Kylesa live Brudenell Social Club, Leeds January 31st 2014
Originally published in Powerplay Rock and Metal Magazine Issue 163 – April 2014
U.S. Metal site Blabbermouth have quoted part of my very revealing interview with Nergal of Behemoth which I conducted for Ghost Cult Magazine. The full interview will be coming in the next few days so stay tuned!
Originally published in Big Cheese Magazine Issue 164. February 2014
Photography by Emma Stone
Originally published in Powerplay Rock and Metal Magazine Issue 161 February 2014
Here’s a sneak preview of my interview with Neige of Alcest for Ghost Cult Magazine Issue 15!
Wait to you see what he has to say about new album “Shelter” and the musical direction he has taken.
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