Interview: Ihsahn – Compatible Divergence

Posted by Morgan Y Evans - Walking Bombs on Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 5:33 PM (PST)


Some people Darby Crash or Syd Barrett their way to enlightenment. Others seek perfection of form or religion until some part of them slowly erodes (in cases when it fails). Whether you are a Tim Lambesis or a Blake Judd or a Mic Todd, these people all made meaningful art that affected people, as much as people debate the morality of some of their actions. Sometimes, as ugly as things can be, it is just part of the equation of life. We do have free will and choice to embrace higher roads, but karma or preconditioned hurdles in the psyche or environment can create major speed bumps (sometimes made of actual speed!).

Ihsahn of Emperor fame is still most associated with that classic Black Metal juggernaut, including their social infamy. Nowadays the founding 2nd-ish wave black metal father turned prog giant has evolved through non beholden to Orthodox Satanism and anti-morality to something inclusive of all that but much more vast and still very empowered. Ihsahn’s new solo-opus Das Seelenbrechen is a trip down the rabbit hole. This is not just restless reinvention for the sake of throwing out the past but rather a revealing of more layers and a sharpening of corners. “M” is delicate prog turned Floyd blues freak out. Space and ritual bells come at you on some tracks. Invisible siamese twins and stunning ambient poetry flitter up against stuff so harsh (i.e.: “Tacit 2” is an edifice crumbling into endless shadows) it competes with the most intense shit of OvO , Rotting Christ, Oslo’s Årabrot or Today Is The Day’s Sadness Will Prevail era. Think drums as falling beams, courtesy of Leprous drummer Tobias Ornes Anderson.

Das Seelenbrechen does not babysit you, like a purgatory of growth. This is the Orobouros throwing aside fear as it eats it’s tail. Haunting. Inspiring. Controlled/Chaotic.

‘I don’t know what I fear the most. What I am or what I’m not”. – Ihsahn from “PULSE”

Click HERE to read the interview!

These were my stream of consciousness responses to hearing “Tacit 2” for the first time = harsh textures crumbling edifice shadow…but more intense than straight forward metal. a horizon of bees. exhaustion screamed across mountains of coal ash. Fucking intense. Super experimental. Black. Avant Jazz drums. Insane. Elvin Jones?  Synth. soil. Townsend. sense.

How could such strength and misanthropy, a near Boris Vian level of fucking existential analysis sheared by the scythe of more left hand learning roar so loudly out of the Conservative confines of Norway? How could it not!

So…”Hilber” is amazing. The whole album is intense.

Diamanda Galas or just anything really stark and bare comes to mind. I feel an essence patience or burning candle imagery in sections like your  “cold gestures” lyric, just big feelings of solitude and sometimes feelings of strength or eroson/decay. You’ve captured a lot of moods. Why did you sponge up so many influences for this one?

Ihsahn: First of all, thank you. If you perceive it almost as very cinematic. I take the compliment. For some reason i’ve had several people who heard the album and call back saying it created strong visuals listening to it for them. I think it is great if it has that affect. Of course (chuckling) it took me awhile to have that option to hear it like that. I wasn’t so subjective. For me it is also a longer experimental album. You say candles and stuff like that. It’s kind of on the spiritual side of things. It’s a lot of the record in free form improvisation. In many ways I won’t say it’s more personal then my previous records, because I’m always personal, but the expression is revealing. My own relationship to my own creativity in a way (directly). It’s always a struggle offhand doing something like that. A rollercoaster. I had this idea that i probably do my best work if I’m not totally in my comfort zone. All along, in my career, I’ve always admired artists like Diamanda Galas and Scott Walker. Radiohead. I am making metal albums, the way they are made these days…it’s so many layers and tracks. It can be a very controlled process. For once I just wanted to make an album that is a sum of part of …more out of itself I wanted to write expressive songs more spontaneously. To avoid all the control and lose some sentimental control, hoping to make more room for accidental magic that might happen.

Do you live for those larger than life moments?

In this form of expression, that’s what you could hope for. It can be better than what you can possibly hope for. Those kind of moments…

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I am a fan of the book Twilight of the Idols and it’s interesting, the whole concept of anti morality. Morality as anti nature. It’s interesting, I like how you have your themes but you do it through different influences. Everything part of a larger whole. Good or evil or different sounds that might not necessarily work together but unless you try it, you don’t know.

I think that this is the way I work, with so long producing my own records. Time alone. I’m not very subjective. When you’ve been doing these kind of things and making albums as long as I have, you come to a point where eventually I am kind of kicking myself out of bounds. The analytical side of me. As a guitar player, for example. I’ve been writing music on guitar for 25 years or something. If I play a six string guitar, I will feel like I am repeating myself just by looking at my fingers! First i tried seven strings then eight strings. then I end up writing out from what I hear and not what I see, if that makes any sense. That’s how I like to approach songwriting. The previous album I wrote basically with a guitar on my lap. I wrote and programmed and had to record the whole album playing to click track and get it down. Just to do something different , a layered guitar sound and layers on top of that.

Well from a young age you embraced a lot of instruments whereas some people get stuck on one instrument or stay afraid to challenge themselves. I think it was Lydia Lunch who said something like rock was once great but people get stuck in that standard rock band format. The 5 piece model. More guys with guitars. It loses danger or risk.

Yeah, it’s very true. It all depends, unless of course…it takes the fans. People love the idea of four or five guys really conjuring up this fantastic music together and pusing along in the same direction. Most people that have played in bands know it is one or two people that make everything happen. (chuckling). You have people that tag along or bitch about it. The reality of things in most cases. In my case it was we have had great members in Emperor but it is a weird mix at that. I’m not the most easy person to work with. My instinct when it comes to music, I have a strong instinct and always have had. I’d be playing piano or electric organ and try to play guitar then do vocals as well. I realize I’m probably a nightmare to be in a band with.

That’s why I was pleased you’ve worked with the Leprous guys. Tall Poppy Syndrome is a favorite of mine. They can do prof rock with real precision but also have a human feel to their songs. It suits the collars/coats you are wearing or shedding these days. Tobias Ornes Anderson is a beast!!!

Ihsahn: Most drummers in metal play with triggers and have a very technical approach. Tobias has better technique than most of them but is a dynamic player. When I’ve had them as my live band he didn’t trigger any drums. When he plays kick drum he does it better and doesn’t need the world’s biggest kit. He plays a 4 drum Ludwig kit but a huge kick drum sound and two cymbals or something. He’ll even use broken cymbals cuz he liked the sound of them. The drums he has sort of sound massive. he doesn’t need a massive kit. I find that very appealing. His sense of time is fantastic. he is a very natural choice. Besides, he’s been my live drummer a few years now. I’d been recording him when I produced Leprous albums. So I knew what I could expect of him. The rest of those guys are so talented and well rehearsed as well. Dedicated. I can easily pitch any part to them and they will both play anything fantastically but also, to their credit, add to the live version of songs.

And can handle the unexpected from you.

Me and my wife have known them from before we started Leprous because the main vocalist/keyboard player and songwriter is Heidi’s youngest brother. We bought him his first keyboard. All the guitar players were previous students of mine. The lead guitar players started with me when he was ten. We help each other now and so far it has been very win win for both parties really,

Parts of the record are so experimental but emotional at the same time. I think of stuff like Peter & the Wolf, how that score is so controlled yet so deep and lush in feel, or great electronic stuff like Unison or Tearist’s ‘Headless” or Handsome Furs ‘Serve The People”, not that those sound like you, where people combined electronics or minimalism with a raw human soul.

I guess, thank you. The electronic stuff. I love stuff like Radiohead. They’ve been an inspiration also because of their integrity. They had huge success with Ok Computer. But they responded with that not to try to repeat another Ok computer album. they left everything and did an electronic record that still sounded loike Radiohead, because that is what they are about. i love stuff like James Blake. Taking electronic music and making it into something organic. Very very alive. Lately I bought myself a little Moog. I like new toys. Most of the synth bass parts on this album are Moog based. It fits quite well on metal tracks. I like fiddling around. Nothing fancy but it gives a particular low end. “Pulse” starts playing against itself off of the Moog. It started with a beat and has its’ beginning that I built up from there. Layering on stuff. Particular for this album, that song has the lyrical themes that describe my relationship to this kind of work. The “too proud, too ashamed, incompatible with myself” line. the duality of feeling completely lost and hopeless and a total failure to those moments where I’ve captured something and know it is great and feel on top of the world. Those moments make the music for me (laughing). It’s part of making dark music. A journalist I’ve come to know over the years, from Finland, he wondered why he really enjoyed this dark, dark music. Without being a depressive, violent person or anything like that, he was drawn to darkened things. I can so relate to that. I am not a violent person but I create violent music with violent images in a way. The imagery of “the fallen soul, that being broken is what makes it whole”…that kind of is how I imagine it for many people who work with a personal artistic expression, when you look at things differently from what is most common. You can’t do something like this or that type of expression if you aren’t partly broken at the same time. You see that dark and broken side of things. To be complete. I don’t know. This is maybe totally beyond any extent of what this interview ought to be about…The chemistry of the fallen soul, that being broken is what makes it whole.


Certain artists have done or given so much it is almost intimidating to interview them,  not only because of their legacy but because they put so much persona, thought, passion or power into their work. Killing Joke or Karyn Crisis were big ones for me. You (laughing). There’s so much mojo. So may things I want to ask. I want you to break down the new album but also hear what you’re willing to impart. You’re really living, embracing light and dark, life and death.

It’s not that I’ve experienced things in particular that made me have to do an album like this. Some of the previous solo albums were more affected by what is going on in my life, but this one is an overall inspiration to get back to the root force of my creativity. How I felt when black metal was young, that was the same. That force is the source and a constant, what I’ve been trying to accomplish and express my whole musical life. Every new song on every new album is an attempt. As you go along you take big detours but this album I wanted to come very very close to the source and create very spontaneously without filtering through too much technical aspect. To me, next year we do the Emperor shows to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Nightside Eclipse and making this album kind of has taken me mentally closer to the energy that we kind of worked with on the first Emperor sings, though in a very unpolished way. This mentally has prepared me to play those old songs. Even though sonically this album and the extended process of making it was so different, the atmosphere and inspiration for it is very similar to my early work here in black metal. To me the adversary is very similar and it is easy to get in that mindset and give individual songs what they would deserve. Better than I would a few years back.

With Wacken pending, do you feel an obligation uphold your legacy or are you  more interested in showing growth as a person?

I think my solo work by far shows me as not resting on any kind of laurels. It’s not the end goal. The process is kind of the whole point of doing this. If anything I don’t have a choice. I am kind of driven like this. I have gotten more confident jun my work and my soil. That is why I opened up to doing these shows next year and also to myself, for me. We can celebrate those marked years and music we made over twenty years ago. It was an important love for us. That was the starting point of me having music become more… and living from it, dedicating so much of my time and mind to my work. This passion that I have. That was a good reason to celebrate it. So i did not want to go into this reunion thing like an “old dust-off” all over again. If we do this reunion thing for the anniversary it has to be focused for us and be able to stand with that time.

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