The Purest Form Of Art – An Interview with Ihsahn
Originally published as the cover feature of Ghost Cult Magazine Issue 13. October 2013
One of the most inscrutable and softly spoken characters in all of metal, Vegard “Ihsahn” Tvelitan made his name as the leader of a seminal Black Metal act before now releasing a collection of grandiose and experimental, not to mention acclaimed, solo material. Polite, articulate and focused while his band mates were being convicted for murder and arson, this virtuoso musician and husband of fifteen years was more concerned with changing the face of extreme music through bold experimentation. Ihsahn’s forthcoming fifth solo release is “Das Seelenbrechen” and the return of Emperor to the live arena in 2014. Ghost Cult’s Ross Baker caught up with the man himself to find out what drives this master of progressive black metal.
It has only been a year since your last album “Eremita”. What inspired such a rapid return to the studio?
Almost immediately after finishing one album, I begin compiling ideas for the next one. After the first trilogy of albums, “Eremita” was a bold step but on this album, I wanted to reset the creative parameters and not fall into a formula of writing. It was exciting to record an album quite quickly to get that live vibe. It was unnerving but a very liberating experience for me.
“Das Seelenbrechen” translates to “The Breaking Of The Soul” in English. Is there a particular story or concept behind the album?
“The whole point of having the German title and the tracklist of songs being atypical was a way of taking a very deliberate side step from what I have been doing. I am very inspired by people like Diamanda Galas and Scott Walker. Their music is much more intuitive, expressive and open to interpretation. Metal these days is too much about editing and polishing everything. I felt the need to do something vaguer and abstract, straight from the soul. The album title is taken from a Nietzsche aphorism where he talks about the purest form of art. It is the only Nietzsche reference on the album but it expresses the feeling I experience when creating this music. All music lovers will realise that feeling when they listen to a piece that mirrors how they feel. It fits with the improvisational feel of the record. Creating the purest form of art is also one of the driving forces in my own life.
Speaking of improvisation, “Tacit 2” in particular seems to have a strong freejazz influence. What made you record that track?
The freeform elements allowed me to work more intuitively. That song is just the one lyric and a freeform structure. Both the “Tacit” tracks were recorded in just one take. Tobias, my drummer and I worked on those songs together. It was not about making freeform jazz, more making sound to fit the atmosphere I wanted to create. My love for Diamanda Galas influenced these songs. She can play Black Metal with her voice alone! She would do with her voice what some acts would try to achieve with a symphony orchestra. I wanted to capture that live feel she has on this record.
After years of playing Metal and music with many layers, I wanted to do something rawer and stripped down. It was very scary for me but very liberating at the same time.
Why have you chosen to explore more progressive sounds in your solo career? Did you ever feel restricted by Emperor in the sense that some fans would only accept heavy Black Metal from you?
At the end of Emperor, I felt restricted by people’s opinions of what the band should and should not be. We were writing as a band on the first album but “Prometheus…” was composed by me alone. I was restricted by the parameters of what my band mates would stand behind and consequently I found my place was in a solo venture as my musical ego is too big to cope with that! (laughs).
I think I am easygoing in all parts of life except for my music. The only person who has any influence on my work now is my wife. She is my sparring partner in many ways. She will tell me when I am on the right track.
You have spoken of your wife Heidi as your “musical sparring partner”. What does she bring to your writing process?
She is very practical and has this sense of quality not just within music. She provides an objective view and helps me find what I am after. If I have a song that I was working on e.g. my “After” album that had many clean vocal parts, she told me, it was very cheesy and too sweet so she suggested I have a saxophone part there instead of a vocal line. That song became my favourite moment on the record. She helps record my vocals and we discuss all my ideas before I start writing an album. She helps me realise the direction I want my records to take.
You have chosen to reform Emperor again for the 20th Anniversary of “In The Nightside Eclipse” why did you agree to this when you have refused to do any shows since 2006?
The 20th anniversary was the sole reason we wanted to do this. It seemed an appropriate way to celebrate our legacy. There have always been offers for us to do something but we turned them down flat. I have been very reluctant to do stuff like this because I wanted to give my own music a chance. I want to be very clear that my solo work is priority now. That is why I waited to record three albums before I did live shows because I did not want to mix in Emperor songs with my material. I wanted to be a 100% solo artist and it would be fooling my audience and me if I presented my new music as second best to the songs I wrote as a teenager. I feel my best is yet to come and I was not interested in the cliché of just playing the old classics. I am still young and have a few years in me left.
I am proud to mark the occasion of the anniversary and celebrate the starting point for us. It made more sense to do this than a “best of” set list. I feel we will perform the songs authentically and with 100% conviction because people would notice the difference. Our fans would know if we were trying to fool them.
Why have you decided to not produce another Emperor album?
We want to be very clear about this. There will never be another Emperor album. The solo work is not a fling; it is the most important thing for me now.
The reason there will not be a new Emperor record is that I do my best work as a solo artist. The end of Emperor was when I came to that conclusion. In practical terms “Prometheus…” was my first solo record. There was an open door for the others to pitch in material; I play more instruments on that one than I do on some of my solo albums.
This is with no disrespect to the other guys but if you listen to my stuff or Zylkon or The Wretched End they are very different in direction. If it were up to me, Emperor would sound like I do now. This is how I write Metal.
The duality of my work with Samoth worked so well for so many years but I feel it has played its part. In addition, many fans would expect different things from an Emperor album in 2013.
If I genuinely thought we, could get together and sparks would fly I would do that in a heartbeat but it would mean many compromises because I would want things to be more experimental. You would never have an Emperor album with saxophone on it!
The line up for these shows will feature your original drummer Bard “Faust” Eithun. Have you decided on the bass player for the live shows?
It will be Secthdamon (Tone Ingebrigtsen) on bass and Einar (Solberg) on keys. The reason we choose Secthdamon rather than Mortiis was that Secthdamon joined when we became a more serious band. Mortiis came into the band when his bass parts were already written so he had very little input in the direction the music took. He even left before that album came out so his involvement was very small.
“Das Seelenbrechen” takes its name from Nietzsche’s famed “Human, All Too Human: A Book Of Free Spirits” You have referenced Nietzsche as far back as “Thus Spake The Nightspirit”. What fascinates you about him?
“Thus Spake The Nightspirit” was written when I had only discovered Nietzsche. I shied away from his work for a while when people started telling me he was a political figure. I did not like the ideas he had been associated with. He hated everything about fascism.
Having Leprous as your backing band has clearly paid off in terms of how cohesive the lineup is live. Will that be a permanent arrangement?
I hope so. Tobias has been inspiring and can relate to playing the more freeform stuff. It’s a win win for both of us. I get a great backing band and they get more exposure. Einar (keys, vocals) is my brother-in-law and both the guitar players are students of mine.
I just give them the score for songs and when I come to rehearsals, we work the magic. Whether this will continue or not depends on if this continues to work. Promoters also get two bands for the price of one!
Where will your muse guide you in the future?
After the Emperor shows next year, I will be working on ideas for my sixth album. I admire acts like Radiohead that have retained their own atmosphere and character whether they have made rock or electronic music. Regardless of how their songs are arranged, you can tell it is them. That is what I want to achieve with my own work. I want to create something pure and individual.
December 30, 2013 | Categories: INTERVIEWS/FEATURES | Tags: black metal, Emperor, Eremita, Extreme metal, Ghost Cult Magazine, Ihsahn, In the Nightside Eclipse, Ross Baker Journalist, Samoth, Scott Walker | Leave a comment
Originally published in Powerplay Rock and Metal Magazine Issue 160 – December 2013
Joining a new band that see’s you working in a different genre of music from the one you have spent most of your career in can be a challenge but that challenge can only be greater when your bandmates have come from some very successful acts. Following doom legends, Candlemass calling time on their recording career bassist and songwriter Leif Edling began writing material with the help of Evergrey guitarist Marcus Jidell. Early material was intended for a doom project featuring Hellacopters drummer Nicke Andersson with Opeth mainman Mikael Åkerfeldt singing however when Opeth began work on their next record plans for that were shelved. Enter Jennie-Ann Smith, a vocalist with a background in jazz and blues. How did Jennie become part of Avatarium? “Marcus asked if I would come to the studio and sing on some demos. They originally planned to have a male singer with a bluesier feel, someone like Robert Plant but lucky they liked what they heard.”
Jennie is modest when speaking about her part in this super group, yet one listen to “Avatarium” will show you how important her role is within the band. The rich melting pot of influences in Avatarium’s music takes in classic rock like Rainbow with jazz overtones and even a pinch of folk. Where did these influences come from? “I never really listened to metal before so this was quite new to me.” Jennie admits. “I grew up with singers like Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell although I did sing in a rock band when I was fourteen. We mainly did covers of Led Zep and Rainbow songs, which were where my love of rock comes from. Jon Mitchell taught me how to be soulful but Dio taught me how to sing with power!”
Indeed working with such luminaries would be a baptism of fire. Where nerves a factor for Jennie-Ann early on? “Leif is such a great composer and it is a pleasure to work with such great players. I was a little nervous to begin with but Marcus and I had worked together with another Swedish artist so that made it easier. Our producer Ronni Lahti was very encouraging. He understood that we wanted to make an album that sounded natural and emotive rather than technically perfect. Leif and Marcus are great at writing melodies so inspiration came very easily. I have been a freelance musician, doing a lot of session work in Stockholm, which allowed me t work with a lot of different people. I also work part time as a psychosocial counsellor in a hospital in Stockholm so I have been able to take on creative projects that suited me. When I got the call from Marcus I couldn’t wait to get started!”
A classically trained alto vocalist, Smith’s contributions make Avatarium stand out from other female fronted acts like Blood Ceremony. Leif Edling has said that Avatarium’s lyrics are inspired by “heretical idolatry of the pre-Christianized cults throughout ancient Europe and esoteric allegories of the late medieval secret societies” the vocalist was somewhat taken a back at this revelation. “I did not know that but that’s very interesting. Leif wrote all the lyrics and I helped with arrangements. This album has historical themes like the one you mentioned but contemporary ones also. “Moonhorse” is about a sick child who daydreams of another world to escape the pain of his illness. It is a very emotional song for me to sing because I have worked in paediatric care, seen a lot of sick children and spoken to their families. It feels very personal for me even though I didn’t write it.”
Multifaceted with great depth and hidden meanings, Avatarium are more than just another occult rock act. Jennie may not have written the lyrics to these songs but her stamp is all over them. Considering “Moonhorse” was originally intended for Opeth’s frontman did Jennie have trouble adapting? “Actually that one was no problem. The most difficult track to sing was “Lady In The Lamp”. I wanted that song to feel like “Catch The Rainbow” or “Greensleeves” but we had to be careful. We did not want it to sound corny. Even the gentle moments on this record are accompanied by very dark themes.”
Indeed Avatarium’s work never comes close to being corny or trite. The band even took the bold step of recording Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” for the b-side of the “Moonhorse/Boneflower” maxi single. A risky enterprise considering how frequently this particular composition has been recorded, by other artists with mixed results, it could have gone horribly wrong. “It could have. Jennie admitted, “I think we got it right. The acoustic arrangement has not been done for this song I don’t think. “War Pigs” was actually my idea. We relished the challenge of covering such a famous song. The twelve string guitar really add a different element to that. It gives it a different feel, while retaining the power of the original. It would have been cheesy to try to do a big electric arrangement of the song. That would be a pale imitation of the original.”
Avatarium have yet to make their live debut save playing a couple of songs at the private birthday party of their drummer Tiamat stickman Lars Sköld. When can we expect this compelling group to play live? Considering these musicians involvement in other projects arranging live shows must be quite a challenge. “We are discussing our options. Obviously, Lars is touring with Tiamat this year and Marcus has Evergrey but we will come to an arrangement. We want to play a few shows and some festivals next year. We can’t wait to show people what we have created!”
Indeed Avatarium have created an enchanting blend of folk, blues, rock and doom. How would Jennie describe her bands sound? “That would depend on who was asking what we sound like! I would describe it as “Dark, heavy and poetic” for people who have not heard metal. I think it will surprise many metal fans who expect only one thing from Leif and Marcus. This is a new band, not some rehash of our other projects. I described us to my mum as dark poetic music, which seems to fit. This is the first album from Avatarium but it will certainly not be the last! I can’t wait to hear what the world makes of it!”
Avatarium’s self titled debut album is out November 22nd on Nuclear Blast
December 18, 2013 | Categories: INTERVIEWS/FEATURES | Tags: Avatarium, Black Sabbath, Candlemass, Evergrey, Jennie-Ann Smith, Leif Edling, Mikael Åkerfeldt, Powerplay Rock and Metal Magazine, Ross Baker Journalist, Stockholm, Tiamat | Leave a comment
Genre: Doom Metal/Classic Rock
Label: Nuclear Blast
Candlemass recent retirement from producing studio material has not meant bassist and chief songwriter Leif Edling resting on his laurels, content to merely tour. Avatarium is a project inspired by the heretical idolatry of the pre-Christianized cults and late medieval societies throughout Europe so the familiar occultist themes remain from Leif’s prior work. Evergrey/ Royal Hunt axeman Marcus Jidell and Tiamat drummer Lars Sköld are worthy additions to this line up too but no one is more influential than vocalist Jennie-Ann Smith whose astounding vocals evoke the likes of Joni Mitchell and bringing a strong backbone of blues and jazz to the songs.
“Moonhorse” was originally written for Opeth frontman Mikel Åkerfeldt yet Smith’s ethereal contribution is so enchanting you cannot image it sung by anyone else. “Tides Of Telepathy” has a slow menacing ostinatos over which Jennie-Ann shows she can be both menacing and bombastic where required. Capable of belting out some soaring highs in-between delicate folksy emissions this blues chanteuse makes quite the impression here.
Keyboard maestro Carl Westholm also makes a great contribution, adding mellatron and Theremin to this lavish and engrossing package. Edling may be the main songwriter but this is truly a group effort. Blending the power of classic acts like Rainbow mixed with delicate serenades inspired by 60s folk artists “Avatarium” is an album which should be experienced as a whole, for it is a highly compelling journey from beginning to end.
Originally published on Gigsandfestivals.com 3/12/2013
The inaugural night of this U.K. jaunt see’s the Welsh wonders ascending to the giddy heights of arena rock touring. The show is far from sold out with many empty seats on this cold December night but the arena floor is fit to bursting point with a youthful, enthusiastic audience. Before we see how Bullet For My Valentine fair on the big stage, we get two hungry British acts chomping at the bit to stake their claim to the Brit-rock throne.
Openers Young Guns attempt to warm us up with their brand of emotive pop rock. Despite suffering sound issues early on which makes the vocals inaudible for much of the first number the lads plug away regardless like true professionals. The audience’s response remains relatively tame until closing number ‘Bones’ with a dynamic chorus the number manages to get the crowd singing along. Perhaps a less metal orientated audience would be more applicable for this act but unfortunately, this was not their night despite a gutsy showing.
The reception afforded to Asking Alexandra is far more enthusiastic. The spiky metalcore band are by far the heaviest act on the bill with their post Killswitch Engage screamo angst being aimed squarely at the audience of disaffected teenagers. Whilst Danny Worsnop’s harsh vocals lack powerful distortion to back them up, the York based act make up for their downfalls by delivering an energetic performance. The bright side is that Asking Alexandra may be the gateway act for many younger fans to discover far more edgy new artists.
With a flagrant disregard for their own personal space, fans are pinned to the barrier in anticipation of tonight’s headliners. Bullet For My Valentine have made a career from combining diluted thrash riffs with pop choruses something which has drawn as much criticism as praise but once the union flag covering the stage falls to signal their arrival the reception that greets them is thunderous.
Blazing pyrotechnics accompany ‘Scream, Aim, Fire’ but while Matt Tuck may garner much female attention it soon becomes glaringly apparent that the band look lost on a stage this size. Aside from headbanging on the spot there is little movement onstage and while Tuck utilised the ramp at the rear of the stage their performance is delivered somewhat cautiously.
The rest of the band offer little to back their frontman up either, content to perform their parts on the spot. Although guitarist Padge delivers a decent, if heavily Metallica influenced solo spot. Unfortunately the band seem to lack the energy of acts many years their senior, perhaps some of this can be attributed to this being the first night of the tour.
Their easily digestible pop metal sees the crowd bringing the energy, with ‘Your Betrayal’ provoking several moshpits’ gleefully throughout the arena. Whilst Bullet For My Valentine may not be classed as edgy or inventive their songs have hooks a plenty. Tuck is James Hetfield in espadrilles and whilst the band are nowhere near the calibre of their heroes there is a certain charm that comes from knowing the band were weaned on classic rock and metal.
Adopting a slower tempo ‘Bittersweet Memories’ receives a muted response but a medley of hits including early number ‘Hand Of Blood’ brings the crowd back on side. Questions of authenticity will still haunt them, especially after a lacklustre encore spearheaded by an unnecessary pub rock cover of Motörhead’s ‘Ace Of Spades’ with Tuck giving a cringeworthy speech about Rock N’ Roll and a patronising dedication to “The older members of the audience”. The saccharine ‘Tears Don’t Fall’ brings the curtain down on the show with a whimper rather than a bang. Tonight saw a proficient but unspectacular outing for the Brit Metal foursome who have much work left to do if they are to cut it at this level. I am hopeful that the energy in their performance will gain momentum throughout the remaining of their UK tour.
December 10, 2013 | Categories: LIVE REVIEWS | Tags: 2013, Asking Alexandra, Bullet For My Valentine, Danny Worsnop, Gig, Killswitch Engage, Live, Matt Tuck, Metal, Metallica, Michael Paget, Motörhead, Padge, Review, Rock, Ross Baker., Young Guns | Leave a comment
An incite into the lives of Nu Metal’s flagship act. Here’s a feature I wrote for @ghostcultmag Korn: Born Again #rossbakerjournalist
Originally published on Ghost Cult Magazine’s… http://wp.me/p3GQH9-ad
One of my favourite albums of this year is the storming “One One One” by Norway’s Shining. Here’s what I made of it. #rossbakerjournalist
Originally posted on Ghost Cult Mag… http://wp.me/p3GQH9-aM