old Star” hitmaker Nocturno Culto could imbue lyrics like these with the weight of a bodybuilder’s gym routine: “The smell of museum. The rocking chair. Dead skin. The silver hair. I’m old. I’m dying. Hell can wait. I’m always late.” We bet that you never expected to chance upon the phrase “gray woolen cardigan” in a metal song. And yet, Sarke pulls it off so beautifully. “Old” can be compared to Darkthrone‘s “I Am the Working Class” insofar as it intrepidly explores territory that has remained largely uncharted in black metal. At times such as these, Sarke‘s work exudes something of a pop art quality.

Sarke will continue to make you laugh with gems like “Ugly,” “Rebellious Bastard,” and “Pessimist.” The energized “Ugly” will truly make you want to sprint: “Flee from the beastly and never look back. Try to find shelter and hide in the cracks. Cause I’m ugly. Ugly as Hell.” Hearing Nocturno sing “Ugly” is made even more amusing by the fact that his face is anything but that “of disaster. A surface of grief.” Similarly, Nocturno may be “rebellious,” but the responsible family man and former teacher is anything but a “bastard.” He is no “weasel.” Optimism aside, “Pessimist” will remind you a bit of Darkthrone‘s “Rust.”

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“Sunken”

“Sunken” follows “Evil Heir” on Bogefod (2016). This single will make you feel caught in the undertow: “Drowned the tormentor. Deep in the bog. Forever the marshland. Will cover his corpse. Ashes to ashes to mud.” Earlier in the album, the phrase “Ashes to ashes” can also be found on the haunting song “Burn.” “Dawning,” which showcases female vocals, ends with “ashes from a fire.” The point is that Bogefod will scorch you to dust.

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“The Stranger Brew”

“The Stranger Brew” is the final song on Sarke‘s sophomore effort, Oldarhian (2011). Enter “the void,” and come take a walk “through the fog of flamboyant paths.” “Inhale the stench of the mighty brew and taste the freedom of death.” “The Stranger Brew” may not be a happy song, but it will give you a drug-free high. Sarke is always oddly sobering and represents the antithesis of “infected veins.”

Make sure to listen to the rest of Oldarhian. This album is too intoxicating for the well-being of its listeners. Tracks like these will make you go wild: “Passage to Oldarhian” (“Give me a shotgun. And the smell of doom. The taste of iron. I will travel soon.”), “Flay the Wolf” (“Take out the fragile. Abolish the poor. Destroy the bastards. And their feeble souls.”), “Novel Dawn,” “Paradigm Lost,” “Burning the Monoliths,” etc.

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“Ghost War”

This single is the opening track on Gastwerso (2019), which also means “Ghost War.” “My time is now. I am the destroyer in a ghost war.” The incredible Gastwerso will take you on the path to ruin, laden with the rolling heads of decapitated philosophers. If you ever want to and help you build your own “Mausoleum,” Gastwerso will provide emotional support: “Save the pity and the grief. And the unspoken words. I will have my peace in the mausoleum.

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“Grim Awakening”

“Grim Awakening” follows “Bleak Reflections” on Allsighr (2021). This song’s resolute and self-assured tone will put you in a headlock and firmly hold your attention. Nocturno lays down the law: “The feeling of disobedience. The feeling of sin. A primitive rawness growing from within. I leap into cruelty. I leap into hate. A grim awakening. Will seal my fate. I leap into cruelty. I leap into hate. A grim awakening will seal my fate. Obsessed with negativity. Obsessed with what’s below. My mystical curiosity beginning to grow.” “Grim Awakening” is an earworm that turns into a serpent: It’s toxic and it bites. The next track is the blazing “Funeral Fire.” Don’t worry: There’s plenty of “pagan frost” on Allsighr as well.  

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“Taken”

“Taken” is the opening track on Bogefod (2016). This song is about “Death, eternal taker.” Of course, Nocturno‘s raspy vocals, which call to mind images of the Reaper’s scythe, suit Sarke‘s lyrics perfectly. When Nocturno opens his mouth, you feel that you are truly listening to “His Master’s Voice.” Nocturno is God.

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“Dagger Entombed”

“Dagger Entombed” is the second song on Viige Urh (2017). It was the first single from the album to be released. This track is pure “artistic ritual power.” We hope that in 1,000 years, Sarke‘s music will be as well preserved as the central object described in this pick: “Excavated from old on this bedevil ground… The [entombed king’s] dagger had not rusted.”

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“Beheading of the Circus Director”

You can find “Beheading of the Circus Director” on Allsighr (2021). This song, in all of its nuanced and nostalgic glory, is a great example of what it might sound like to perform with what Nocturno dubbed “an Elvis grin.” “Beheading of the Circus Director” is one of the most unique dark rock songs that you will ever hear. This twisted yet flowery tale begins: “Cold-hearted. A sick mentality. The urge to rule with iron first. Sitting on his high horse. Like a blood leech. Zero self-awareness with no empathy.” Stay tuned for the insane outro.

 After “Beheading the Circus Clown,” the groovy “Through the Thorns” takes you on a trip into the “obscure”: “Through the thorns to the dawn of wisdom. The source of knowledge lies in the pain.” Believe it or not, this groovy song acts as a soothing balm, though Nocturno‘s menacing voice will rattle you, as always. You are definitely going to want to finish the rest of Allsighr, which ends on the über-cool “Imprisoned.” Warning: This album will make you “Sleep in Fear.” 

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“Age of Sail”  

“Age of Sail” sweeps in like a sea breeze after “Dagger Entombed” on Viige Urh (2017). The soaring instrumental opening will hook you immediately. This incredible song will make you feel like the king of the sea, even though your “time is running out.” “Age of Sail” sounds as if it was written by intergalactic Norse warriors. You have to ride this album out until the end. You won’t be disappointed by to the apocalyptic supernova of a final song, “Evolution and Fate”: “Towers of black ashes. Ripped to shreds. Lost in the void.”

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“The Drunken Priest”

“The Drunken Priest” from Vorunah (2009) is an exploration of hypocrisy at its finest: “The drunken priest on his altar throne. Drowning in wine. And endless funerals.” Bergli is an exemplary specimen of true individuality. As such, he never jumped on the bandwagon of church burners. Thus, “The Drunken Priest” is thoughtful and mature in contrast to many of the other black and black-ish songs that you will find about clergymen.

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“Ties of Blood” 

“Ties of Blood” from Gastwerso (2019) brings “the hardness,” even if it comes at the price of a crushing “loss” of “soul.” This single will get the blood flowing to your fists as you welcome “another black eye Monday.” Again, this song’s speaker may have landed himself in a rut, but we knuckleheads still find his pugilistic attitude appealing: “Bring me the pain. Bring me the violence. Show me the chain. In those befouled hands. Come and see the chaos.”

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“Walls of Ru”

“Walls of Ru” is one of the highlights from Sarke‘s third album, Aruagint (2013). This is exactly the type of track that you will want to kick back to after a long day to satisfy your need for “metal [that] know[s] what metal really means,” as Darkthrone might say. “Walls of Ru” is guaranteed to appease your “Rabid Hunger.” 

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Updated: June 19, 2022 — 8:56 pm