EMPEROR's IHSAHN On Church Burnings - "You Can’t Really Deny That It Kind Of Validated The Seriousness Of What We Were Doing"

February 12, 2024, 2 weeks ago

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EMPEROR's IHSAHN On Church Burnings - "You Can’t Really Deny That It Kind Of Validated The Seriousness Of What We Were Doing"

In the new issue of Metal Hammer, Emperor’s Ihsahn looks back upon the controversial church burnings which brought notoriety to the Norwegian extreme metal scene in the 90s.

Matt Mills reports: Emperor frontman and solo artist Ihsahn has spoken about the “us and them” mentality which fuelled the Norwegian black metal scene in the 90s. The singer/guitarist (real name: Vegard Tveitan) co-founded Emperor with guitarist Samoth (Tomas Haugen) in 1991, and their band became part of the “black metal inner circle” – also composed of Mayhem, Darkthrone and more – centred around the Oslo record shop Helvete.

Some members of the inner circle committed heinous and infamous acts of violence. Ex-Emperor drummer Bård “Faust” Eithun committed murder in 1992 and Varg Vikernes killed his Mayhem bandmate, Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth, the following year. Both men were sentenced to 14 years in prison in 1994 for murder and arson. Samoth was also jailed for arson that year, following church-burnings committed by him, Vikernes and Eithun.

Now, talking exclusively in the new issue of Metal Hammer, Ihsahn has reflected on his place in the black metal scene and his attitude towards the church-burnings.

“I was very fortunate to not get involved in any of it in that respect, but I think we were all very consumed with the whole thing. The attention it got,” the musician says. “All the negative attention and our local community’s reaction to it, it became fuel to the fire. It exaggerated this feeling of ‘us and them’. So I felt involved like that and in my band there were of course consequences.”

He continues: “And you can’t really deny that it kind of validated the seriousness of what we were doing. I heard someone talking about young rap artists these days who start doing criminal activity to give credibility and validity to the things they’re singing about. It’s a very strange teenage thing, some kind of rebellious wish to have power and be taken seriously. To be dangerous. Because when you’re a teenager you’re also so vulnerable. We don’t have to psychoanalyse it all but as a grown-up I think it’s much easier to see how this happened.”

Read more, here.

Ihsahn's new album, definitively titled Ihsahn, will be released on February 16 via Candlelight Records. Daring to push the realms of creative expressionism even further with his eighth studio offering, the Norwegian progressive metal visionary will release two melodically interlinked versions of the same album: one prog metal, one fully symphonic, both creating a cinematically-influenced masterpiece.

Whilst his musical journey has been frequently revelatory, the masterful control of rhythm and movement displayed throughout 'Ihsahn' shows his work as a songwriter and composer at its most focused and self-assured. A gargantuan endeavour and one that Ihsahn professes to be one of the most complex projects he has ever undertaken, is a labyrinthine rabbit-hole of his own design, the scale of ambition immediately apparent. Wholly self-produced and scored over the course of three years, the metal version has been mixed by Jens Bogren, the orchestral version mixed by Joel Dollié and both versions were mastered by Tony Lindgren. Ihsahn freely admits that the process pushed him to his limits. It began, simply, with a piano.

Comments Ihsahn, “On average, I've been releasing a full-length album every second year since I was 16. And, you know, that has given me some opportunity to explore different options, so for my eighth full-length solo record, I thought, ‘okay, how can I do what I do best, but also raise the bar tenfold? At the heart of what I do is black metal, extreme distorted guitars and screaming, but since the earliest Emperor recordings you’ll hear the keyboard parts influenced by classic soundtracks by the likes of Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Bernard Herrmann, John Carpenter and so on. So, I approached the writing with the intent to present the material in its full-blown metal expression, but also to arrange the orchestral parts in such a way that they would work independently. Somehow an attempt to write a soundtrack within the structures of the full production, allowing me to explore different, and sometimes contrasting, variations of essentially the same music. In the end I wrote all the music as a piano short-score and arranged it for a typical band ensemble and orchestra, accordingly, making sure everything interlocked.”

It’s that compositional core that allowed Ihsahn to build the two records from the ground up – a Herculean feat for the self-professed, self-taught musician, but it is perhaps that very absence of formal training that allowed him to throw out the rulebook and simply follow his instincts, and the time afforded by the pandemic created the natural gap required to so heavily invest himself in the project. As Ihsahn explains, that self-induced pressure came from a desire to keep his loyal fanbase and himself interested, which is not only the defining feature of his latest record, but it’s also the central characteristic of his entire solo career.

Pre-order the new album here.


"Cervus Venator"
"The Promethean Spark"
"Pilgrimage To Oblivion"
"Twice Born"
"A Taste Of The Ambrosia"
"Anima Extraneae"
"Blood Trails To Love"
"Hubris And Blue Devils"
"The Distance Between Us"
"At The Heart Of All Things Broken"
"Sonata Profana"

"The Distance Between Us" video:

"The Distance Between Us" (Orchestral):

"Twice Born" video:

"Twice Born" (Orchestral):

"Pilgrimage To Oblivion" video:

"Pilgrimage To Oblivion" (Orchestral):

And from the orchestral grandiosity of opening track "Cervus Venator" - whichever side of 'Ihsahn' you choose to sit down with first - the epic, soundtrack qualities and richly hewn textures of Ihsahn are immediately apparent. It is a masterwork by any standard, and the definitive expression of Ihsahn’s boundless capabilities as an artist. It’s a journey he’s eager for his dedicated fans to connect with.

Joining Ihsahn on this album are Tobias Ørnes Andersen and Tobias Solbakk on drums and percussion, with IHSAHN's son Angell Solberg Tveitan adding additional percussion and violins by Chris Baum. Artwork for the album was created by Ritxi Ostariz, with all promotional photography by Andy Ford.

Not satisfied to only create a dual-record, there is also a conceptual story which underpins both sides of 'Ihsahn' – a pair of separate but interwoven Wagnerian narratives revolving around the traditional hero’s journey, and while IHSAHN is reticent to tell all, he is confident that meaning will soon emerge for listeners willing to show equal commitment.  

"I've been honoured to work with some astounding visual artists on this, who were all given access to my scrapbooks, music, lyrics, stories, mood boards etc. It’s been amazing to see how they've all interpreted the material differently, but still in a way that binds everything together.

“It’s a privilege that I get to make music and travel the world to play my music. And when I say this is subjectively my greatest musical achievement so far, it has nothing to do with ego or prestige, but rather to do with gratitude for the experience. Art taps into the metaphysical and the archetypes of our existence- it lets us experience loss, death, love - it prepares us for all of those things in some way. That’s the value, that’s the perspective I wish to create from.”

(Photo - Andy Ford)

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