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Ihsahn Discusses Taking A Musical Detour On New Album "Das Seelenbrechen"

Photo of Emperor

Band Photo: Emperor (?)

Buried for many years, the seminal Norwegian black metal band Emperor will be resurrected from the dead in 2014 to perform a series of festivals.

With those appearances on the horizon, I got in touch with Emperor member and solo artist Ihsahn to discuss the limited activity - he insists it's not a reunion - celebrating the 20th anniversary of "In The Nightside Eclipse."

While black metal fans have that to look forward to, on the more imminent horizon Ihsahn is also due to drop his latest solo effort "Das Seelenbrechen" at the end of the month (reviewed here).

Rather than continuing the sound hear on albums like "AngL" or previous full-length "Eremita," this experimental release instead goes in entirely new directions. During our chat Ihsahn elaborated, "so for many reasons I thought before I continue my solo work with a full-on metal album again, I would have to do a detour and do something from a different mindset and perspective before I continue. The album is not a new direction, it’s a deliberate sidestep before I continue."

Find out more about the creation of "Das Seelenbrechen," Ihsahn's collaboration with Devin Townsend and Serj Tankian for Revolution Harmony, and his appearance on the upcoming God of Atheists album in the full interview below.

xFiruath: There’s only been a single year between the last album and this new one, and usually there’s a longer period than that. I’m wondering if the reason for the short turnaround is because of the Emperor reunion next year.

Ihshan: No, it’s really not. I started and planned out the recording of this album before we actually decided to do the Emperor thing, so that was coincidental. When it turned out like that it was a good thing though. We’re only doing a few shows though, so it should free up some of my time.

xFiruath: I’ve listened through the album now and it’s a totally different direction from the last few, especially the first three “A” trilogy albums. How did you put these songs together, and for those who haven’t heard it, how do you think it differs from the other albums?

Ihshan: To me it is very different because the whole approach of writing it was something done on the sideline, and that was very deliberate. If you take my two my two previous albums “After” and “Eremita,” they are quite different but they are still in the same musical area. They are 8 string guitars and saxophone and have the same sort of expression. I had this idea that I maybe don’t do my best work if I fall into a formula, I probably work better if I’m out of my comfort zone. I’ve always wanted to make an album where you don’t necessarily see each song in combination with the others. Making a metal album is about finding one sound for an album and then you record all the drums for the songs and all the guitars with the same sound. You kind of build it like that. But pop records for example may have a different arrangement to every song. I think making metal albums, which I’ve been doing for 20 years, it’s become more about editing and putting things together and you have so much control over every small aspect. There’s too much detail and not enough making an expression and an emotional impact. So for many reasons I thought before I continue my solo work with a full-on metal album again, I would have to do a detour and do something from a different mindset and perspective before I continue.

The album is not a new direction, it’s a deliberate sidestep before I continue. Concept-wise, the idea was to get really close to this core creative force that’s been with me since the beginning. To me it’s a very black metal feeling, even if you can’t really call it black metal. It’s that in it’s truest form, and I know this is very abstract, but that force has been very constant for me since I was young. Every new song and album has been a different interpretation of that. You find different approaches, but at this point I wanted to get back to my earlier roots and call that type of energy in its pure form, but not expressing it in the traditional way you associate with black metal music. I wanted the atmosphere, but by different means.

xFiruath: Is this album just you or did you have other musicians appearing this time around?

Ihsahn: It’s just me this time apart from Tobias on the drums.

xFiruath: Speaking of Tobias, I noticed the new Leprous album "Coal" was a good deal different from the previous releases as well. I know Ihsahn and Leprous are pretty closely connected both as family members and backing band members, so I’m wondering if that’s something you guys did on purpose and decided to go in new directions together on these releases.

Ihsahn: I wouldn’t say theirs was so different, theirs was different in a sense that I think they’ve been formed by their live playing. I think they wanted to streamline their expression, because their songs are bouncing all over the place. I think they were focused on being consistent through the songs this time and building on the same themes, which is sometimes difficult for progressive music. But I can see where you are coming from and maybe on some subconscious level one may have influenced the other. Of course we were both together along with my wife recording and producing the new Leprous album as well.

xFiruath: You are going to be appearing on the new Asgeir Mickelson project God of Atheists. That’s something I’m looking forward to and we actually nominated that the most anticipated album of the year. How did you get hooked up with that and what is your contribution to that project?

Ihsahn: To be quite honest that’s actually an old arrangement I did with Asgeir when he recorded drums for “After.” He had some music he was working on, so instead of me paying him a regular fee for his services, he said we’d trade instead. He played drums on my album so I could do keyboards on his album. That’s how that came about, and then he took a lot of time on it. It was meant to be released a lot earlier, so there’s been a long waiting time to actually get it out. He sent me the demo recordings and told me he would like this sort of arrangement for this part and maybe some strings over there, so I recorded the keyboards and sent it back to him. So my only involvement in that project has been like a session keyboard arranger. I haven’t even heard the final result.

xFiruath: You also did another project like that where you appeared on the “We Are” track from Revolution Harmony that also had Devin Townsend. Was that a similar situation?

Ihsahn: More or less, but I had traded with Devin before when I appeared on his “Deconstruction” album, and he sang on one of my songs on “Eremita,” so there was a trade off there. When I was in contact with Ray who is behind that charity, he wrote the song and contacted me to do some vocals. It was me who gave him the contact details for Devin to get him enrolled as well. Ray wrote the song though and was behind the whole project for me and Devin and also this Serj, we were just a small part to all of it. I’m not too big on charity unfortunately, we could all do more. Instead of the typical thing where you donate to some organization, it was nice to contribute something directly, and of course it was something I’m very passionate about with music. The money will actually go to keep music being taught to less privileged people in South Africa. I’m lucky to be a part of it and make a contribution that will hopefully actually matter.

xFiruath: Last year when we did an interview I asked if you would be doing another Hardingrock album and you mentioned you’d like to at some point. Has there been any movement on that front?

Ihsahn: Not anything concrete, no. Both me and Heidi, we’re quite fully booked with everything that’s going on, so it’s hard to find time for something like that in between everything else. If something does come up, I doubt we’ll do a full album. We loved working with Knut, and if his time allows and the situation is right we’d love to do it again, but maybe in a smaller format.

xFiruath: Speaking of Heidi, what’s happening with StarofAsh? I know she had planned to release a song each month this year but it seems like that has slowed down or stopped.

Ihsahn: It’s been impractical to get everything mixed and mastered over the summer. She’s been working on at least two new songs this week. There will definitely be 12 songs altogether, and those who have been following the songs on the blog will be surprised on the direction some of them are taking. I think it will be worth the wait. It won’t be too long until there are new songs.

xFiruath: For the Emperor shows next year, do you know yet what the set list will look like, and what festivals have you confirmed?

Ihsahn: We have four European festivals that are nailed down. I’m not sure it should be billed as a “reunion” as it has been already. It’s not a reunion per se, it’s us celebrating the 20th anniversary of “In The Nightside Eclipse.” That was the idea, so obviously we will focus the set list around that album and era of Emperor. It will be a celebration of that album and the music we made in that period.

xFiruath: Any final words you’d like to add about your new solo album?

Ihsahn: It’s more focused on delivery and improvisation than anything else. It’s not a new direction, it’s a sidestep, and that’s something I want to be clear about. When I finished the album I was very happy with it, but I thought maybe it was sort of commercial suicide. So far I’ve been quite surprised by how well it has been received, so maybe I’ve underestimated the listeners.

xFiruath's avatar

Ty Arthur splits his time between writing dark fiction, spreading the word about underground metal bands, and bringing you the latest gaming news. His sci-fi, grimdark fantasy, and horror novels can be found at Amazon.

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