Once Second Wave titans Emperor were done scorching the earth with black metal, Ihsahn wasn’t slow in scaling the genre’s perimeter fence, and high-tailing it in search of a fresh sound that rested far from the genre’s weirdly orthodox iconoclasm. Progressive metal was a neat fit, a suitably abstract direction to define his sound as a solo artist. His first three albums were a trilogy (The Adversary, angL, and After) that put plenty of creative distance between him and Emperor’s classic canon. When the Deciblog caught up with Ihsahn, it seemed that album number four, Eremita, once again finds him, in a sense, liberated.
Do you feel that the trilogy has defined your sound as a solo artist, and now you are creatively free do what you want?
My initial decision to do a trilogy first was kind of to reinvent or maybe to rebuild a musical platform for myself, for this solo outlet. It was more on a personal level, trying to prove to myself that this is the solo effort, and as I said to some other journalists, talking about this album, it is probably just me who cares but I think for a very long time I distanced myself from my work in Emperor because I just needed to stand on my own two feet. On my practical terms, the first solo album I did was very heavy metal influenced, like starting from influences from Judas Priest and Maiden, the stuff that I grew up with, and I built it from there.
Now that you are where you are, musically, there must be less pressure to a degree, knowing that you’ve built your sound it’s a case of exploration rather than reinventing.
Yes, and I think, for me, I don’t think I am totally unaffected by how my music is perceived. That would be a lie, but the way I perceive my success, I try to evaluate the goals I set myself and what I want to achieve with an album, and to what extent the music reflects that. I think, beyond that, when you release an album it is of course nice if people can relate to that expression and find something in the music. But for the most part I tried my best to do the most authentic and heart-felt job I can with the album, and see where that takes me.
Talking about hoping that people can take something from your solo material, is that a change in attitude from when you were in Emperor, when it was more confrontational?
At that time we didn’t consider whether anyone would really like us, and despite the fact that, nowadays, younger people perceive Emperor as almost being this overnight success, I can assure you that this is something that we never experienced. I guess I didn’t really experience any of the so-called success of Emperor before we actually did the reunion shows, not to any great effect anyway.
It’s funny you saying that, it’s almost word for word what Tom G. Warrior said to me about Hellhammer.
Yeah, I can imagine. And I can imagine so many people who do this for a while and they’re confronted with something that they can’t really deal with, because it’s unfair that the only difference, say with Iron Maiden, between the albums Maiden make today and the albums they did in the 80s, the biggest difference is people’s nostalgia to the old albums. Because Maiden haven’t probably changed that much musically, the biggest change is just what people invested in these songs from the 80s.
Nostalgia is such a powerful feeling, but it’s part of what makes listening to music so subjective.
Yeah, and I can relate to that. I mean, I’ve experienced that and you probably have too, when you hear a song you haven’t heard in many, many years, maybe not since you were a teenager, and then you re-discover those thoughts and feelings that you had at that time. I think I have learned from this; I’ve always been kind of private in a sense, and especially when we went out with Emperor for the reunion tours and I met fans who had a very strong attachment to the music and the band. I met people and they’d cry, and be super-nervous and everything, and I just kind of felt really uncomfortable relating to that until I realized that this has got nothing to do with me; they had invested a lot of their own emotions into some music that I just happened to be a part of.
You used landscape pictures as a muse when making After, what influenced you this time round? Was film an influence?
I can’t think of anything cinematic, but you are quite right. You said that when we were first talking that it was easy to hear that it was my album only with a different vibe, and I was glad you said that because the previous album, After, my whole inspiration for that was the bleak landscapes, with no sign of life. I had them all on my computer, surface pictures of Mars, Siberia, and that was the atmosphere, the scenario for the album, those images in my head. This time it was totally different, more introverted, a more paranoid perspective, and I guess one of the scenarios in the album was that this is an escape to somewhere far out in the woods. There are references on the album to someone buying something in their backyard; it’s almost like a small crime/horror film. So I had these black and white pictures in my head. But for each album I do now, I have all these different bits and pieces, all these images in my head from lyrical ideas.
Is that maybe the first important step into making an album like Eremita, creating the album’s atmosphere, its internal logic and emotional rulebook?
Yeah, I think that’s even more important now that I do this more or less on my own. Working with a band there’s that dynamic of pitching ideas back and forth, that it’s kind of a combination of where everybody’s at, musically and mentally in that period of time. I am lucky of course to have my wife, Heidi [Heidi Solberg Tveitan aka Ihriel from Peccatum], who is an invisible band member and a part of this process, who’ll tell me when things suck! Haha! And also when things work. I guess everybody who has made an album will know: it’s an emotional rollercoaster, from feeling absolutely useless to feeling like you’re the second coming of Beethoven, and this can go up and down, several times a day. … from minute to minute.
**Eremita is out 18 June 2012 in Europe: 19 June 2012 in the US. Pre-order it here.**