Photo: Andy Ford

Ihsahn speaks of the black metal church burnings: “we were all very consumed with the whole thing”

Author Flavia Andrade - 15.2.2024

In a recent interview with Metal Hammer, Emperor frontman Ihsahn has shared his thoughts about the “us and them” mentality which powered the Norwegian black metal scene in the 1990s.

The singer/guitarist, whose real name is Vegard Tveitan, co-founded Emperor with guitarist Samoth (Tomas Haugen) in 1991. Their band then became part of the “black metal inner circle,” which also included Mayhem and Darkthrone among others, a group that revolved around the Oslo record shop Helvete

In the 1990s, some members of the inner circle were responsible for heinous acts of violence, as former Emperor drummer Bård “Faust” Eithun committed murder and Varg Vikernes killed his Mayhem bandmate, Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth. Both of them were sentenced to 14 years in prison in 1994 for murder and arson.

In the aforementioned interview, Ihsahn shared:

I was very fortunate to not get involved in any of it in that respect, but I think we were all very consumed with the whole thing. The attention it got.

All the negative attention and our local community’s reaction to it, it became fuel to the fire. It exaggerated this feeling of ‘us and them’. So I felt involved like that and in my band there were of course consequences.

And you can’t really deny that it kind of validated the seriousness of what we were doing. I heard someone talking about young rap artists these days who start doing criminal activity to give credibility and validity to the things they’re singing about.

It’s a very strange teenage thing, some kind of rebellious wish to have power and be taken seriously. To be dangerous. Because when you’re a teenager you’re also so vulnerable. We don’t have to psychoanalyse it all but as a grown-up I think it’s much easier to see how this happened.

Ihsahn also spoke of how Emperor’s earliest albums were received by the contemporary metal press:

The major metal magazines absolutely slaughtered our first albums. And then I’ve seen these stories 25 years down the line with the first Emperor album put next to the first Black Sabbath album.

I learned very early that you have no control over what people think; the only thing you can trust is your own motivation. If you put your happiness in someone else’s hands, if that’s what controls whether you feel good or bad about yourself, you’re kinda fucked.

Emperor disbanded in 2001. However, they have reunited on many occasions since, and continue to tour, although they haven’t released a new studio album in 23 years.

Samoth continues to perform with Emperor, with Eithun having made appearances as a guest live member in 2014 and 2021.