Metal Heroes: Ihsahn
Five Indian metal artists tell us about their biggest heroes, who shaped their music. We track down these iconic artists for their stories
Mephisto, keyboardist of Mumbai extreme metal band Demonic Resurrection tells us about his metal hero:
How has Ihsahn influenced the way you approach your music?
Ihsahn is a musical genius in every sense. It boggles my mind to think that at the young age of 16, while most people his age were probably playing video games, he was pioneering the second wave of black metal with a sound that bands try to emulate to date. And even now he continues to push the boundaries of music with his solo project and inspires musicians across the world. Other than that, he is the founding member of one of my favorite (and indisputably the greatest) Black Metal bands of all time, Emperor. And despite his legacy, unlike a lot of musicians, he refuses to settle into a particular style or comfort zone. Album after album he surprises listeners with music that complex, technical and challenging ”“ be it with Emperor or with his solo project. For a man of his stature, he is extremely down to earth and approachable. This I’ve experienced first-hand. We were playing Brutal Assault festival in Czech Republic and Ihsahn was one of the many artists we shared the stage with. While every other artist seemed larger than life, spending five minutes backstage with Ihsahn made me realize what a genuine person he was. He had absolutely no airs about indulging some fan from India.
Why wasÂ Anthems to Welkin at DuskÂ such an influential album for you?
“Emperor performs Sophisticated Black Metal Art exclusively.” I thought these words on the back cover captured the essence of this album perfectly. With this release, Emperor defined the sound that would inspire generations of musicians including me. BeforeÂ AnthemsÂ I’d never heard a combination clean singing, complex guitar riffs interspersed with atmospheric keyboards and ferocious drumming. It was a revelation. It opened my eyes to new possibilities and ideas which I’ve tried and incorporated in my music in my own way. It is the most accessible Emperor album to me. The production allows every instrument to shine.
We spoke to Mephisto’s Metal Hero, Ihsahn. Ahead of his first show in India, the Norwegian multi-instrumentalist and former Emperor guitarist talks about his as-yet-unannounced album and his metal heroesÂ
Ihsahn does not sleep. That’s the only explanation for how the prolific Norwegian musician manages to hold his many, many projects together. Since he went solo around 2005-06, shaking off the legacy that comes with being the frontman of one of black metal’s most important bands, Emperor, he’s churned out four acclaimed solo albums, the last of which, Eremita, was released in June 2012. He’s worked on every release with his wife Heidi Tveitan’s band Starofash, produced and mixed the albums of a number of bands including Leprous and collaborated with musicians as diverse as Devin Townsend and Jeff Loomis.
Right now, at 9.00 am in the morning in Norway, he’s just dropped his kids to school and he’s getting ready to shut himself up in his studio to finish work on his fifth album, which he hasn’t spoken about publicly yet. “It’s pretty soon, I know,” he laughs a little self-consciously, “But I like to keep myself busy.” Ihsahn will make his first appearance in India at the Bangalore Open Air festival this July. Interestingly, the musician has been steadily distancing himself from his music in Emperor, wanting people to focus more on his substantial body of solo work, which is both more evolved and experimental. But what if fans in India, who know him better for his work in Emperor, expect him to play his older material? “Some might, but it’s not going to happen,” says Ihsahn. “I consciously don’t want to be a sidekick to my own old creation. If you pay for the ticket to see an Ihsahn show, you will get your money’s worth of Ihsahn songs.”
Can you tell me about your new album?
I haven’t really done any interviews on behalf of that album yet. This is deliberately a more experimental album for me, because I felt that the musical structure of my previous two albums After and Eremita ”“ with heavy tuned guitars and saxophone ”“ that type of expression, I felt I’d maxed out a bit on that formula. So now for this album, I wanted to take a whole new direction. Of course, every time I do a new album, there are always recognizable elements; it’s not suddenly going to be unrecognizable. I think people will hear from the album that it is very, very different. The material that I’ve written in this period that might be more similar to the style that I have been doing, I’ve kind of put aside for my album after this one.
As a pioneer of the second wave of Black Metal, who would you say your metal heroes were while growing up?
I could pick out several of the Eighties’ metal bands, but if I had to pick up one band I would say Iron Maiden. I was a huge Judas Priest fan too, but the first big metal show that I went to was Iron Maiden on the Seventh Son tour. I was 13 and of course, I had played in bands already ”“ I’ve been playing in bands since I was 11. So they played the whole album [Seventh Son of a Seventh Son], starting with “Moonchild,” and there’s this part where the verse kicks in and Bruce Dickinson comes jumping on stage and there were these pyros blowing up”¦ and it just started with a bang. It’s probably just in my imagination, but from that point on I could not recall a moment where I considered doing anything else other than music. I think that was a turning point in how I related to music. But, of course, when you’re 13 and you live in Norway, the prospect of having a music career in any genre is far-fetched. The only thing that ever came out of Norway at that time was TNT and A-ha. So the motivation to do this has always been strong but since that moment I knew I would never have a “job.”
Have they influenced your work?
Oh yes, definitely. At that point, I kind of differentiated between two kinds of hard rock and metal ”“ we had those bands like Priest and Iron Maiden whose work had a more diatonic feel to it than bands like AC/DC and those bands that had a more blues rock, pentatonic kind of vibe. Iron Maiden were always harmonizing on the major third”¦ that sense of harmony is very diatonic and I think that’s kind of influenced my work, in how I arrange stuff. Also the fact that they did twin guitars ”“ there’s always a second voice ”“ and I can’t for the life of me write guitar riffs that were just one guitar. I could never have written anything like “Smoke on the Water” [laughs] but I’ve come to terms with that.
And that kind of writing for two guitars, that kind of counterpoint perspective, comes from Iron Maiden. It may not be an obvious influence. I used to play guitar before that but then I had the tablature book for Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and I would play that over and over every day after school for hours. That shaped my guitar tone and how I phrase my leads and everything like that. But Iron Maiden has been such a huge influence on so many artists in so many genres in my generation. I met Ville Vallo from HIM ”“ do you know the band HIM, with their “love metal” and all that? ”“ at the Metal Hammer Golden Gods awards and he was wearing the Somewhere in Time tour T-shirt and we realized we were both at that show! So even though he and I do these completely different kinds of music, we both grew up on Maiden [laughs].
Did you ever meet Iron Maiden?
I just briefly said “Hi” to Nicko McBrian and at the Metal Hammer awards, I hung out with Bruce Dickinson’s son [Austin Dickinson] ”“ he’s also in a band [Rise to Remain] and he’s a spitting image of his father. It’s cool to meet nice people but I’m not so concerned with meeting the right people or the famous people. Sometimes it can be a little strange. But I never really get star-struck”¦ except maybe a little for Rob Halford [laughs].
Have you met him?
Yeah, yeah, several times. We discussed doing an album together, so we talked on the phone and when I met him on a couple of occasions and he’s such a nice guy. He’s such a gentleman”¦ but he’s still the god of metal [laughs]. But the album didn’t really happen, because at the time we discussed it he was on a break and was in the process of getting back into Priest, so he was rather busy. But he was the one who took the initiative to do that because he was into a lot of black metal and extreme music, so he follows the scene and what’s happening.
Demonic Resurrection’s keyboardist Mephisto describes Emperor’s Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk as the album that changed his perception of metal. But that album was put together at a particularly tough time for the band. What was it like for you when you were making the album?
Well, that’s a huge compliment [laughs], so thanks for that. What I like to think is special about that album is that, till In the Nightside Eclipse , that was a compilation of our work up until then. But by the time we did Anthems , I think we were more confident as a band and more focused on the direction and we were very determined. It felt like a turning point for me as well, because not all members were present [laughs], not all members could come to rehearsals [former members Terje Vik Schei aka Tchort and BÃ¥rd Guldvik Eithun aka Faust were serving time for assault and murder Â respectively], so basically it was Samoth [guitarist] and me putting it together with our drummer. It was kind of a hard time because everything was in turmoil. But from a musical point, this was the time that I think I got my first sequencer on the computer so Anthems was when I started to orchestrate things much more using computers and keyboards and being more direct with my arrangements rather than just playing my keyboard. So I remember doing all the keyboards for “The Loss and Curse of Reverence” and there were so many layers because I’d got carried away. At that point, I had just guitars and I was orchestrating all these keyboard parts on top of that. When we got to the studio and I had to play all these parts, I realized that it just drowned in everything else. It also made me realize that you cannot have seven different parts and make them audible and have a purpose when you’re blasting away at 520 bpm with blazing guitars and speed drums and screaming. This was also the first album where I first wanted to use more brass arrangements with trumpets and horns and everything, and I still use that today. So Anthems was quite the learning experience for me.
This article appeared in the June 2013 edition of Rolling Stone IndiaÂ