Emperor: Symphony of Destruction
GW Was it difficult growing up as metalheads in such small towns?
IHSAHN There weren’t too many of us, and we definitely got a lot of shit for being metalheads, especially when the other things started happening. Although that’s one good thing about growing up in a small town: it’s very easy to stand out. [laughs] A small, conservative community is the perfect thing to be in opposition to. We sure got a lot of inspiration from it.
SAMOTH Growing up in my tiny little village of Akkerhaugen wasn’t really that difficult. Of course, there weren’t very many metal heads for me to play with, and as I grew into more extreme forms of death and black metal, I became an outcast even among the average metalheads listening to AC/DC.
GW Did you find inspiration in the isolated, rural landscape?
SAMOTH Growing up in such a remote area surrounded by such great nature has inspired me in many ways. I was really taken by the visual aspect of living in such a place. I had a lot of solitary experiences, especially in my black metal years, where I was very focused on desolation and being along in nature. Those experiences definitely inspired me musically and conceptually with Emperor. One of our goals was to create an epic, bombastic feel with our music. If you see the Norwegian scenery, it’s very easy to understand the connection between the feeling of Emperor’s music and the natural landscape.
IHSAHN I grew up on a farm, and I had to take the bus to get anywhere. The only time I saw kids was at school, so I didn’t get to hang out and form those typical social bonds. I think that left me kinda naïve socially. I guess maybe I’m also a bit naïve by nature. When you’re like that, you trust people too easily, until, all of a sudden, you realize things aren’t as they seem and you get disappointed. Every teenager has a lot of insecurities and frustration, but when I did the metal thing, I became even more of an outsider. And after that became my label, I just embraced it and used it to increase the difference between myself and others. As a result, my clothes and expressions became more and more extreme.
GW So you turned the thing that made you an outcast into your source of power.
ISHAHN Definitely. And I think many metalheads can relate to that. But I even saw things differently than most black metal people. Many people think about metal as a unifying thing. I feel like the outsider/individualist ideology of black metal is inherently at odds with collective thinking. So even within the small black metal community, I’ve always been on the outskirts. [laughs]
GW Do you feel that the grimness and extremity of the black metal genre could only be born in such a realm as the Nordic countries?
IHSAHN The source of it is hard to pinpoint. However, I think to some extent all artists reflect their environment; I see it as a kind of emotional or spiritual “digestion,” if you will. So for Emperor, our sound and imagery couldn’t have been the same if we lived somewhere else, even if our intentions, preferences and attitude were the same. I definitely think the Norwegian environment, both culturally and geographically, influenced the Norwegian black metal sound.
But I also can’t complain about where I came from. For years, Norway’s been voted by the U.N. as one of the richest and best countries in the world. It’s always been kind of a paradox having the Norwegian black metal scene bitching about everything. [laughs]
GW Samoth, you played drums on Emperor’s demo, Wrath of the Tyrant. What inspired you to swap your guitar for a drum kit?
SAMOTH When Emperor first started, there was nobody into the whole black metal scene who wanted to join us on drums. I had always been playing drums during rehearsal breaks, just for fun. I wasn’t a proper drummer, but I knew the basic beats. It was okay, because the intention with Wrath of the Tyrant was to go fucking primitive with some back-to-basics black metal.
IHSAHN Yeah, compared to the epic death metal of Thou Shalt Suffer, Emperor were really a back-to-basics group, like Celtic Frost, Hellhammer and Bathory. Wrath of the Tyrant was recorded on a four-track in a rehearsal room, but that’s what got us signed to Candlelight. I was only 16 at the time.
GW Samoth, you moved to rhythm guitars when Faust joined after Wrath. How did you hook up with him?
SAMOTH He was in the scene. He had a distribution service in Norway and I traded tapes with him. We gave him a copy of the demo and asked him to try out. He came up and played the whole thing perfectly. Faust’s drumming is amazing, and he really lifted the band up.
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