Ihsahn on Arktis, breaking the mould and what he thinks of Emperor's legacy
Inspired by a pioneering polar explorer, Ihsahn has delved into uncharted prog realms on his sixth solo album Arktis. Prog gets the inside story on his impressive Arctic turn.
“I guess my introduction to music was getting a four-track recorder and just recording songs from my electronic organ when I was 10 or 11 years old,” smiles Ihsahn. “This triggered my interest in the recording process.”
The black metal legend turned obscure prog visionary’s musical journey began at an early age, and it’s certainly been a varied path for Ihsahn since then. He’s now on his sixth solo album, Arktis, which confirms his immense credibility in the prog genre. His unique style and vision evolved from his involvement in the media-fascinated grip of Norwegian black metal’s 1990s cult movement when he was just a teenager, and through successful collaborations with infamous Opeth producer Jens Bogren.
“I think that people who know the entire back catalogue of my music, starting from [previous band] Emperor days, can see that there was a development,” he muses. “I’ve always had this interest in pushing things forward and challenging myself to keep the process interesting. This includes having control over all of the production work and having my own recording studio.
“When we recorded the first Emperor album, we were really excited to go into the big studio in Bergen, but we were also really excited to hang out in the local rock clubs. Of course, I wasn’t 18 yet and as the youngest of the band, I couldn’t get into the bars. I got thrown out the first night for being underage, so that led me to being the one that spent more time in the studio with the engineer!
I like to take risks and I know I have people behind me who can handle it.
“The other guys had finished their parts so they could go out partying and I was stuck doing the vocals, chords and synths with the producer [laughs]. I guess that’s why I’ve always loved the recording part of the process.
“Working alone gives me a lot more creative freedom. It’s about creating a framework, to be able to focus the creative energy rather than an album being a compromise between a group of people.”
His latest solo album Arktis uses the beautifully isolated and hostile Arctic as a focal point. It acts as a metaphor for Ihsahn’s own solitary creative method, and for his musical variation of violent riffs and growls blended with wistful melodies and clean vocals.
“I think I picked up on all of the experiences I’ve had over the years and put a lot of them into this album,” Ihsahn says. “It’s very formulaic content, instead of simple song structures, in order to make it interesting. This is my main idea every time I set the parameters for a new album. In fact, I write up all of these ideas before I even start to write the album [laughs]. This is just my way of keeping myself excited about the music.”
Ihsahn’s first three solo albums, The Adversary, angL and After, were a heavy progressive metal trilogy, and an ambitious project for the musician.
“I started out very organised by deliberately making a trilogy because I wanted to build a foundation for myself musically,” he explains. “I gave myself three albums to prove myself, rather than just one, and I just took it from there. By the time I had done the third album, After, it was time for me to reset the parameters and do something completely different.”
This paved the way for Ihsahn’s more outlandish and experimental work Eremita in 2012, and the following year’s improvised masterpiece Der Seelenbrechen.