Emperor - Interview
Emperor's latest album "Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire & Demise" is definitely one of the biggest music events of this autumn, if not the whole year. Being entirely written by Ihsahn, "Prometheus" is the most complex album in Emperor's discography but also less extreme due to influences from what is now his main project, Peccatum. With this release the most prominent black metal band of the last few years decides to end this incredible run at the peak of their career to solely concentrate on members' solo projects. While Emperor's frontman, Ihsahn, explains the reasons for a break up, one thing is certain, the black metal scene won't disappear but it won't be the same without them...
Did side the projects become more important than Emperor?
It all depends on how you see it. If people think that the most important band is the band that you work in the most, it's a very commercial way of looking at it. I take priority in all music I do, and I keep on working with what I feel is the most interesting.
Why did you decide to break up, couldn't Emperor become a side project?
No, we feel we've come to a very natural end. We've grown very much apart musically and I think at the end we were glad that we made this decision ourselves, that we'd rather stop it while it's still good instead of going on for the wrong reasons and basically destroying what we've had together for these 10 years. So, it was quite natural for us to go our separate ways but we wanted to end it in a proper way and that's why we did this album and recorded one music video... and that's the consequent end of it.
How are relations within the band? Are they this same as they were 5 years ago?
Of course those are different every year but general relationships are very good. Musically and ambitiously, we didn't have common goal in creating work. That, I think, is important in creative process... not just to go on because Emperor sells well. [laughs]
Usually bands want to have members that are 100% dedicated and we can't say that about Emperor. Are you mad, pissed about that?
Yeah... I think it's important to have dedicated members but I think, from my experience working with musicians who are open-minded, that's also important to have the urge to widen their musical horizon. I think that we've done other things that not only improved Emperor but also contributed to how we work with music in Emperor because from all the musical processes you're in you'll always learn something and you'll grow as a songwriter and a musician. For me personally, that has made a huge difference.
Isn't Emperor's break up another step toward what seems like an end of black metal popularity?
I don't see it as that.
Well, after all we are talking about one of the greatest black metal bands of the last decade. Didn't you feel any pressure with this decision?
No, not at all. Since we started, we tried to be very understandable, compromising and we tried to keep focus on what we want to do and that's how we ended it too. We haven't seen our musical career as some kind of competition or being a role model. We've done what we wanted to do by trying to do our best. Emperor as a band has some kind of integrity and that's probably because we haven't really tried to do anything else to compromise in order to become a bigger band. Of course, we have grown commercially and that has its own obligations in the sense that you have to do more interviews and so on and so forth but all of us have done, especially musically, exactly what we wanted to do regardless of any outside pressure.
With that decision one thing will stop for sure, talk about selling out and the commercialism of Emperor. As any successful band you had as many enemies as fans...
I've heard especially after "IX Equilibrium" album that we are sellouts and becoming commercial. Commercially I think it's a very bad moment for a breakup. [laughs] Money and record sales got nothing to do with our decision.
Throughout the years you've changed your image drastically. Few years ago you wore ammo belts, make up, now it's all replaced by leather jackets and sunglasses. Why?
We stopped using regular corpse painting like in 1993 but we've always had different visual expressions of the band. With time there was just less imagery around it and hopefully more focus on the music itself. Now we do promo pictures that we feel comfortable with, it's more or less how we look in everyday life. Spikes, painting, swords wouldn't feel natural anymore.
You wrote this entire record by yourself. How was that different from working on "Anthems..." or "IX Equilibrium"?
It was different in a sense that this is purely a studio album. For me personally this is the best way of working, this is when I achieve the most. I did full pre-production of the album in my own studio and Samoth and Trym had CDs, tablatures... I think Trym's drumming has done a lot for this album as he, for example rehearsed the stuff on his own interpreting this music with his drumming instead of having any second opinions or anything. So, working in a studio is a perfect situation for me because you can reevaluate and reconsider every part of the music at any given point and also be able to co-write all the instruments in the music with keyboards, vocals, guitar and drums as a whole rather than do the basic tracks during rehearsals and than add the keyboards and vocals on top of that. I feel much more complete with this album as not so many compromises were made due to bad timing or time limits in the studio or being dependant on engineer or anything like that. For me it's kind of getting the best of both worlds to be able to work in my own studio, with my own equipment, at my own time and then getting the expertise of Thorbjorn at the Akkerhaugen Studio for the drum recording and also the final mixing.
Why did you write all the material alone, didn't the rest of the band want to do anything at all or didn't they have time?
You would have to ask them... this was not the part of the plan. Of course writing and pre-production was very much in my studio but also Samoth and Trym were pretty much occupied with Zyklon at that time so... it was open during the whole process but it just happened that when all songs were finished there were no contributions in form of the musical element. It turned out that I wrote it all...
There is a lyrical concept behind "Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire & Demise", right? What is it?
Yes, there is. It's also more chronological, in order, as a concept album to what we've done before so you're quite right. I know that the title in itself might be a bit misleading because this is not a concept about the Prometheus myth. It is however, quite similar in essence as the album is generally about breaking with conventions and situations you're in and viewing this things in a different light and adopting to that and being not too comfortable with what you already know.
Emperor's music was never easy on the listener, each album needs at least five tries to get to every detail and I'm not sure that's even enough. Do you always challenge yourself to write this way or does it come naturally?
It is not intentional to make difficult music but when I write I always challenge myself to write better music. It seems to meet a general perception of the album that it takes a little bit of time and from my experience with music that I really like, the albums that I really appreciate are the albums that challenge me as a listener, that I would have to listen to it over and over again and notice every detail and grow with the album. The albums that I like the first time I've heard them are often the albums that I also most likely get bored of. So, if people perceive our albums and also this last album as something that they will have to discover I think it's a very positive thing.
Speaking of the albums you like, what are you listening to right now? Do you listen to metal at all?
I hardly listen to metal. Occasionally I do, but not very much. While doing this interview I'm having David Silvian in the background and... I'm listening to all forms of music; jazz, some electronic, contemporary, classical, rock, pop... I'm quite open to anything right now. There are so many things to learn from all forms of music that I don't want to limit myself by listening to just one type.
Might you change your minds so that for one last time we can see Emperor live? A farewell tour?
We did consider doing some final live shows, but Emperor has never had that kind of continuity where performing live was a natural consequence of writing the new material. Most band's projects look like they write stuff together they record it together in the studio and then they play this material live, whereas for us it always has been two different projects, writing and recording an album and then hiring session musicians and rehearsing the live set and doing it that way. Since this ending period has been so long for us already we think that exceeding it with yet another project doesn't really make sense and there is no reason to drag it for even more.
How are your relations with Candlelight? Even your other projects are under this label. Did they give you best offers or do you just not want to shop around, thus deciding to stay with your old friend?
Basically we have an artistic freedom, which is the most important for us. We also have very good communication and we manage to come around compromises so Candlelight has been definitely a good label for us.
At the end tell me what's new in Peccatum?
We have just recently started working with Ihriel on the new album however we have left Candlelight because we are out of the contract so there is no unfinished contracts for any of us. The next Peccatum album is pretty much my first priority right now and I'm very exiting about that. Since our last album we've been doing a lot of other things; I've been doing the Emperor album, Lord PZ has been doing more work with Source Of Tide and Ihriel for a long time has been working on the solo album. Now we can get together again with a common goal of the next Peccatum and it's quite unpredictable at this point to say what is it going to turn out to be, but I have great faith in our next album and I think it's very exciting.
Scattered Ashes: A Decade Of Emperial Wrath
Prometheus: The Discipline Of Fire & Demise
Emperial Live Ceremony
Emperor / Wrath Of The Tyrant
Thorns vs. Emperor
Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk
In The Nightside Eclipse
As The Shadows Rise
Enslaved / Emperor
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