The Southern California-based speed metal band VIKING was founded in the spring of 1986. The original and only lineup consisted of: Ron Eriksen – guitar / vocals, Brett Eriksen – guitar, Matt Jordan – drums and James Lareau – bass. VIKING managed to land a recording contract upon the completion of their second live concert, a feat practically unheard of in the clubs of Hollywood. VIKING went on to open for such acts as MEGADETH, FORBIDDEN and SACRED REICH, as well as headlining many of their own shows. VIKING was featured on the 8th "Metal Massacre" compilation by Metal Blade Records, performing the song ‘Hellbound’. This was the first of three releases on Metal Blade Records to feature VIKING. The ferocity of VIKING’s first full-length album "Do Or Die" prompted Hit Parader magazine to write, "Do Or Die" bristles with the savage intensity of a pit bull in heat," while Disorder magazine described the album as containing "totally skullcrushing mosh parts combined with ultra fast speed and some really devastating leads." The follow up "Man Of Straw", released early in 1989, was engineered by Bill Metoyer . This album was lyrically, musically, stylisticly, and aurally light years ahead of "Do Or Die." Having become a born-again Christian just four months before entering the studio to record the album, Ron rewrote the lyrics he had originally penned to omit blasphemies and even proclaim his new-found faith in the song entitled ‘The Trial’. Although VIKING had a six-album contract with Metal Blade Records and an upcoming U.S. tour, Ron knew that his young Christianity would not withstand the temptations of the road. He quit the band in 1990 along with Matt Jordan, who had also recently become a Christian. With only two members remaining, VIKING immediately disbanded. Brett, having replaced DARK ANGEL’s Jim Durkin on a US tour, joined the band full time. Ron and Matt moved to Oregon, and James pursued a career in art… The info you just read was taken from the band’s official website – basically to introduce VIKING to all those of you who weren’t familiar with the band yet and to make the following interview a little bit more easy to get into…
Just like the classmates of mine, the graduates of construction technical school, who are to be found literally anywhere except for the places they are supposed to be by profession, the Metal masters of the past are to be met at the most unexpected places nowadays as well. Nevertheless, there are several places which are even too unexpected — the church being one of them. Would you mind switching back in time some 13 years and recalling the debut LP "Do Or Die" of L.A. based band called VIKING? Neckbreaking speed, unstoppable rush and barefaced aggression — it was early Speed / Thrash itself personified, a dose of hellish energy unleashed, an outburst of music to be approved by the Horned One. A touch of Chaos has given this album some additional charm, so, naturally, it’s rather difficult to believe now that Ron Eriksen, the man behind those intense guitar riffs, crazy leads and wild vocal performance and Pastor Ron of Calvary Chapel of Cheyenne is actually the same person. Unpredictable are the ways of God… Even though the second coming of VIKING was marked by the touch of Ron’s new-found belief and its original lyrics were replaced to match his change, nevertheless "Man Of Straw" turned out to be quite a decent Speed / Thrash offering too. Much more melodic and generally more Music and less Chaos oriented, this album displayed the band’s remarkable songwriting and performance abilities and could become a good start towards the audience much wider than die-hard Thrashers and success more healthy than achieved with the debut. But there was another path that laid ahead waiting for them. If the sermons of Pastor Ron Daniel are even half as convincing as the music of Ron Eriksen used to be, then visiting Cheyenne be sure to keep out of Calvary Chapel in order to keep your establishment in Metal scene up to the mark and do not break the oath. And vice versa: if you want to stay as far away from Metal as possible, then don’t consider giving VIKING even a short listen as it might end up in your giving your heart and soul to that music for good. Such a dangerous man is our next guest — the last viking come Christian alive — Ron Daniel in his own person.
I think it’s great that you don’t try to suppress the fact of your being a Metal’s disciple as even the web-site of your church contains detailed information on VIKING. Seems like you don’t regret it even the slightest bit, moreover, you are actually proud of what you’ve done with VIKING. Is it really so?
"Actually, I have gotten some heat over it from various people around the USA that don’t understand my motivation for the VIKING section of our web site (www.calvarychapel.com/cheyenne). Some people have thought that I am pointing Christian visitors to our web site backward to what a great thing I had in VIKING. But in reality, I am pointing forward to former VIKING fans that want to know where I am now, why I dropped out of the Metal scene so quickly, and how such a huge change occurred in my life."
What was it that led you to Metal for the first time, how did you find that it was "your" thing? And what exactly was "yours" in this music?
"I remember exactly what led me to this lifestyle: it was a radio station playing KISS’ ‘Rock N Roll All Nite’ in 1976. I was never the same since. When I turned 16 and got a car, I started going to local clubs to hear bands like RATT, STEELER and LEATHER ANGEL. I saw about ten bands a week in these clubs, and that just became my lifestyle. It was a natural progression for me to pick up the guitar and imitate what I had been submerged in for so long."
I’m sorry for the triviality of this question, hopefully the fact that any information on VIKING is quite hard to find will be more or less reasonable excuse for my bringing it forth. Anyway, couldn’t you tell me more about the history of VIKING — how, when and why was it formed, any previous bands, any demos, etc.?
"My first gigging band was called HAGS — it was very grungy Metal with a Punk attitude, with a sociopath for a frontman. I was one of many players that came in and out of the band. Right after I left, they finally released an album which amounted to nothing. Matt and James had been playing in garage bands that never played in clubs, just a few parties. Matt’s band was called BARRIER, an IRON MAIDEN-sounding group, and James was in a Punk trio named LETHAL GENE. When I quit HAGS, I asked them to quit what they were doing and join up with me. We formed a band called TRACER, and released a demo with a singer / screamer named Tony Spider sitting in for us in the studio. We wrote a lot of forgettable material in those days, but ‘Militia Of Death’ (a song from the "Do Or Die" album) was written and recorded then. It is rather comical now to hear that song sung by Tony, compared with the album. We could never find any decent singers that wanted to join up, so we eventually fizzled out without a full line-up. When that happened, Matt placed an ad looking for a band and got a call from Brett. Since the practice studio was in my garage, they invited me to jam with them that first afternoon. We played a few SLAYER tunes, but when we hit the end of my SLAYER repertoire, I was done. I put down the guitar and started to sing along, mostly as a joke — I did not consider myself a singer, although I could do the screams. But as soon as I started, Brett and Matt’s jaws dropped — they recognized that we had something amazing happening. I was clueless, insisting, "I’m not a singer — I’m a guitar player" But they persisted, so we called James back up and the band was formed in a day."
As far as I understand, it was my worshipful collocutor who was the main generator of ideas in VIKING, so I dare to suppose that it was your interest in the vikings, their history and traditions that led to baptizing the band like that and writing the songs like ‘Valhalla’. So all the more ironical is that later you gave your heart and soul to Christianity, I mean the vikings and the Christians were not the best friends, as we all know… I wonder if your view on the subject of christianizing the vikings’ lands differs drastically from the one of at first Mr. Quorthon and then entire new Black Metal scene?
"This is somewhat embarrassing to admit, but the viking concept came about simply as we were discussing what our niche would be in the overpopulated Speed Metal scene. Brett and I were red-heads, and decided to bill ourselves as the Eriksen brothers, descendants of the vikings. Consequently, we wrote lyrics along that theme. I was not much of a history student at the time (I am now a voracious reader of ancient history), but mostly read just enough to write lyrics. As for my own present views, as you know, the viking were pagans, worshipers of false gods and idols through the Asatru religion. But as they ventured out into Christianized nations, many of them heard the message of forgiveness of sins and were baptized. Unfortunately, in their new-found zeal, many of the leaders tried to force their faith upon their crews. This grew to a national scale, with the organized church trying to force the nation to become Christian. The church of that era was marked by a terrible ignorance of the teachings of the Bible, and the Christian faith of the day was largely shaped by the corrupted doctrine of the church leadership. Jesus instructed his followers, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you." This was not a command to militants, but to missionaries. Forcing cultures to adopt Christianity by violence is completely contrary to the teachings of Christ. Rather, Jesus said, "Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet." If people would not listen, then that was the end of that. He even said specifically, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, my kingdom is not of this realm." What was done under the banner of Christ by the church of that age is an abomination, and in no way representative of God or the Bible."
Being the person well familiar with both Metal and Christianity, do you think this music really contains anything diabolical in its nature, in its very core, that it’s a kind of Devil’s music by default or is it rather a matter of image, of shock-effect and other minor things like these?
"This is a great question, and I believe that I am in a unique position to be able to answer it. First of all, there has been a lie of ignorance spread by opponents of all Rock’n’Roll music, that there is something inherently evil about the music, that a 4/4 beat is "of the devil." This is both ridiculous and ludicrous. But music and lyrics go hand-in-hand. And for the last three decades, the Metal scene has been permeated by lyrics that glorify wickedness, magic, paganism, and worse. I have known many people in many bands that sung about satan and hell. Ninety-nine percent of them were poseurs, unable to write anything original, thought-provoking, or intelligent. They knew nothing of paganism, satanism, or anything else for that matter. But the ignorance and unoriginality of the writers does not dilute the poison. I am a classic example of someone who was provoked into an interest in witchcraft and satanism by this very form of music. What started with fascination with VENOM and SLAYER lyrics turned into me casting spells, holding seances, and longing for a demon to do my bidding. Just today in a bookstore, I overheard two teenagers wearing PANTERA and SLAYER shirts discussing the difficulty of practicing the spells detailed in the Necronomicon, and how this new book simplified their satanic practices. Whether someone chooses to believe it or not, Satan is very real — and his sole purpose is to steal, kill, and destroy. He has succeeded in using much of this music to make evil attractive to a generation of people."
How do you feel about the fact that your own music has always been listened mostly by the people tuned quite negatively towards Christianity?
"I have to wonder if there ever existed a human being that hated Christianity more than I did. I created most of VIKING’s music during that season of my life, so I am not surprised that people who feel the same as I did gravitate towards my music. But I am personally grieved that I added to the sea of blasphemous music that exists."
Didn’t you try to turn VIKING into "Christian Metal" band? Generally speaking, don’t you think that bands like STRYPER did more harm than good to Christianity as they made it look a bit stupid?
"No, I never tried to turn VIKING into a Christian Metal band. That would have been very hypocritical, since I was the only Christian in it (Matt did become a Christian after the recording of "Man Of Straw"). My lyrics certainly changed when I was born again — I certainly could not continue singing the blasphemies that I had written. As for STRYPER, they did what they thought was right. I can’t condemn them entirely for their career. I think the biggest embarrassment was not that they played gospel Metal, but that they fell into hypocrisy by living lives that were not in harmony with what they were preaching."
Personally for you, what were the most exciting and memorable experiences out of all grievously short career of VIKING?
"There really are far too many to detail, so I’ll just share one short experience that I’ve never related in an interview before. One morning, I was putting strings on my guitar for a show later that night — we were opening up for MEGADETH. I turned on MTV’s Headbangers Ball, and they showed the world premiere of MEGADETH’s video ‘Peace Sells But Who’s Buying?’ It was the strangest paradox — I was the viewer that morning, but knew I’d be the player that night. I’ve never been able to successfully put that emotion into words."
Do you have anything interesting to say about your session participation in DARK ANGEL during the recording of their "Leave Scars" album?
"Actually, this was a very quick take. I arrived at the studio, and remember being impressed that the windows looked out over the Hollywood sign. Gene and I had talked about ‘The Promise Of Agony’ as he was writing the lyrics, so I knew what he wanted. I cut the first vocal track, and Ron Rinehart matched my vocal line afterwards."
By the way, I’ve asked Jim Durkin of DARK ANGEL what was wrong in the air of L.A. that the yesterday’s Thrashers like both their second vocalist Ron and you had surrendered to the Bible and he said literally the following: "I don’t know. Maybe they are missing something in their lives and need to believe in something. I don’t get it". So I wonder what is your Faith able to give you that music could not?
"Jim was a very good friend of mine, whom I lost touch with shortly after I moved away to Oregon. But I think here he is mistaken. You see, I wasn’t looking to believe in anything. I was a confirmed atheist. I knew for a fact that there was no God. I wasn’t missing anything as far as I was concerned — I had just what I’d always wanted: a record contract on Metal Blade, an upcoming tour, and fan mail coming in every day from all over the world. But God grabbed me and proved to me that he existed. All those years I spent casting spells and seeing no real power, but God literally proved his existence and power to me in one 24-hour period. I could no longer deny his existence, and I knew that I had blasphemed him. I told Jesus Christ that I believed in him and asked for his forgiveness. This was not a crutch, not a desperate man at the bottom of the barrel looking up. It was simply an acknowledgment of truth."
Can you say that you felt yourself written out as a musician, that music lost all its previous importance for you at the time, so something had to take that vacant place in your life and Christianity happened to be exactly that "something"?
"No, I was certainly not "written out." I had another album’s worth of material mostly written, and I know Brett did too. Plus, Matt was writing more. The third VIKING album would have blown away anything that had been recorded up to that point."
I wonder what were the responses of your brothers in Metal to that really shocking news that you decided to leave VIKING and Metal in general in the name of Jesus Christ? I guess it must have been something like a bolt from the blue for them…
"I guess I’ll have to leave that question for you to ask all of them. I was not a perfect example of a Christian from day one. I regret most of my behavior for those first six or eight months. I’m sure that I burned bridges with James, with Gene Hoglan, and some others that I hope someday can be repaired."
Excuse my curiosity, please, but is Eriksen your real surname and Daniel simply the one you have taken in order to pay respect to the Bible’s Daniel and emphasize the depth of your inner change?
"Eriksen was my stage name. My birth name is Ron Daniel."
Have you watched the development of Metal after leaving the scene? Do you care at least a little bit about modern Metal?
"To be honest, I have not looked into the scene I left with more than the occasional curiosity of flipping through a magazine on the rack. I don’t know if the music’s changed, but judging by the pictures and interviews, the words of the Bible are true: "That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So, there is nothing new under the sun."
Are you often approached by people like me who still remember VIKING and enjoy your music? Or maybe it turned out to be a matter of utter surprise for you that somebody still cares about it?
"Even after all this time, there are still requests for interviews, and fans who recognize me every once in awhile in the strangest places. Yes, it surprises me every time, because I don’t think of myself as Ron Eriksen. Today, I’m just Pastor Ron to a few hundred great people."
The temptation to grab a guitar and a mic stand, to enter the stage and feed the audience not with a sermon but with some mind-blowing Metal — how often are you attacked by it? In what way do you usually fight it, with a prayer maybe? (I’m awfully sorry if I’ve offended your religious feelings here, hope you’ll be able to forgive me)
"I think it’s a great question — not offensive in the slightest. Actually, I play guitar and sing all the time, but I never have the temptation to crank out a VIKING song. The music I play is ultimately satisfying, for it is what God created music for in the first place — to worship him. The only temptations I have regarding music deal with the fact that I am not the musician I want to be, and I struggle with wanting to invest more time in becoming a better player."
Do you think every human being need something to believe in?
"Human beings are created with an internal need to worship something greater than themselves. When they choose to reject their Creator, they try to fill that hole with substitutes, be they movie actors, sports heroes, or rock stars. But belief in Jesus Christ is the one thing that brings complete satisfaction. I have peace inside that those who reject Christ will never know. I have purpose in my life that those who refuse to know God will never have. While philosophers have agonized over the afterlife for millennia, I have complete security in my eternal future. It goes much further than belief: it is knowledge."
Any closing words to those who still remember you with a guitar instead of the Bible in your hands?
"Sure, how could I pass that up? Whatever your readers are pursuing in their lives, I want to ask them to consider what the value of it is. Jesus said, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?" As soon as your heart stops beating, you will enter into eternity, and at that point, your CD collection will mean nothing, the concerts you attended will be pointless, the songs you wrote will be gone. All that will matter will be this one question: "Did you receive forgiveness for your sins, or did you reject Jesus Christ?"