On his recent EP Telemark, on Spinefarm Records, Norway’s Ihsahn brought the straightforwardly fierce black metal that’s marked much of his career back to life once more with invigoratingly direct songs, including covers of Iron Maiden and Lenny Kravitz.
Ihsahn—whose given name is Vegard Tveitan—explains that while contemplating the future for his solo endeavors, he decided to launch into a sort of reset and re-approach the raw metal that he originally ran with in the ’90s with black metal torchbearers Emperor.
Like truly few could say, Ihsahn has been releasing a new full-length album just about every other year for over two decades.
“It was kind of high time to do something different and maybe to also give myself some space to reset the parameters for myself before taking on the idea of a full album again,” he explains.
“[Telemark] kind of started out as a project going back to my musical roots,” he notes. “Writing something for a very traditional rock ensemble, and also a decision to do this with Norwegian lyrics for the first time, which is of course my mother tongue—that is kind of very rootsy, in a way. In relation to that, it was kind of natural to bring in elements of my cultural roots and my geographical roots. The county of Telemark, which is what the EP is named after, it’s where I grew up; it’s where I still live. I have a very strong connection to it, and it kind of gave this music a very good scene to play out.”
Ihsahn’s home pops up on his new EP through many means, including the folk melodies that run alongside the fierce black metal on the title track and cover art, which grew from photos of the local environment that his wife and longtime collaborator Heidi took.
Ihsahn explains that he’d likely dive into neither folk-infused metal nor such straightforward black metal in a longer project, but for this more focused mission statement of sorts, the elements seemed perfect.
“Within the conceptual context of this shorter-form EP, it kind of made total sense to zoom in and distill some very specific elements and really focus on that. And it was really interesting. And it was easy, I think, writing these songs and recording it was one of the easiest projects I’ve done in years, basically because it was so close to heart. It was my mother tongue. Screaming vocals and distorted guitar riffs are kind of the bread and butter of what I do, so there was very little guesswork. It was very familiar territory on all levels, if you will. So, it was a really great project to do.”
The familiar territory includes an immersive feel that Ihsahn likes to always include.
“I come from that background of albums where the songs kind of create a wholeness,” he says. “A completeness that is larger than the sum of its parts, where all the songs kind of come together, and in your experience, it’s a whole thing. That’s how I ideally want my albums to be, that it’s a full experience and not just a collection of songs. Not that there’s necessarily a narrative to it, but that it’s kind of a conceptual energy to it.”
Thanks to the sheer, physical intensity and captivating aggression of this new music, it’s hard not to get swept along. Overall, the EP exemplifies a feeling of belonging, Ihsahn explains, tying the DIY mentality of his home in Telemark to the general black metal spirit of fearlessness and community.
“It’s not necessarily that this is a better place than anywhere else,” he shares. “It’s more the sense of belonging. You don’t have to think about it. It’s where you belong, and it kind of leaves you energy to focus your energy elsewhere, and then you can kind of take those base belonging needs for granted.”
In the case of Telemark itself, that belonging includes an attention to and appreciation for nature that Ihsahn says has really sunk in for him since the earliest days of black metal promo shots for Emperor set in the woods.
“I’m sure if you’ve seen a lot of old black metal photos and press shots and everything, it’s often in nature,” he says. “It’s a Norwegian woods kind of atmosphere, and Telemark is basically that. Some say it’s like little Norway, because it kind of stretches from the center of the middle inland to the shore. And it’s kind of been an identity thing since the early days of Emperor.
“For the Emperor shows, we’re still introduced by our manager going like, ‘from Telemark, Norway: Emperor.’ So, it’s just this thing that I think started out as a romanticized version of nature and the kind of fantasy world that we were inspired by back in the day, whereas kind of growing up and where I’m at now, it’s kind of grown into me more in an authentic way, in my bones, and it’s really just a strong sense of belonging.”
Traveling around the world as part of his musical career has driven at least some of that growth in his perspective on his home area, Ihsahn explains.
“Some of the awareness has really come from traveling more and more in the line of my work and meeting other cultures, and as much as you discover the kind of cultural and social differences if you go to Indonesia or Japan or anything like that, you also become more aware of the peculiarities of your own social heritage that may not be so obvious if you’re constantly in your own environment.”
The identity ramifications that Ihsahn points out perhaps aptly explain the persistence of black metal and heavy metal in general throughout the decades.
Ihsahn will follow Telemark with a companion EP that explores more of the experimental and progressive heavy music that’s marked some of his most recent solo albums. After all, discussing what he listens to, he notes: “I’m much more of an adventurer when it comes to my musical journeys.”
For now, he’s sticking with these frigidly intense songs that constitute the flag of fierce heavy metal continuing to wave.
Telemark is available now. purchase a copy here.