Emperor: Symphony of Destruction
GW In the Nightside Eclipse is widely considered to be the quintessential Norwegian black metal album. When you were writing and recording it, did you know you were creating something special?
IHSAHN The energy of our first album is that of youth and courage, the one-sided kind of energy where you don’t question anything that you do; you just give 110 percent and go straight ahead. I think that’s why that album still sells, because young people can still relate to that kind of focused energy. Only when you get older do you start questioning stuff.
SAMOTH We knew we had strong material. But we weren’t aware that we were making a groundbreaking album that would be seen as a classic. We were quite young at the time—I was 18, and Ihsahn was 17—but we were very enthusiastic and diehard about our music. There was no other way. Emperor was our life. We gave our heart and soul for this band.
GW During this time you were hanging around Euronymous’ record shop, Helvete, in Oslo. What comes to mind when you think about those days?
SAMOTH I have great memories from that time. But you have to keep in mind that we were just teenagers, and as teenagers you think you can conquer anything, that you’re on top of the world and the future doesn’t mean anything. You just live in the moment. That’s how we existed. At first we were so consumed by the music; we put so much energy into being artists. But eventually all the darkness consumed the scene, and it became very destructive.
IHSAHN Samoth stayed there for long periods of time. I was not there as much or involved in it as much. But we would all go to different shows together and attend gatherings at Helvete.
GW By many accounts Euronymous was a very influential figure in the Norwegian black metal movement. Did he directly affect your work on Nightside?
SAMOTH We weren’t inspired by any one person but rather by the general vibe of that little scene. If you look at the bands from that time—Thorn, Mayhem, Immortal, Burzum, Emperor, Enslaved and Darkthrone—none of them sound the same, even though we all had the same inspiration and liked the same bands. If you compare that to the current scene, today’s black metal seems so watered down and without personality. That is very different from the Norwegian scene. Back then, all the bands had individual personalities and stood out on their own.
GW Nightside was recorded in Bergen’s Grieghallen concert hall. Do you remember anything in particular about the recording?
IHSAHN I remember mixing some of the songs and feeling frustrated. Back then it was all analog, no automation. We weren’t very good musicians yet, and there was a lot happening on that record: different guitars, keyboards, extra vocals. It was really hard stuff to mix right.
GW What were your setups at the time?
IHSAHN I was playing a black ESP six-string. It was fairly nice. We used transistor Peavey amps, because they have that really harsh black metal sound. I think I went straight into the amps, no effects. It was a simple setup. I also used Roland keyboards.
SAMOTH I was using a Kramer, the Peavey Bandit 112 and a Boss OS-2 Overdrive/Distortion pedal. It was a very primitive setup and there wasn’t much power, but those Peaveys had lots of distortion. Ihsahn had the higher-pitched buzz-saw sound, and I had the bottom-end buzz-saw sound. [laughs] To give the riffs a floating feel, we used a lot of reverb and delay. Actually, you could say we overdid it a little. I think the production is really good, but at the same time it’s very hard to decipher certain things because there’s so much “float” in everything.
GW You mentioned keyboards, which are definitely a distinguishing element on Nightside. How were they accepted by the extreme metal community at the time?
IHSAHN I think many people were skeptical, because no one at the time used keyboards. I think we can safely claim to have brought the symphonic approach to black metal.
SAMOTH I’ve always thought the response to it was really great, because it was something new for this type of black metal music. We didn’t want to play just rock and roll; we wanted to have more symphonic parts. We wanted to create something epic, huge and mighty.
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