Ihsahn: Emperor of the North
GW How did he come to contribute to the album?
IHSAHN I met Mikael years ago at a lunch in London. I really identified with the way he worked with his music, and since then we had been sporadically in touch. I actually talked to him prior to The Adversary about contributing, but that didn’t work out. This time around, I met Mikael at Wacken when we played there with Emperor. He and I ended up hanging out watching Celtic Frost together and having a really good time. And when the time came to record, I asked him to contribute again. So I wrote the lyrics and sent him the audio files. Then he managed to record the vocals at night after the Opeth sessions. It was such a surprise getting the vocals back. They are amazing.
GW Is there a consistent lyrical theme to the album?
IHSAHN Ah, the same old thing. [laughs] It’s the constant conflict of the individual coping with his surroundings. For my solo stuff I’ve been very inspired by the writings of Nietzsche and also the symbolism of Goethe and Faust.
GW Like you said earlier, angL is much heavier sounding than The Adversary. Do you feel the intensity of the Emperor reunion shows influenced this increased heaviness?
IHSAHN No, not really. Earlier on, I think Emperor’s extensive touring influenced what was written for [1999’s] IX Equilibrium. But this time, I just dropped some of The Adversary’s constraints that I mentioned before and went from there. Take “Scarab,” for example: you need very thick, heavy sounds to make that work. It has this kind of Egyptian feel to it, and the punctuation creates some nice rhythmical tension. The best riffs just come out of nowhere…and some just come out heavy. [laughs] Then there would be other riffs, like on “Emancipation,” where I’d deliberately take the Locrian scale and work it out in advance. Then I would layer it with the parallel minor, so that you have thin lines going on top of this very slow minor melody.
GW What do you consider to be a signature element of your playing style?
IHSAHN If anything I’d say the extensive use of contrasting twin guitars. [laughs] I’ve actually been criticized in my previous band for not keeping things simple enough. I guess before I finish one thing I already have the idea for the counterpoint melody line. It’s very hard to turn away from that when it’s already in your head. It just becomes a way of writing. I guess it can be a limitation, too, not being able to write a guitar riff that will stand on its own. There are so many classic guitar riffs that stand well on their own, and I wish I could do that. But I always tend to add a second element to it. But I must say, that can be very interesting, too.
GW What is your favorite guitar moment on angL?
IHSAHN There’s more soloing on this album than I’ve ever done in the past, and I think I hit some really good notes. I like the solo on “Alchemist” because of its DADGAD tuning, which forced me to approach things very differently. It’s so easy to get caught up in the regular patterns, movements and scales, and I’ve found that using a different tuning can help you feel like you’re creating something new.
GW Do you prearrange your solos, or do you just start playing and then build them out of composite takes?
IHSAHN I do both. Some of my riffs have odd harmonic movements, so I need to find out how to bind them all together so they make sense. But then some of them are just improvised. For some solos, I just hit record to add some placeholder solo, but since I’m relaxed and having fun when I do that, it ends up being the best take. I haven’t played many solos, and I don’t think I have a particular style yet. So I’m always trying different things.
GW Have you been working on strengthening your soloing chops?
IHSAHN Nah, not really. I’m just happy to be doing stuff that I think sounds cool. I think I’m far beyond the point of becoming a shredder. I’m happy with what I can do, and I’d rather concentrate on my songwriting.
GW How did angL’s heavy sound affect your gear choices?
IHSAHN I used an Ibanez RG320 as my main guitar. It’s a special edition from the 2006 NAMM show. It’s a fantastic guitar to play. It was especially good for this album because it stayed in tune when I tried out all the different tunings. I also used the Ibanez RGA121, because it has no tremolo and also stays in tune really well. It’s very nice to play. While I usually play a set of .010-gauge strings, I used .009s on this album because it’s easier to get more vibrant vibrato when the string are thinner.
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