Interview with Ihsahn | By Ridge Briel | Photo by Bjørn Tore Moen

Two and a half years since his last album, Das Seelenbrechen, Ihsahn has released his sixth album entitled Arktis., out now on Candlelight Records/Spinefarm Records. It’s nothing short of amazing. While it contains his so-called “weirdness”—a better word perhaps would be experimental—Arktis. is a bold reversal of the last album. “The last album was a more formless and improvised type of music,” Ihsahn exclaims. “In the process of making [Das Seelenbrechen], I knew I wanted the next album to focus on the opposite of Das, and that was to write the album in a more traditional pop-rock type of formula. I like to try and give myself different challenges for every album.”

While it is argued among some that this formula can be detrimental to an artist’s work, in Ihsahn’s case, it helped him to create one of, if not the strongest of his albums to date. It’s not exactly something he’s ever done in his career, aside from the occasional track, like his contribution to The Devin Townsend Project’s “Juular.” “I grew up in the 1980s and enjoyed a lot of the music written in that formula, so I wanted to build songs that had some hook and identity to it,” Ihsahn explains. “I have a great respect for the craftsmanship of traditional songwriting. It’s such a staple and overused formula that is still widely used today. You have to make all of those parts within the two and a half to three minutes count; it’s all fascinating to me.”

The concept of Arktis. encompasses the will to explore the unknown. With imagery inspired by Fridtjof Nansen’s journey to the uncharted north pole in the late 1800s, it served as the perfect backdrop for the famed Norwegian way of life. However, that wasn’t where it started. “My wife [Ihriel, of Starofash and the now-defunct Peccatum with Ihsahn] suggested that I use a title that included the word ‘arctic,’” Ihsahn says, “so I decided on Arktis., which is the Norwegian word for arctic. While researching ideas, I came across a beautiful photo that was taking from Fridtjof’s expedition. With permission from the Norwegian National Library, I was allowed to use this and other photos as artwork.” Truly a marvelous feat, Arktis. has something for everyone: whether you are a progressive elitist, guitar solo aficionado, or one who simply likes all kinds of metal, Arktis. has it all. “It’s a concept of the bravery and the will to explore, to enter uncharted territory like Fridtjof did, regardless of how bleak or harsh the environment looked going into it,” Ihsahn expounds. “Not only that, but he went into it with great enthusiasm and I, in my field [of musicianship], hope to inspire as well.”

While he’s not writing new music or producing for other bands and artists, Ihsahn also teaches guitar in his area. “It’s a thing I’ve been doing for quite a few years,” he says. “Sometimes it can be fruitful, like the guys in Leprous, [Ihsahn’s live backing band from about 2010 to 2014].” But of course, ideas are always going. Perhaps the most notable project aside from Arktis. is his much-hyped collaboration with Trivium lead guitarist and vocalist Matt Heafy called Mrityu. “[Matt] reached out to me in regards to this project he’s been working on for quite a while,” Ihsahn explains. “It’s heavily inspired by black metal from the early 1990s, [think Darkthrone, Emperor, and Mayhem]. He approached me to produce it, given to my background I guess,” he laughs. “We were exchanging ideas, pitching art and music, and just generally sharing interests. From that, we found a lot of common factors, which has led to friendship. The Mrityu project is ongoing, however, it will have to take its time in between Trivium and whatever I happen to have going on to keep myself busy. There’s no rush with it. In the process of doing that led to the orchestral intro on Trivium’s newest album, [Silence in the Snow], which I did. It was cool in that I invited him to write parts for my new album; it’s great that new ideas I pitch to him that he listens to creates more depth in his own writing immediately.”

It’s no surprise to have Heafy on board for the new album. Ihsahn isn’t a stranger to employing guest vocalists and musicians for his work, but that’s never the intention from the start. “Employing guests is something that comes late in the process,” he reveals. “For years now, I’ve relied on Tobias Andersen, [the current drummer for Swedish black metal band Shining], for drums, because he is versatile. From experience, he knows how to interpret my music, he’s more organic in his approach to drumming, rather than your typical, over triggered, mechanical drumming styles. This album was a little more improvisational for him, I could throw anything at him and he’s fully capable of handling it. It helps give me more leverage when I have people like him within proximity that I can rely on. I work on all the songs and provide stems of everything so we can start recording.” While the album follows the aforementioned traditional songwriting structure, the drum work is perhaps the most chaotic instrument on the album. Many different styles are explored, sometimes within the same song.

For music geeks, working with other musicians you like is a great feeling, especially when a different technique one is not accustomed to is needed from elsewhere. “In the process of laying down vocals and stuff like that, the song reveals itself to me, and sometimes my voice won’t work in the ways I had hoped,” Ihsahn says. “Being able to ask Einar [Solberg of Leprous] to do the songs he did gave it a special dimension. For me personally, having guests like them do stuff to my music that is not my voice or otherwise helps me appreciate the song more subjectively. I would listen to the new Trivium record while writing, and there were parts to where it made sense to have Matt Heafy on them. It’s something that comes at the final stages of the album.”

Recently, Ihsahn’s longtime label, Candlelight Records, was picked up by Universal Music under their Spinefarm imprint, who serve as the rock and metal arm of the label. “At this point, everything still seems fresh, still trying to get to know everyone in the organization,” he says. “It’s a little scary, but it’s not all brand new employees. Some will continue under Spinefarm/Universal, but so far, the people I’ve met seem to be hardworking, lovely people. Just trying to embrace the change.”

This change can definitely turn out positively for Ihsahn, as those in the States rarely get the opportunity to see him live. “Touring comes later on in the process,” he says. “It’s also by choice that I haven’t done extensive touring for many years. It’s more of a practicality thing; I’m a family man, so being away for 200 days a year is not the best option. With my music, you would have to hire an entire orchestra to tour as well! But every time I’ve played in the States and Canada, I always had a very positive experience. But touring is too big of a project to be taken on at this point. I’m open to do a few shows in America.”

Late last year, independent label Blood Music took on the task of compiling the biggest extreme metal box set of all time, a sprawling, yet extremely limited 24 LP and one 7” discography with a lot of extra goodies. However, the reaction wasn’t all positive. “I was surprised at the negative reaction of some people, claiming it was a moneymaking scheme,” Ihsahn admits. “I can assure you that no one made money from this set; the steep price paid for the cost of production. The cost of printing even regular one or two-disc vinyl is so expensive. I highly doubt there are many bands out there actually making money from vinyl sales. But the box set is there for the people that want it. I know Blood Music spent a lot of time and money making this work of art, with the photos and books and all that. I hope it goes well for him and the fans that bought it.”

Pick up Ihsahn’s Arktis here: Candlelight | Spinefarm

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe." -Carl Sagan

Write A Comment