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Interviews

Emperor - Ihsahn

29/06/12  ||  Will Cifer

Ihsahn braved new boundaries in black metal with his band Emperor. As a solo artist he continues to stray from the confinement of genre labels. I was honored to get the chance to talk to Ihsahn about his new solo album “Eremita”. Here is what he had to say.

Global Domination: Let’s start with the new album. The first of your solo albums outside of the trilogy, was there as sense of freedom writing these songs? Did it feel like a new start?

Ihsahn: In a sense the first three albums were designed for me to develop myself as a solo artist outside of Emperor. I had some space and ended up writing with more confidence. I felt the need to distance myself from the whole Emperor phenomenon. With this album I felt a return in my awareness. I felt a comfort with life on its own rather than just nostalgia. On the new album I was more at ease to connect to my past. To create some of my blackest work on this album by digging deeper. But, in the sense it’s more of an attitude, than just one thinking of music in terms of say blast beats.

What was it like working with Jeff Loomis and Devin Townsend ?

It was a compliment for them to have asked me to guest on their albums. With Devon, I contributed to “Deconstruction” and then of Jeff’s full length, so that made asking them easier. Recording “Eremita” there was a solo section and I imagined Jeff’s playing would be great on. It would put to shame anything I would have done as he is one of the greatest guitarists out there. There was also a section that needed these vocals that were more powerful than what I had done so Devon came to mind.

The guitar sound on the new album is much warmer and organic. I noticed you are now endorsed by Blackstar Amplification, so is that the reason for the change?

Yes, I have been doing more producing. I wanted a organic yet gritty sound. The focus of my writing is normally for guitar. Record on the computer and play back to the piano to allow more focus on the compositional layers as well. A dynamic drummer recorded to a click sound and captured the rhythmic nature. I wanted it to have a very loud live sound. I used other amps as well but blended the BlackStar 200 head which I use live to get the metal grit with the 412 for the clarity in the attack, so you can hear the instruments strings rather than being lost in the distortion.

The sax is back on the new album, when I heard it on “After” it brought to mind King Crimson. How much of an influence has classic progressive rock been on the more recent solo material?

Bands like Rush and King Crimson, I am familiar with their music but I can’t say much of an influence as I have always seen the sax as a lonely instrument. I finally found a scenario in which I could use it. Jorgen Munkeby of Shining is a super talented and plays the instrument so expressively, that it interacts with the rest of the music so well. We are also good friends. He has a uncanny knack for improvisation which shines through in his playing in the album.

Lyrically the theme of the new album as a more transcendent feel, rather than the confrontational feel of your first two solo albums and earlier Emperor, how did this transpire ?

The method of how I approach lyrics, was to be an adversary rather than just blah blah blah. A lot of metal has words with no meaning. Metal by nature attracts the outsider mentality, but this is very conscious a reflection of something I had to say. In a sense it’s about escaping. As a solo artist it’s not like the band dynamic where you pitch ideas back an forth. So i wanted creative focus rather to the point and cohesive rather than a collection of ten song that happened to be recorded at the same point in time. With this album some of the themes are almost like a madman, who is the protagonist, who wonders did he or didn’t he commit murder.

How would you say your spiritual growth has influenced what you create? Their seems to be more maturity in that as well. Emperor was more of an romantic exploration of the occult.

As a teenage it was romanticized. Influenced by the music of soundtracks, vampire scenarios and delusions of grandeur. I’m much more pragmatic these days. Metal is larger than life, from the extreme vocal to the imagery. My perspective on the subject is to dig deeper. The playful exponents of youth, to see things as a reason being impassioned. An undefined deep point to drive me forward with music as the driving force.

So what are the plans as far as touring to promote “Eremita”?

Well, I am doing some festival dates in June and then Candlelight is talking the possibility of getting some U.S dates in the fall.

When you said Candlelight I at first thought you said Kamelot and meant the power-metal band. I thought you would have to stock up on pirate shirts to tour with those guys.

I did do the Prog-power festival, and it was refreshing. They did not know where I came from, even though I have an established audience for the past past 20 years. I think in some ways a crowd like that is better for what I am doing now than a typical black metal audience.

Well hope you can come through the States.

I do to. I would like to but there’s a lot to consider if bringing a band over from Europe is financially feasible

Particularly in the current American economy.

Yes, it’s a very challenging time for music. I have management, and try to let them worry and work that out, allowing me to just focus on making the best music I can.

Well you’ve continued to succeed in that department. I think the new album earns your name to be mentioned alongside other big names in progressive metal, like Åkerfeldt and Wilson.

Thank you, I appreciate it. I think highly of Mikael, as a friend who I have had the good fortune to collaborate with in the past. So, it is very kind for you to think of me in such company. All I can say is I am very pleased with how that drive to create this force I spoke of earlier translated on the album.