Lethe, the duo of Norway’s Tor-Helge Skei and Switzerland’s Anna Murphy, are about to unveil their third full-length masterpiece, Alienation, on April 26 via Bergen’s Dark Essence Records. Skei is revered for his pioneering role as the driving force behind Manes, whose early recordings are regarded as some of the greatest and most important black metal offerings. On the immortal Vilosophe (2003), Manes debuted their equally magnificent new and revolutionary style. To this day, Manes remain one of the most brilliant and worthy experimental outfits. Murphy provided sensational vocal work for Manes’ perfect latest album, Slow Motion Death Sequence (2018), and the haunting “Mouth of the Volcano” from the two-song vinyl Young Skeleton (2020). She also mixed these releases. An internationally recognized visionary, Murphy is celebrated for the likes of Cellar Darling and formerly fronted Eluveitie. Needless to say, Murphy has more than established herself as a reigning queen of her craft.

Founded in 2012, Lethe released their first single, “Come Look at the Darkness with Me,” in 2013. When Dreams Become Nightmares, the record on which it serves as the third track, followed in 2014. Lethe’s second full-length effort, The First Corpse of the Moon, premiered in 2017 between the singles “Forever” (2015) and “Gamma” (2020). Alienation stands as a glorious addition to Lethe’s catalogue. The genre-bending Lethe has always ingeniously blended a wide range of elements to create mind-blowing art that stands beyond criticism and comparison. On Alienation, one can hear components of pop, dark rock, metal, rap, electronic, etc. This sonic victory is both nightmarish and ethereal, catchy yet completely free of compromises.

We contacted Tor-Helge Skei, and, fortunately, he and Anna Murphy were kind enough to take the time to provide us with beautiful, written responses to our questions relating to Alienation and much more. Of course, we consider this a true honor. Without further ado, please enjoy our exchange with these two legends.

Congratulations on the upcoming release of Alienation. Of course, I really love the album! I’m always extremely eager to hear anything that you’ve had a hand in creating. You and Anna formed Lethe in 2012, and Alienation is your third album together. What was the starting point for Alienation? Could you please describe the creative process a bit?

THS: It’s a bit confusing, a lot of things happened at once.. a little while before the covid pestilence hit, we were talking about a new album, and like with the previous albums, Anna coming here for some days and doing a lot of recording and finalizations together.. but then corona came along, and with all these traveling and social distancing rules, we had to cancel it.. also, around the same time, i needed some more surgery, so the (planned) start of working on the album wasn’t really ideal.. the anti-socialization and distancing also started to affect a lot of people, in weird ways, and everything just stopped completely.. it took a while to get kind of going again, but then, bang, ww3.. but now we decided to finish the album, no matter what, and finally, it’s done!..

Obviously, you’re responsible for Lethe’s music. You brilliantly handle guitars, bass, synths, and also utilize your skills relating to programming and software development. To what extent did Anna help you, expand upon, and/or change what you composed?

THS: i make most of the initial sketches and “blueprints”, yeah, but everybody involved is influencing and adding their things to the final result.. bit by bit.. everybody is just as important as everybody else.. since anna is half of lethe, her ideas and opinions weigh just as much as mine, so the final music is a combination of the two of us, I guess.. I do more of the initial songs, ideas, concepts, etc., then we work together on the music to finish it, then she is the one in charge of giving a great sound..the collaborators also all influence the music quite a bit, as many of them appear on multiple songs, and were also an important part in shaping the album as a whole..

How did Alienation surprise you as it evolved? I know that you like to allow your music to take shape naturally rather than forcing it down any set path.

THS: hmm.. not really surprised, but.. since I saw every little step.. maybe it ended up more analogue/manual than i expected.. in the beginning, the sketches (or songs) were more electronic and “rigid” kind of, more digital.. like “beats”.. but as we got input and tracks from contributors, etc., things became more organic and “alive” than i had initially thought..

Both you and Anna value spontaneity. How much of this record was improvised?

THS: a lot of the stuff i record, is done in a very improvised way.. i jam a lot on top of other things, taking different instruments, usually ones you don’t associate with the original idea at all, and then just jam and improvise a few rounds, weird effects, always recording everything.. and cycle between songs doing similar things.. not enough time to sit down and think what you’re doing.. just doing it, heh.. you immediately notice if there’s something happening that you think is worth focusing on, and then you know you have it recorded, in sync with the already existing music.. and then it’s usually directly jumping into post-processing, and testing and experimenting, cut, copy, paste.. but the original idea, the recording, the first spark of ideas are usually/mostly spontaneous, improvised ideas.. other people work differently, but that’s how i do it..

AM: My other musical projects are very structured — with little room for improvisation. That is what makes Lethe very special to me. Mood comes first, everything else is a result of that. Even the lyrics are never really written down or “worked on”, it all just happens.

Did you have any say in Anna’s lyrics for Alienation? Did the two of you discuss the overall themes before you began working? Granted, Lethe’s essence seems to have always been anchored around certain topics, and it’s more than apparent that there’s an incredible artistic understanding between you and Anna.

THS: not really.. or maybe.. lethe “lyrics” are usually more about the feelings, atmospheres.. of the sounds, of the words.. or lack of words.. painting moods with audio, words, phonemes, human sounds.. I think quite a lot of anna’s vocals were improvised and/or jammed, if i’ve understood correctly.. then she sent me a bunch of tracks, and i chopped up things, looped other things, and messed around with it.. sent the results to her, and she did some more recording, replaced some of it.. and then there’s also pierre and marita, who both worked (at least semi-) individually on the lyrics they perform, and these tracks were also sent back and forth.. so if there were “proper” lyrics, they might have disappeared a long time ago.. that’s a recurring theme with lethe, forget what was, do something else.. fitting for the band name.. yeah, there’s not much concrete, direct discussions about the music, or concepts or anything.. it just happens, and everything just fits.. of course, we say no if there’s something we don’t like or want, but that is actually exceptionally seldom!

AM: There have been songs in the past where we worked with more or less “traditional” song structures, also regarding the lyrics. This time, I think we completely let go of all that — focusing more on words, short phrases, hooks. A lot of inspiration came from electronic music, reducing everything to the essential.

You record in your home studio. I know that you’ll sometimes include your vocals on demos for your other bands. Do you ever do that for Lethe if you have a particularly strong idea, or maybe there’s no need? Anna is clearly a master at what she does.

THS: not in lethe, no.. never felt the need to tell, or instruct anna in any way when it comes to vocals.. that’s been her thing.. and it has always, from day one, just snapped in place, perfectly.. no discussion needed.. same thing with collaborators.. we talk a bit about what kind of feeling and atmosphere we are looking for, maybe exchange some notes or ideas.. but not much concrete instructions or directions..

You and Anna collaborate remotely as well as in person. At what point did she fly to Trondheim to work on Alienation?

THS: i mentioned it above, about the corona thing.. that was the plan, or idea, but we had to drop it because of travel restrictions, etc..

Is Marita Hellem, who provided some vocals, the same artist who has made guest appearances credited as “M. Hellem” on bass and synths with Enevelde, the one-man band of Brage Kråbøl?

THS: yes, she is.. she is also involved in some new manes things that are coming, so you will hear more from her!..

Your returning accomplices on Alienation are Manes, Atrox, ex-Kkoagulaa, and ex-Manii’s Eivind Fjøseide on guitars and synths; ex-Manes and ex-Atrox’s Tor Arne Helgesen on drums; and the Swiss rapper “K-rip,” or Pierre Ripka. In addition, there are smaller contributions by Rune Hoemsnes of Manes and ex-Kkoagulaa, who has similarly appeared with Lethe in the past, as well as vocalist and journalist David Genillard. The latter was the one who first told Anna that you were looking for collaborators, prompting her to contact you. What was it like working with the named guests? Did you give them any direction? Was some of their content from older recordings? Speaking of which, I know that you often incorporate material that you have from other groups. So, I would also like to ask: Which projects crept their way into Alienation?

THS: yeah, i am almost “obsessed” with working with different people, at different times, for different projects.. to constantly change things around and not get trapped in a loop “on repeat”, maybe.. some songs have stuff that was originally meant for other songs, some of it is old or previous versions, mixed with parts of new versions.. one song was meant to be a (neo-) manes song a while, but it has a different feel, so it was picked apart, and re-started as a lethe track.. hmm.. some of the original ideas are very old, so I have no idea where they originally started.. it’s all over the place, but I tried to keep track of who made the original recording, the original spark of idea.. the “family” is growing bigger and bigger, kind of like a big musical collective now.. so there’s always someone at hand that you can ask, “can you do something here?”.. there were also a couple of more people that contributed quite extensively, but didn’t end up on the album.. we will probably revisit these songs, as they’re not bad, just didn’t fit on the ebb and flow of this album.. which projects crept in?.. not sure.. some things that was originally meant as manes, I think there’s a manii riff in there, but played on synth instead, and same thing with another project that doesn’t have a name yet, heh..

What are some of the most unexpected sources that you took samples from?

THS: for this album? hmm. not sure if there are too many this time? oh, some blade runner things, I think.. and maybe some percussion hits or strings or whatnot, are from some soundtrack or documentary.. i can’t be sure anymore, as they’re usually so processed and twisted and re-sampled and modified by the time we are using them, that they are not recognizable anymore, and become part of a drum machine setup for example.. i did a lot of sampling through a crappy tv-tuner card i had connected to my computer a long time ago, i sampled melting ice with piezo sensors, some perc hits on some albums are my apartment keys pitched up or down.. a lot of weird stuff, from a lot of places i don’t remember.. everywhere.. can’t be more specific, sorry 🙂

Although she achieves perfect results, Lethe’s music is especially difficult for Anna to mix. How did things go for her with mixing this time around?

THS: i don’t know if anna thinks it is difficult to mix, actually.. that’s what she does as a job (production, mixing, mastering).. maybe not having strict guidelines or “rules” from me or other band members makes it harder? or maybe it’s easier because of “no rules, nothing to break”.. no idea.. ask her 🙂

AM: Did I say that? Haha. I guess that is part of being a mixing engineer… Some days you feel like a boss, some you feel like you can’t do anything right. These days I try to make myself less important in the role of the sound engineer. People listen to songs, not mixes. It takes a lot of incompetence to ruin a great song with a bad mix.

Alienation is clearly an epic success, but you’ve mentioned that there were delays and problems that affected its release date. Could you please tell me about the challenges you faced?

THS: again the corona situation.. and after that, the world was/is looking for ww3.. every single step of everything takes/took insanely long, and nothing really happened.. until everybody kind of unfroze, and clobbered everything.. so it was/is weird, and still is..

AM: On my end, I’m struggling a lot with doing all the things I want to do. My main focus has shifted from musician to engineer/producer during the past couple years. I really want to go back to being a musician 50% of the time, but it’s a big challenge. Especially financially — I’m done with not being able to pay my bills. Being a struggling artist was exciting and romantic in my twenties. Now, I’m older and music has become something that is basically free — you can guess how motivating that is. But still, I create music because I HAVE to. I don’t have a choice, so the musician me will always be there whenever there’s time.

In the past, Lethe have enlisted visual artists Robert Høyem and Costin Chioreanu. Tom Korsvold of Helheim created the art for Alienation. How did you select him for the task?

THS: that was the label’s idea, actually.. i had an image i found on wikipedia, a black/white picture of someone looking out of a big glass window, from inside an office building or something, looking at other, similar and empty buildings.. from there, the title alienation popped up, (and it’s also almost “alien nation”, hah), and that was the only idea i had.. and so we asked the label to find someone who could make us a proper cover, based on the little we had.. and the result is very nice, and very different from the two previous ones.. every album is a different style, also visually..

What are your future plans for Lethe? I was really surprised to see in an old interview that Anna said that you had both discussed the possibility of playing live. Of course, that would be fantastic, but it’s my impression that the band probably won’t ever perform live, and it is an extremely rare occurrence for you personally to play concerts. Is there any hope?

THS: live would be awesome.. but it’s probably too much in the way to make it happen.. but never say never.. maybe once, at least? Here in trondheim?.. who knows..

AM: Would definitely be up for it — but it will be a challenge in many ways.

I know that I’ve said this before, but I would love to hear Shining and Høstsol’s Sir Niklas Kvarforth on Lethe’s future releases. I really liked that his voice was included on “Transparent.” The words that he delivers there are actually featured in his book of compiled lyrics, When Prozac No Longer Helps. So, since you and Anna originally connected with the intention of creating a cover album and Kvarforth is the king of unexpected cover songs, I thought I would humbly suggest that all three of you record a cover together.

THS: that’s an interesting idea, indeed! that could be cool, absolutely! we actually have a bunch of covers that we never finished properly, in the demo stage.. maybe we can pick some of these up again.. we’ll see!

At this point in my wretched life, I regret to admit that Kvarforth is probably my favorite philosopher, but I still like Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Bataille. You’ve stated that you draw inspiration from philosophy among many other things, so I was wondering: Who are your most highly recommended thinkers?

THS: oh, not so much specific thinkers.. more concepts and “patterns”.. maybe I can say — myself..

AM: Past: Simone de Beauvoir / Current: Elizabeth Duval.

As I’ve mentioned, Manes are one of my very-very favorite bands, and you’re one of my very-very favorite artists. There are people out there who would probably like to strangle me for saying that simply because I repeat it so often. Anyway, Anna is also a big fan of Manes. Do you know which era of Manes Anna connected with most at first? I assume that she loves Manes’ black metal content just as much as neo-Manes?

THS: thanks! 🙂 i think the vilosphe album is what she connected with initially.. at least she said once that specific album meant a lot to her musically.. how she was thinking about music.. what music should be.. but i’m not sure.. she has been involved in a lot of the new stuff, several albums back now, so that probably means something for her too.. i know she likes some black metal too, but i’m not sure if she is into the oldest, blacker manes stuff..

AM: Definitely a Vilosophe fangirl. Although my favourite at some point was an EP I don’t remember the name of, it had a horse on it…?

Have there been any updates since we last spoke on when listeners will finally be able to experience the new Manes album, the remix album, and the single/EP series? Is there anything new that you would be willing to share about any of these offerings?

THS: hmm.. things are progressing.. but as usual, too slow, in my opinion.. like everything else.. the album is in its final mixing and tweaking rounds now.. more or less there.. some details.. but then, after that, there’s a lot of things that need to be done.. artwork/cover.. talk with labels, etc.. so, my guess is next year.. but we also have some new stuff, and the remix album, as you mentioned, which we hope to be able to talk more about in just a few weeks/months.. but as always, things are taking too long, so who knows..

How are things going with your black metal projects — Manii, Høstsol, and Syning? I assume that V. Einride, who appeared with you for the first time on the masterpiece Innerst i Mørket, will be present on Manii’s next effort? Of course, his work on Innerst i Mørket is absolutely magnificent!

THS: i actually officially started the work on a new manii album yesterday.. i created a folder on my computer called “manii 4”.. but it’s empty.. and that’s the current status, heh.. einride will for sure play on the next one too, when/if there is one.. and I sent niklas some examples of riffs for some potential høstsol stuff.. we’ll see what and when things are happening..

I sound like a broken record at this point, but, as I always say: Høstsol’s Länge Leve Döden is one of the greatest albums ever made, mainly thanks to your compositions and Kvarforth’s work. Did the music change a lot from the demo version that you sent to Kvarforth? What were your discussions like with Kvarforth concerning the album? Looking back, I’m amazed by what he accomplished there, even though he’s my favorite frontman, because he doesn’t even sound like himself on Länge Leve Döden. Did you push each other to new creative discoveries?

THS: we recorded separately, distanced, so there wasn’t much “in your face” pushing or something.. but i guess all involved wanted to do something great, and probably something different than what we are usually doing.. and you can hear that on the result.. the music didn’t change much, if i remember correctly.. i made the entire album in demo format.. sent it to niklas, first with, then without my demo vocals, so he was more free to do his own things, both lyrically and with the vocals.. and he arranged and did the recording, plus talked with kalmos and rainer, and then sent me the tracks.. i was completely open to changing things drastically, let everybody shape the final result their own way.. but i guess they liked the original ideas enough to let them stay more or less as they were, but they did their own, awesome and personal interpretations of everything..

“Länge Leve Den Ansiktslöse Mördaren” is a particularly special track for a lot of reasons. Of course, it’s unbearably brutal. I would actually call it one of the most disturbing songs I’ve ever heard, especially when you take Kvarforth’s beautifully crafted lyrics and totally authentic performance into account. However, the music is also overpoweringly gorgeous and affects the listener like a narcotic. What was your inspiration for that song?

THS: no idea.. one of the examples of situations where I like to say the songs live their own life, and i/we just hang on for the journey, doing whatever the music commands.. the initial spark can come from anywhere, and there’s not much planning or anything involved.. if ideas are good enough, they can tag along for years, and slowly develop into something that is worth taking further.. i guess this was one of those.. but i see things from “the inside”, though..

Are you aware of the stunning Länge Leve Döden reissues that Høstsol’s most excellent label, The Sinister Initiative, has prepared to be released in late March? I still think that Tuomas Tahvanainen’s cover art for that album couldn’t be better.

THS: yeah.. nice to know the album has to be repressed.. means people are interested, and listening to it.. and yeah, the cover is dark and disturbing.. perfect!

Is there anything we didn’t touch upon that you would like to discuss?

THS: Thanks for the interview, and your support!

Thank you, Mr. Skei and Ms. Murphy, for your time and art!


(Order Lethe’s Alienation from Dark Essence or Bandcamp.

Purchase absolutely everything Høstsol-related from Shining Legions.

Check out Aftermath Music’s selection of Manes and similar merch.

And also, buy Manii and Syning items from Ván Records, Terratur Possessions’ distributor.)