Before we have the chance to miss them, The Pinheads will return from the studio …
Right now, black metal has cachet. Maybe we’re yearning for a cultural movement that can offer a sense of turbulence and nihilism that mirrors our day-to-day lives, or find morbid satisfaction in a genre pre-occupied with death …
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Whatever the reason, the fact remains – Kanye’s wearing Cradle of Filth t-shirts and there are Hollywood movies depicting Norwegian black metal’s grisly origins which is generating all sorts of buzz at the moment (types of buzz include, ‘I bet this is going to piss Varg off’ and ‘wait, is Euronymous a Home Alone?’).
Ihsahn, the frontman of Emperor, was there at the very beginning of Norwegian black metal. A member of the genre’s infamous inner circle, he’s not buying into the revisionist gaze culture is casting over a style of music he helped define.
“Personally I’m not very nostalgic,” Ihsahn says. “It’s usually a good idea for things to die before being successful or big.”
Rather than let mainstream attention co-opt and misconstrue the legacy of Emperor, Ihsashn periodically takes up arms with brothers Samoth and Trym to tour the world and let Emperor’s music shape the conversation around the band.
For Ihsahn, that means turning his back on an illustrious solo career as a critically respected genre journeyman and returning his black metal roots.
“The main challenge for me when we started these reunion shows was ‘could I get in the mind space that I was in when we were an active band?’ and perform them with integrity and truth. [Because] obviously, these songs were written in my late teens and early 20s – a completely different time of my life.
“When you look at the juvenile ideologies of the [Norwegian black metal] scene, it was preoccupied with individual freedom and the big existential questions. And I think that’s reflected in Anthems. So we need to present these ideas with integrity when we perform as Emperor.”
As a music fan, Ihsahn understands the significance of that challenge. In 2019, it means Emperor have to bring an intensity to the live arena that satisfies nearly three decades worth of fans.
It’s usually a good idea for things to die before being successful or big.
“I consider myself a music fan, and to be able to hear some of the songs I grew up on, you kind of relive those moments. If the connection is strong enough you’ll be able to feel sensations from that time in your life when you re-listen to the music. It does something to you. And to see people have that enthusiasm for, and relationship to, music that we happened to be part of, that’s a great thing. And probably the most rewarding aspect of doing Emperor shows. To realise that we were part of something that can conjure up that kind of relationship to others that we have to our favourite music.”
But how does one return to material like Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk – which Emperor are visiting Australia to play in full? After all, when the record dropped in 1997 it let the whole world know that Norwegian black metal could be Sophisticated Black Metal Art. It’s a big-deal record from a big-deal band, and as someone fiercely committed to always presenting his music with integrity in the live arena, how does preparing for an Emperor show go for Ihsashn?
“Because these albums were written in the rehearsal space, and any pre-production we did for albums was just us playing them over and over and over, the atmosphere and genetics of these songs are programmed into our spines,” he says.
“Even riffs and technical stuff which I had no clue how to remember, it’s just there in muscle memory. I can start a part on the guitar and then just let my fingers move themselves. Because it’s still all in there. And the same goes for being the vocalist and presenting the lyrics, it’s all just… set inside me.”
Unleashing the long-dormant fury that continues to live inside of him and his bandmates is helping Emperor tell their story on their own terms. Rather than let discussions of the band’s legacy be told by outsiders, Emperor is remaining in charge of their own destiny. According to Ihsahn, the band’s message today is still the same as it was back in the 90s.
“The most important thing for Emperor is still the communication that we have with people who follow our music, and that it’s uncompromising. And it’s genuine, and it’s something that we can stand behind.
Catch Emperor performing Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk in full.
Tuesday 2 April // Metro Theatre // Sydney
Wednesday 3 April // 170 Russell // Melbourne
Friday 5 April // 170 Russell // Melbourne