An interview with Emperor frontman and solo artist Ihsahn
Ahead of his new solo album release and maiden Australian tour, Jordan sat down with Ihsahn to discuss his upcoming Australian tour and his newest solo album.
Jordan: The new record, Amŕ, sounds incredible! Are you happy with how it came together?
Ihsahn: Absolutely yes! It’s another experiment for me, trying some new ideas and taking things down a different route. I had some strong ideas about how I wanted the album to come out this time. I’m not too sure how to explain it; I set very general ideas about an album before I finish it to stop it going all over the place, and I was kind of continuing my exploration of more traditional pop-rock songwriting as I did with Arktis. (the latest release) and I wanted to continue exploring a different soundscape. It’s very rock and metal sounding but I chose very different sounds this time. The distorted guitars and vocals for me are second nature but the rest of it are an experiment; like dressing it up in a different way. I wanted to continue my exploring of synthesisers, and I had some ideas of very dry mono drums, to record the whole album with a really dampened acrylic drumkit. Maybe we’re getting a bit too deep here! *laughs*. With my previous band Emperor, we were very big on soundtracks, like horror movie soundtracks, and creating big emotions with kinds of orchestral sounds. That became a big part too of how I arranged my music. But at the same time, I wanted to explore earlier electronic sounds like John Carpenter, to add really eerie synthesised vibes.
J: It seems now more than your earlier work with Emperor, you’ve moved away from raw guitars and drums only and you’re building onto that, do you approach how you compose music differently now than you used to due to this instrumental shift?
I: I still base a lot of my music in riffs but I am also exploring different ways of writing. Often it comes down to muscle memory; my fingers try to do what they usually do when I write with a guitar and you feel like you repeat yourself. On my fourth album, Eremita, I wrote the album to a piano sound, and I made the drummer write to only a click track and a piano. Writing riffs on keyboards and adding guitar afterwards or vice versa also helped. Basically my philosophy is I have to find methods, to keep myself curious and exploring when making music. If I’m not excited about what I create, I can’t expect anybody else to be either. It’s a very liberating scenario, because I allow myself to do whatever the hell I want to do. I try to communicate with the people who follow my music, and I try to do my very best every time but I also do my best to not write to a market or push a certain direction. If one album I release doesn’t match a particular fan’s taste, maybe the next one will. People who listen to extreme music, maybe without even realising it, come to it because they want something real. They don’t want something polished or puffed up for commercial purposes.
J: You brought another great innovator into this new album, Fredrik Akesson; how was working with him?
I: It was really simple! I sent him the track and he sent back recordings of his solos. I’ve known him now quite a few years and he’s a lovely guy. He grew up with a lot of my old favourites and influences, like King Diamond, Maiden, Judas Priest, and his solo playing has really become one of my favourites. He has such a balance of today’s guitarists “super shredding”, with decades of emotion and tone and great phrasing. When we met in Japan, we were talking guitars as we do, and I offered him a guest spot, and he straight away said “I’m in!”. I’ve been very lucky with guest spots on my albums.
J: When I think of heavy, I think of Unhealer, the crushing track you recorded with his bandmate Mikael on the Angl release; could you tell us about your philosophy on heaviness in metal music?
I: What matters to me is that things are profound. I’ve come to the age where I differentiate between two genres; music that affects me or does nothing for me. As I said earlier on, scream vocals and distorted guitars are second nature to me and it’s what I know, it’s my language or mother tongue. However, I have so many cravings to incorporate other sounds and flavours onto this. On Amr, I’ve incorporated traditional hip-hop 808s, and I actually enjoy some of the darker commercial hip hop like The Weekend. It’s so deep sounding, yet decadent with a lack of hope, even though it’s this modern LA sound. However, it still carries across those cinematic elements, and depth, and it appeals to me. To me, it’s about how it makes me feel rather than where it comes from and if that style is right or wrong. I’ve also lately been thrown into this category of progressive music, which I don’t really associate myself with. When I think prog, I think more technical music, almost bordering sport. But I guess I’m “prog” in the sense of exploring new ideas. I’ve come to the conclusion that I only developed a musical career because I didn’t give a shit. We started Emperor, even though starting a black metal band in Norway in 1991 was the worst career idea ever. It really was an against-all-odds scenario. Because we did that though, with no scene or no money, a lot of the early black metal was created with no motivation, which made it so exotic and exclusive. I can thank that for my uncompromising mentality that became my career.
J: On the topic of the 90s scene briefly, would you like to comment on a certain notorious film about the black metal scene that was released this week?
I: A tonne of people approached me for interviews for that novel that the book was based on, and there’s been controversy, but it has no basis in the scene. It kind of got tossed in the same pile for me as all the people that contacted me for the story of Emperor or the black metal scene. Frankly, I’m just not interested. I’m so focussed on my new music and creating my live show that I’m way too busy to see myself as a relic of the past or get caught up in nostalgia. I never really cared. I knew a lot of people in the scene, but I never really had the connections [of other Emperor members], I was more of the lyricist musician tagalong *laughs*.
J: Are you looking forward to the Australian tour coming up soon?
I: I am! It’s my first time to Australia, and I’m excited to be on the other side of the world. Of course, it’s a similar western culture [to Norway], unlike going to say, Japan, which is like another world. I have spoken to people who have toured there and they’re super happy with how their tours went. Such as my brother-in-law Einar, whose band Leprous recently toured Australia. The first show in Melbourne sold out really quickly and people seem to be really excited! Also, I’ve been recommended some restaurants *laughs*.
J: Hopefully you get to see a little more than the inside of the airports!
I: Yes! In my experience of touring and how limited the sight seeing is, I’ll be happy if I see a kangaroo! But in my experience, you get to see at the same time loads of cultural differences and meet people who you can find a cultural common point in metal. I get to meet all these different people and learn about the essence of people from that common point, and the differences we have can reflect really easily off what we share in common, being a love for our music.
Ihsahn will be touring Australia in May of 2018
IHSAHN announces new album details – Àmr due for release in May; premieres video
IHSAHN, one of Norway’s most pioneering musical legends, has today unveiled details of his upcoming studio album, titled Àmr. The nine track long player will be released via Candlelight/Spinefarm on May 4, 2018.
The first track to be made available from the album is Arcana Imperii, which features a guitar solo by Opeth’s Fredrik Åkesson. The accompanying music video (created by Richard Oakes of Dark Fable Media) can be seen here.
“As with previous albums, I’ve tried to maintain a certain diversity throughout Àmr, with every track having a somewhat individual identity. So, as a first introduction, I felt Arcana Imperii contained several key elements from the whole album and was a logical choice as first single and video.”
Drawing from a rich pool of influences and utilising a wide range of instruments, IHSAHN has created a dark and brooding masterpiece of an album. Àmr possesses its own unique atmosphere; a palpable sense of tension and unease that infuses even the album’s most melodic moments with heightened drama and otherworldly menace. Although as dark and intense as anything he has conjured before, both the depth of sonic texture and the clarity of his overarching vision are more impressive than ever.
Opting to eschew string arrangements and orchestration in favour of synthesisers, Àmr strides boldly into uncharted territory yet retainsIHSAHN’s signature high level skill and off-the-scale quality. Drenched in evocative synths and brimming with skewed but irresistible riffs, Àmr is both IHSAHN’s most accessible record to date and his most extreme departure from his black metal roots.
Whilst he is something of a musical polymath, IHSAHN was joined on the recording of Àmr by Tobias Ørnes Andersen who provided drums and percussion.
Àmr was recorded at IHSAHN’s own Mnemosyne Studio, except for drum recordings which were done at Sonic Attic Studios. Mixing was handled by Fascination Street Studios, in the capable hands of the talented Linus Corneliusson. Mastering was once again done by Jens Bogren.
True living legends are few and far between, but Ihsahn has long since earned the right to be regarded as one of metal’s all-time greats. As frontman and chief songwriter with legendary Norwegian black metal pioneers Emperor, he swiftly cemented a formidable reputation as one of the underground’s most idiosyncratic creative forces. Classic albums like 1995’s In The Nightside Eclipse and 1997’s epoch-shattering Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk ensured that the young band were among the most respected the most popular of Norway’s many black-hearted exports. Their imperious rise to prominence came to an unexpected end after the release of 2001’s wildly intricate and grandiose Prometheus: The Discipline Of Fire & Demise, but it was an album that suggested that Ihsahn’s compositional journey was far from over.
Reincarnated as a solo artist for 2006’s The Adversary, Ihsahn has spent the last 12 years forging a second path through artistry’s darkest shadows; one that is making more and deeper connections than any of his past endeavours. With a sound that still retains strong links to his black metal roots while embracing everything from skewed art rock and avant-garde jazz to experimental electronica and dark ambient, each successive album has presented a brand new manifestation of the Norwegian’s unique craft: from the muscular and haughty riff sculptures of Angl and After’s haunting, saxophone-driven mirage to the tech-metal explorations of Eremita and on to the wild, avant-metal splurge of Das Seelenbrechen, Ihsahn’s catalogue speaks of a restless creative spirit with ideas to burn.