Ihsahn – Emperor ‘Encore Of The Wizards’.
“No Age Will Escape My Wrath” – Vegard Sverre Tveitan (also known as Ihsahn) of Emperor, ‘I Am The Black Wizards’, In The Nightside Eclipse 1994.
These resounding lyrics are screamed by Ihsahn just after the two minute mark of what could arguably be considered Emperor’s “hit single” and most infamous song; the truly fascinating characteristic though is the wondrous weight that these words carry. They are of such immense value that virtually no one could have anticipated their significance 30 years after its initial release.
This “wrath” could be applied to multiple incidents that have followed Emperor since their inception in 1991. By way of illustration, the outfit’s guitarist Samoth (full name: Tomas Thormodsæter Haugen), one of the remaining band members today was in fact one of the black metal musicians convicted of church arson during the uprising of the genre’s second wave. In essence, modern Christianity felt the “wrath” of historic Pagan and Viking belief to an extreme value.
Compellingly, Ihsahn, the long-standing voice, guitarist and keyboardist of the pioneering black metal group purely let their musical art deliver the message alone – avoiding these radical actions that escalated as time wore on. Three decades later however, the multi-instrumentalist knows that the “age” element is no method of escape for the legacy (wrath) Emperor has left. As he describes from his home, the process of revisiting the songs from the In The Nightside Eclipse full-length became a reconnection that inspirited the touring quintet and demonstrated that regardless of age, the vivacity of these songs is monumental.
“That was kind of the concern initially, when we started playing these shows again back in 2006. These are songs that we wrote and connected with when we were basically teens. So, these are familiar songs to us and the world, but it is the authenticity of all the things involved that is the most important. And that is, I guess, what it has always been about, being uncompromising and authentic.” Vegard details with earnest passion – “You see, when we were teenagers, we didn’t have a band as an interest on the side. We lived black metal 24/7, if we weren’t playing or rehearsing, we were listening to horror movie soundtracks, or black metal music, or going into the forest experiencing those things that we wrote about in the lyrics. It was a full blown obsession. I know, it sounds a bit pretentious and strange, but that’s kind of how it was, that’s being young right? It gets set into your spine.”
Did you find yourself time travelling in a sense? Did you rediscover the younger version of Ihsahn who helped craft these landmark songs?
“When we started rehearsing this stuff, man, there were so many riffs, complexities and lyrics to re-learn. I couldn’t, if my life depended on it, show anyone how it was sung or played (laughs). But we just had to start from the beginning and it is right there in the muscle memory. The lyrics just come through and that was the really great thing, that we could just succumb to the atmosphere of the songs, and be part of it while playing them. Truthfully, I would feel very bad if I got on stage and it felt like I was kind of performing old 80s hits or something similar, then it would be something cheesy and I wouldn’t be proud of it, because I don’t know, it was great money or something like that, it wouldn’t be right.”
He continues – “It is time travel, but it is embedded in me you know? It is like when I listen to (Metallica’s) Master Of Puppets – I go straight back to that time. I can even remember smells that take me back to that era (laughing). It’s tricky though, looking back at your earlier work – say if I was to reflect on my work from five years ago, I could critique myself and I would know that I could have done it better. But if you give it more time, you kind of detach from what it is and appreciate what you have done. I wrote the tab book once for many of the Emperor songs -that’s where I got to analyse it as a score. I realised some of the more technical aspects: All the eight note triplets that we used and everything that kind of defined the sound, from a theoretical point of view. But, when we play it, I don’t go there. We leave our egos on the side of the stage. Playing the songs, we let them be ‘through us’ and I guess it’s not always super fun to rehearse ‘I Am The Black Wizards’ – but it is never boring to play!”
The group’s entire discography is adored to the widest stretches of our globe, so far in fact, that it is almost unfathomable. The aforementioned “single” in particular provokes boundless energy from the live five-piece and their fans alike, reaffirming the above-quoted lyrics and their timelessness. It plagued this scribe to ask though, considering parts of the history involved with the black metal genre, what memories may arise even unconsciously when delivering these unique metal masterpieces in concert?
“I think it’s a different thing, because when we created this, it was very solitary experience. When we recorded our first songs, black metal was nothing. It was that was a group of 15 people who hung around Helvete record shop in Oslo. So it was kind of epic in a very contained space. Then, when we first went to South America, in Chile I think we had 4500 people come to our show. They were all singing the melody and lyrics of the songs back to us and we realised, that it’s not the songs themselves, it is the interactions in the songs and all these people have had an individual experience that they attach to. I have the same thing with some of my favourite songs, they are touching memories, they are the soundtrack to your life.” Vegard Sverre Tveitan details excitedly then carries on – “So there’s so much of your own interpretation to it. And then to have all that kind of energy, fill the room in that space, and everybody’s kind of connecting on a personal level; and I’m not even talking about our music now, I’m just talking about music in general, for some reason, a lot of people have that relationship, that’s really powerful stuff. It’s really humbling and an extreme privilege to be able to be part of something like that with our music, regardless of our memories.”
Emperor will return down under in May to help welcome our oncoming winter and perform In The Nightside Eclipse favourites and other anthems (“It’s like being on vacation and you have tour guides wherever you go to take you to the best places to eat.” he interjects joyfully); but what some readers may not be acquainted with is Ihsahn’s solo output. With seven studio LPs to his name, his discography is one to marvel at; the latest three releases though, a collection of EPs showcased more exploration from his metallic palette and flirtations with electronica and progressive rock. Experimentations with post-punk are exhibited as well as a few abstract covers that are sincerely breath-taking, namely (and surprisingly) Portishead’s hypnotic single ‘Roads’.
“I have a lot of love for Portishead, the atmosphere of those records, it is so insanely unique. It is like there are movies playing in your head when you listen to that, they are definitely a big influence on me. But so are the other artists I have covered like: A-Ha, Iron Maiden and Lenny Kravitz. They are all part of my musical palette.”
So what comes next in this “age” of Ihsahn?
“I’ve been working on my next full length, which is something entirely different. I’ve actually had some regrets because it was so hard to do. This is the most complex and most ambitious project that I’ve ever done. It’s almost finished, I can’t wait to share it. There’s more to it than just an album. The personal subjective level, I can hardly believe I pulled it off. I reached very high this time.”
Planet Earth might soon have the ‘Cosmic Keys’ to Ihsahn’s ‘Creations and Times’ of yet another age.
Interview by Will Oakeshott @TeenWolfWill
Catch Emperor on tour in May!
Emperor – Australia & New Zealand 2023
May 17th – Melbourne, The Forum
May 18th – Sydney, Metro Theatre
May 20th – Brisbane, Eatons Hill Hotel
May 22nd – Auckland, Powerstation