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
Kvelertak – Meir
Originally posted on Ghost Cult Magazine’s website on 26/03/2013
Norse trailblazers Kvelertak split open the metal scene with their incendiary self titled debut not to mention a fierce reputation on the live front. A mash up of furious punk rock, searing black metal and rock n’ roll swagger the first record was indeed something very special. Having returned to Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou and God City studios for this sophomore effort Meir contains all the characteristic of what made Kvelertak such a shot in the arm.
Frantic tremolo picking and lush melodies of ‘Spring Fra Livet’ kicks the party off and the rousing ‘Bruane Brenn’ is classic Kvelertak not to mention the best reason to stage dive you may get this year. Erlend Hjelvik’s vocals are still as corrosively intense but the rapturous sing-along’s are also in great abundance.While the band remains blessed with fantastic rock n’ roll hooks regrettably yet there are a couple of tracks which could have been given greater attention.‘Åpenbaring’ has a gorgeous build up riff but finishes to quickly after the vocals have kicked in and the solo in ‘Månelyst’ could happy be extended by a few bars such is the magnetism of its gigantic hooks.
‘Nekrokosmos’ moves away from the garage punk aspects with an almost stoner rock middle section and ‘Undertro’ mixes frostbitten aggression with an almost Thin Lizzy vibe to the guitars.Great musicianship and the seamless melding of musical genres are aspects one expects of Kvelertak by now and while there are some great songs present here just a couple of tracks don’t maintain the lofty standards set by the first album. To follow-up such a groundbreaking debut has clearly been tricky but aside from a couple of half-baked ideas the album is a classy and well rendered affair.
It is a shame to see a couple of small disappointments here and there but when the bar is set so high that can be expected. While Meir may not have the impact its predecessor has had it still contains some fantastic music which may make more sense in the live concert environment. Meir is still a fantastically well written album but this is a tricky transitional record from an undeniably fantastic group.
November 5, 2013 | Categories: ALBUMS | Tags: black metal, Bruane Brenn, Converge (band), Ghost Cult Magazine, God, Kurt Ballou, Kvelertak, Roadrunner Records, Rock music, Ross Baker Journalist, Ross Baker., Rossbaker | Leave a comment
Painting The Sky Black –
An Interview With Jørgen Munkeby of Shining (NOR)
“I grew up with Pantera, Sepultura, Death andEntombed. I started playing at nine years old and practiced playing my saxophone with metal albums!” Shining saxophonist, guitarist, vocalist and composer, Jørgen Munkeby, is clearly as proud of his metal roots as well as his jazz heritage. Ghost Cult caught up with the blackjazz industro freak to discuss the latest album and all things related. The new album One One One attempts to condense all the musical genres Shining employs while condensing them into a more direct song based format; a series of “hits” if you like. How did you set about achieving this? When I said I wanted to create a set of hits we are not taking about hits in the way Nicki Minaj has them! We just wanted more concrete song structures and a greater focus on the vocals. Our previous music has been composed in a more classical fashion without much repetition. What was different about recording One One One than the previous opus Black Jazz? Black Jazz was a conceptual album with long songs and a title taken from Venom’s Black Metal andOrnette Coleman’s record Free Jazz. This was the way we set out to define our own style of music; I am really proud of those songs but you certainly wouldn’t have them on your IPod playlist. When starting One One One we wanted to take the more straight forward songs from Black Jazz – ‘The Madness and The Damage Done’ and ‘Fisheye’ so we used them as a starting point for writing shorter more straight forward songs. I wanted to focus on making each individual song standout more while retaining the energy of the band and having an album that would flow well as a whole. I know our music can be hard to absorb but I would rather the listener pressed pause, took a break and came back to it than writing more simplistic music which does not excite me! Improvisation is a big part of jazz music. You talk about using more standard structures on One One One and the Live Black Jazz record sees a lot of improvisation. Will you confine improvisation exclusively to the live arena? We have actually made alternative endings for at least five songs from One One One for live use. We will continue to improve and will adapt the new songs to the live setting. As far as live albums go I’m not sure when we will do another one, because they are expensive to make, and a lot of live albums are just used as bonus CDs or cheap shit produced by bands fulfilling a contract with their label as a gap between studio albums. I have no interest in that I want to make great stuff. We have no interest in just playing a four minute song, talking, and then playing another; we will tie them together. It is important to retain the energy level. You wrote an article recently, regarding the evolution of music, where you said that “Today’s extreme music is tomorrow’s background music”. How important is it for you that Shining is considered to be a cutting edge act that continues to push the boundaries of musical genres? It’s not important in itself, what is important is that I feel happy and confident with the music we are making. It felt right to be extreme and aggressive on Black Jazz’ and this time it felt right to produce songs which were fun to play. I just focus on the music I am writing not how it will be perceived. You have combined jazz, prog, metal and industrial music in your work. Are there any boundaries that Shining will not cross? There really are no rules. The only consideration is how can we make our music better? There are no genre barriers. We had an opera singer on one of our earlier albums and we are constantly open to change. What we have done lately is we have leaned towards that of a metal band. We haven’t used melatrons or strings and timpani drums but you never know what we will do in the future. I could have chosen to change the band name when we started writing Black Jazz as the music was very different but I chose to keep it, as Shining has evolved all on its own while retaining an experimental spirit. In 2013 the world appears to be catching up to the diverse music scene Norway has, other than black metal, why do you think it has taken so long for this to happen ? Norway is a really small country of five million people, so it’s not weird that we have not exported that much music. People only had the pop band A-Ha other than the black metal scene. The black metal scene got a lot of attention so it took a lot of people time to look for anything else. It wasn’t until acts like Satyricon and Mayhem changed their sound that people in the metal scene began to open their eyes to other types of music in Norway. Indeed it was that innovation which drew you to working with Black Metal musicians such as Enslaved and Ihsahn. What made you want to work with these artists in particular? After studying contemporary jazz music for years and playing the music of John Coltrane and artists like that, I wanted to produce music that belonged to my generation and country. The jazz music I was playing belonged to black American jazz musicians and I wanted to produce something that belonged to my generation. I returned to my old metal albums which reignited my love for rock and metal and I found new stuff like Meshuggah and The Dillinger Escape Plan. That led toIhsahn and Enslaved getting in touch. They saw something in Shining that interested them and it really helped us with getting on the track that led us to Black Jazz. It opened my eyes to how the Saxophone could be used in heavy music. Working with Ihsahn really helped me because I was working with him around the same time I was recording Black Jazz. Listening to metal again and being inspired by it felt like coming home! What do you look for in a musical collaborator and who would you like to work with in the future? We don’t have any collaborations planned at the moment but there are a lot of musicians I admire and would like to work with. Off the top of my head, Trent Reznor, Marilyn Manson, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Meshuggah, Skrillex! Skrillex has defined dubstep. We have a remix compilation where fans are rearranging the track ‘I Won’t Forget’ and there have been a lot of dubstep style entries. What’s great about dubstep is it sounds really aggressive which is what I like about it. You can hear that he comes from a rock background when he makes music too! You worked with Sean Bevan (Nine Inch Nails/ Marilyn Manson producer) again on ‘One One One’ why is working with Sean so special? Sean has been working with us for three albums and I wanted to involve him even more this time. As a co producer he helped with the direction of the songs and stripping away parts that weren’t that interesting. He came up with ideas for arrangements with me. I am most happy with ‘I Won’t Forget’ which is a song he was most involved in. We understand each other and you need that when you make art together. What do you make of other extreme metal acts like Yakuza and Ephel Duath who have tried to combine jazz with metal? I haven’t really checked out Ephel Duath but I will do. My feeling is that these bands like Yakuza andSigh are different from us, because they don’t come from a jazz background, which gives us a unique feel and way of approaching music; where I see bands like those guys and Meshuggah coming from the other direction. There are a lot more metal bands that seem to be ready to experiment with jazz but I think it would be very cool to have more jazz musicians trying to do what we do. You haven’t booked many festivals for this year. What are your touring plans? The record is out just before summer, so we are doing Festivals in Norway with European festivals next year. We will be touring the U.K. and Europe October/November time and we will be touring the U.S. after that. There is a lot of interest in the U.S. considering how little we have toured there; we have only done ten American shows. We want to get over there this fall and spring next year as well. That’s the plan. We can play jazz festivals or metal festivals. In Norway we do a lot of different stuff so it is important to mix it up. The new generation of music listeners don’t care about genre. They want to listen to Lady Gaga then The Dillinger Escape Plan. That’s the future of music. I spent the whole of last year in the studio and I am now in the mood for playing live. I hope people take the time to check us out.
- Norway’s SHINING Release ‘I Won’t Forget’ Video (bravewords.com)
- Shining Launch “One One One” Album Stream (thebitemag.co.uk)
November 5, 2013 | Categories: INTERVIEWS/FEATURES | Tags: Black Jazz, black metal, Dillinger Escape Plan, Ghost Cult Magazine, Ihsahn, Jazz, Jørgen Munkeby, Marilyn Manson, Ross Baker Journalist, Ross Baker., Shining | Leave a comment
Delusions Of Grandeur – An Interview With Sahg
Originally published on Ghost Cult Magazine’s Website 14/07/2013
“We have toured the U.K. three times this year. We are very pleased with the response we have received here.” Olav, guitarist/vocalist of Norway’s Doom Metal supergroup Sahg, is clearly a fan of venturing across to conquer Britain. Ghost Cult caught up with three of the band members backstage before tearing down Manchester’ NQ Live.
Your new album is due for release in October. What can you tell me about recording it? Does it have a title yet?
Olav: It has a title we are keeping under wraps at the moment. It is not a number. We recorded it in a huge barn in Bergen out in the country. We wanted to capture the live sound of this band and I think we did that. There is a bigger vocal presence with Tony having joined the band too. The recording session only took three days we were well prepared beforehand. We took time writing this record because we have taken a slightly different direction.
I hear the concept from the record is delusions of grandeur. What inspired this?
Olav: The concept is about all of man’s delusions. We are primitive beings with impulses and urges that operate the same way as other animals. We have technology and try to set ourselves up in positions of power but we have the same basic instincts that help us survive. The album is about the way individual’s seek power to better themselves from your boss at work to the way dictators feel they are bigger than god and manipulate the beliefs of their followers to attain wealth and power. We created a story about a normal man’s quest for power who then becomes the ultimate ruler of the universe in his own mind. It is a very relevant concept when you look at what is going on in countries like Egypt and Syria right now.
A lot of your songs seem to derive inspiration from the spiritual and supernatural as well as the primitive impulses of man. What excites you about these topics?
Olav: That part of the human mind. The dark side that shows in us all is a fascinating thing. We are not religious guys but it is important to be fulfilled spiritually. I do believe in mystical forces exist rather than any god.
‘Firechild’ has a bigger sound with more vocal harmonies. Is it a good example of what we can expect from the new record?
Olav: That’s Tony’s input. He sings in other bands too so we wanted to use that. When he joined the band it allowed us to expand our sound and make use of all the harmonies and layers that you will here on the new album. Mixing our two voices has allowed us to experiment. It has made me up my game vocally also. We all sing on certain songs and we wanted to have a more grandiose feel to the music in keeping with the subject matter of the record.
You have gained a lot of high chart positions in Norway. Did that surprise you?
Thomas: I think Norway is different in that we are such a small country so there is less separation between music scenes. More people get exposure to rock and metal music where as it is a more underground thing here. I think it’s great that other countries are waking up to the fact that there is more to Norway than just the Black Metal scene. We love that scene but we wanted to express ourselves in a different way.
Tony: I am glad to be associated with Kvelertak and Audrey Horne as they are very good bands. It seems that kids in Norway are adopting hard music more. A band that plays hard music can be on the chart which is amazing!
Thomas: Those are our delusions of grandeur again!
Thomas (Lönnheim) was in an electro pop band before Sahg. What new element does his playing bring to the band?
Olav: Thomas has played a lot of music but his playing is rooted in the traditional heavy metal style and he was playing with Tony in so we knew each other.
Thomas: I joined Sahg two days after I quit the electro band! I went to my local pub and saw these guys and they asked me to join!
Olav: It was really fortunate actually as we have been looking for a full-time drummer for years. We had Audrey Horne’s drummer Kjetil Greve filling in for us but we wanted someone who could commit more to Sahg. It was a very strange coincidence but he’s a perfect fit for this band. We had auditioned four drummers and then the right one walks into the pub
With acts like Audrey Horne, Kvelertak and you guys coming to prominence it appears the Norwegian music scene been looking for something else other than black metal. Why do you feel this is?
Olav: Norway is a small country so not many people internationally look to us for great music save the Black Metal scene. In Norway a lot of rock music gets played on the radio but here you don’t have that so bands have to tour to get noticed. In Norway it’s not usual for a band like Kvelertak to open for someone like the Foo Fighters. I think it’s great because it allows bands to build themselves up before being introduced to foreign markets. More people are realising that Norway makes many kinds of great music. After the Black Metal boom of the 90s musicians have moved on and want to express themselves with other forms of music. Even people like Ihsahn who were so influential in the genre. Music fans have been looking for something else and we are ready to give it to them!”
You toured recently with Long Distance Calling and Solstafir recently and now your comrades in Audrey Horne all very different bands. How important is it to tour with such different sounding artists?
Olav: It’s great. I think that for each of us having more than one project only enhances our creativity. We all work with different styles so it is not hard switching from writing for one act to the other. We will play with any band from any metal/rock subgenre but not outside of that as I don’t think the audience would get it. We love playing live and want to keep it interesting for ourselves and playing with diverse line ups such as the one you mentioned does that for us.
Thomas: If their audience crosses over with ours then it is doable. It’s like a mini festival. Nothing is more boring than seeing three bands that sound alike on one bill. It’s good to have a challenge for us playing to different types of music fans.
Bergen, Norway appears to be a diverse melting pot for musicians. What makes Bergen so special?
Olav: Bergen is a very close-knit scene with many musicians helping each other out. There are very few pubs which play music so we all went to the same pubs and all the musicians met each other. I think there is a more community spirit in Bergen and Trondheim than in Oslo. We share rehearsal space and when we look for musicians for a project we look within that network. When Audrey Horne was looking for a lead guitarist Ice Dale was the first person they called.
Thomas: Bands in Bergen are very keen to support each other. We don’t see ourselves as completion the way bands from Oslo do. Musicians communicate more and they support each other. If someone needs a musician to tour we look for someone local because everyone knows each other. Kvelertak and Purified In Blood come from that hardcore punk scene and they support each other too!
Olav: Norway has always had a lot of things going on it’s just that Black Metal got so big. Now the Norwegian Metal scene is getting prominence other bands are putting other bands from Norway on the map. The Black Metal scene is still very strong but a lot of those bands are trying different things and experimenting also! A lot of the original Black Metal bands are still together because they experimented and changed.
Olav: Any other projects we have all contributed to have made us better musicians and helped us make Sahg stronger.
Originally posted on Ghost Cult Magazine’s website link here
As a man of many talents, Vegard “Ihsahn” Tveitan has long drawn inspiration from many genres of music which has ensured the works of both seminal Black Metallers Emperor, Folk project Hardingrock, the classically inclined Peccatum and his sprawling progressive solo work have all remained at the forefront of innovation.
Fourth release Das Seelenbrechen (Candlelight), translating to “The Soul Breaking” in English, sees Ihsahn pushing further into the realms of Avant Garde experimentalism. Aided by the fine gents in Leprous, Tveitan has crafted an increasingly bold complex concoction of intricate time changes, free jazz passages and snarling extreme metal. ‘Hiber’ begins with jagged riffs over which Vegard snarls “The seeds of evil flowers grow…” before chiming keys are entwined with hypnotic synths that wouldn’t be out of place on a Goblin record. It is grand and highly involving material which will merit many repeat listens in order to fully comprehend.
‘Regen’ sees a tender, clean vocal rendered gracefully while shuffling drums and tinkling keys build up tension before that terrifying roar commands “Let the heavens cry!” amongst a whirlpool of power chords and cacophonous symphonics. The eerie, clean vocals of the man himself have gone from strength to strength and while the unmistakable screams are still harrowing in their intensity, they play second fiddle to the heart rendering, solemn falsettos which form the likes of ‘Pulse’.
Such a performance may draw comparisons with the work of former collaborator Mikael Åkerfeldt, yet they retain a feel all their own. Certainly the aforementioned track will not amuse hardcore black metal fans with its synthetic beats which recall acts like Massive Attack but it serves as more than just a breakwater between walls of discordance. Far more challenging are the hellish freejazz workouts of ‘Tacit 2′ a wall of feedback with Tobias Andersen adding a dense layer of tribal percussion underneath torn throated screams.
Stereotypical extreme metal this isn’t and while the discordant rhythms may take a bit of getting used to, the appearance of long time collaborator Jørgen Munkeby lending some ferocious alto saxophone to the demented freak show adds a sublime yet schizophrenic groove. Certainly a few of the seventies prog references do feel somewhat obvious but when you consider the level of musicianship and the speed with which this rich tapestry of styles has been lovingly woven together, it is truly outstanding. A resolute and forward thinking release which boldly presses the agenda of its author. Das Seelenbrechen is a grotesquely wonderful creation.
November 4, 2013 | Categories: ALBUMS | Tags: Album Reviews, Avant-garde metal, black metal, Candlelight, Das Seelenbrechen, Emperor, Ghost Cult Magazine, Ihsahn, Industrial, Leprous, progressive metal, Reviews, Ross Baker. | Leave a comment