Aniruddh "Andrew" Bansal of Metal Assault recently conducted an interview with EMPEROR frontman Ihsahn (real name: Vegard Sverre Tveitan). A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
Metal Assault: We'll talk mainly about your new album "Das Seelenbrechen", which was released on October 22 via Candlelight Records. I think musically it's almost a contrast to the past couple of albums that you put out. In your opinion, in what way does it differ from your previous work?
Ihsahn: Well, this is a very deliberate sidestep musically from what I've been doing on the kind of gradual build I've had over the period of the past four albums. I guess for me this whole process has been kind of like a personal journey. My first solo album was a back-to-basics thing, with me starting all over again with heavy metal. And I gradually built it up from there, ending up with the third album where I found more of a musical platform where I wanted to be. There's eight-string guitars and a heavy sound with various instrumental elements. And my fourth album was, concept-wise, very different, but musically shared a lot of similarities with the third album. Having done those two albums in a similar musical environment, I felt the need for this fifth album to do something totally different for a change, to avoid falling into any kind of formula. I believe that I do my best work when I'm slightly out of my comfort zone. At the same time, I've wanted to do an album like this with more focus on improvisation and where things are not so controlled, more spontaneous and intuitive. I've always admired artists who have expressed themselves more intuitively like that. I come from a background of doing metal albums for over 20 years, and in my opinion it [metal] is becoming more and more tedious and over-controlled, specially these days with metal production being very much detailed, edited and everything. I mean, I like and enjoy that process too, but it's important sometimes to reset the parameters. Even when I was doing the previous albums, sometimes I kind of got caught up in the technicalities of things. But this time I had to remind myself what it's all about, the energy and the atmosphere you want to express. In the controlled way of doing albums, it leaves very little room for those kind of magic accidents to happen. So for this new album, I just wanted to sacrifice all of the control and the "filter" in the hope that a more open-ended approach would leave more room for possibilities of magical things to happen. [laughs]
Metal Assault: You mentioned the fact that metal bands can get stuck with a formula, specially once they develop a fan base, and they're scared of experimentation. Were you ever having any fears about that yourself? Did you ever think it was a risk in terms of alienating any of your fans?
Ihsahn: When I heard the finished album when it was mixed and mastered, I was very pleased, because it turned out exactly to be the album that I set out to make. But, of course, the objective side of me felt that this was totally a commercial suicide. [laughs] But, now that I've seen many of the reviews and I'm getting lots of feedback from the fans, friends and people in general who've heard the album, I'm very positively surprised by how well people received this album. So I think I underestimated my listenership in that sense, because the day we live in, we don't save up money to buy that one album anymore. We have access to so much more music that I think people in general are more educated to a wider range of music, basically. On a different side of the coin, I come from a black metal background. When we started EMPEROR in '91. Career-wise, when you start a band, you mean to build a fan base and actually have a career. But starting a black metal band in '91 was probably the worst idea ever. [laughs] I never got used to the process of trying to please a side of the market or any public opinion, or anything like that. I like to think that I focus more towards my own work and myself. With the background I have, if I try to make music that would fit into their pockets too easily, or to make something for a majority of this or that scene to like, I think people can smell that from a distance. So the only thing I can do to respect the fact that I've had listeners who've been supporting my work for 20 years, is to do my absolute best every time I make an album, just as uncompromisingly as I did the first one. [laughs]
Metal Assault: Talking of this album, how do you personally prefer people to listen to it? Is it more like a single musical piece or ten individual tracks that tell different stories of their own?
Ihsahn: Well, with all the solo albums that I've done, aside from recording and producing everything, writing and playing all instruments except the drums, it's important for me to have a very steady framework for what kind of album I want to make before I actually start writing anything. So that's something I've done with all albums, and with this album the general idea was to actually go backwards and make an album with a very pure, old-school, dark black metal atmosphere that sends a very different message, with some different song structures. The underlying atmosphere was to have that black metal feel. It's a very dark album all the way through. But at the same time, I wanted to break the pattern of the typical metal albums that have one set of basic arrangements for the whole album, one production for the entire thing, which has always been very typical for a metal album. But I wanted each song to grow out of itself and just become the instrument and arrangement that I felt each song needed, regardless of how it would all fit together, just trying to trust that the overhanging general vibe would still be present. So, I think that people would get most out of the album if they put on headphones and listen to it from beginning to end. In some way, I think I almost tried to present it in that way although with very abstract cover layout, a German title and even for my standards the song titles are rather cryptic. Everything about the presentation of the album says this is not an album that will give the listener anything for free. This is an album that craves your attention if you want to get most out of it. [laughs]
Read the entire interview at Metal Assault.