Emperor: Symphony of Destruction
GW Samoth, after you and [Bård] Faust were arrested, was there ever a point when you thought Emperor were finished?
SAMOTH There was never a time when we considered giving up. Obviously there was a lot of hard times and turmoil after what happened in the fall of ’93. It was a very difficult time for Emperor because we lost our drummer, and I was taken into custody. Yeah, there was a lot of bullshit going on.
Because of all that shit, there was a big delay in Nightside’s release. It was recorded in the fall ’93, but it didn’t come out until early ’94. But in retrospect, I think we actually benefited from that. “Inno a Satana” and “I Am the Black Wizards” were going around the tape-trading scene and really helped build everything to a climax. By the time Nightside was released, there was so much hype surrounding Emperor. Everybody wanted that fucking album.
IHSAHN We never even considered quitting. Samoth and I have played together since we were so young. We were always the main force and core of Emperor. To keep the band going, Samoth and I just figured out how to send each other riffs by tapes.
GW So for your second album, Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, you two traded riffs by tape while Samoth was in jail? How did that work?
SAMOTH I was using an electric guitar and a four-track that I could record ideas and basic stuff with. Ihsahn would send me tapes and also tablature. I remember getting the tablature for “Thus Spake the Nightspirit” and learning it.
I spent about one and a half years in jail. It wasn’t all that bad. When I was granted a leave of absence, we would go in the rehearsal room and nail down songs. It was during that time that we tried out some really good drummers. We tried out Hellhammer [of Mayhem] and Eric from Immortal, but it didn’t work out. Then Trym from Enslaved tried out for us, and he worked out really well.
IHSAHN Because Samoth and I had been working on music the whole time he was away, we were already quite far along in terms of writing Anthems. So when he got out, we basically went straight back to Grieghallen to record.
GW The production on Anthems is much bigger than on Nightside. What were your goals when you entered Grieghallen for the second time?
IHSAHN By the time we did Anthems we were very conscious of what we were about, in terms of sound. I think what really helped Anthems sound bigger was the addition of an orchestral brass section.
SAMOTH We also wanted to add more Morbid Angel–like brutality to our sound. They’ve always inspired us, and you can hear their influence on certain songs on Anthems. We were also after the whole live vibe. So we toned down the delay and reverb and “floaty” stuff and made the guitars heavier, clearer and more in your face.
GW The songs were also faster and more technical on Anthems. Did you practice certain techniques to get your chops up?
IHSAHN No, I never really did that. My training came from playing. I wanted to be a very good guitar player when I first started out, but after awhile I realized that I couldn’t just sit around and do arpeggios and sweeps and all that. Making music was what I had passion for. There are so many great guitarists out there who unfortunately just end up in their room being great guitar players. My focus is the songwriting and doing stuff in the studio. As for whatever chops I have, they just came along naturally.
SAMOTH I didn’t practice to get faster, but some of Anthems is way more technical, so I had to rehearse the riffing to get it perfect. If you compare it to the material on Nightside, where the rhythm guitar is very basic, Anthems is much more intricate and less atmospheric. Just look at the riff changes and highly technical stuff on a song like “Thus Spake the Nightspirit.”
GW Your next album, 1999’s IX Equilibrium, has a much more progressive death metal sound to it. What was different about your approach to writing and recording it?
SAMOTH At that point, we had some Marshall stacks, and we used DigiTech distortion modules. As far as guitars, I was playing a Jackson U.S. Custom Randy Rhoads, which I still own to this day.
IHSAHN Yeah, I had a really nice Jackson, too. Also, we recorded Anthems in a different studio [Akkerhaugen Lydstudio] and did a bunch of double tracking. I think by the time we did Equilibrium we had done much more touring. So when we started writing for Equilibrium, we were influenced by the catchier riffs that we knew would work well live. That’s why Equilibrium is more massive, upfront and death metal sounding.
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