Black Metal guitarist and vocalist Ihsahn insists he thrives on misunderstanding
In the early 1990s, a young black metal artiste shocked many with a rather dark interview to MTV. Ihsahn (born Vegard Sverre Tveitan), then the vocalist and guitarist for Emperor, began with a startling statement when asked to explain his beliefs: “I believe in strength, wisdom and power - from a Satanic point of view.”
Ihsahn went on to articulately defend the strong anti-Christianity notions of black metal which led to the burning of churches in Norway, and everyone associated with this genre was quickly cast aside as freaks. But rather than worry about not fitting in, Ihsahn and his clan thrived in the ‘evil world of Satan worshippers.’ When society, with its norms, perceived as stifling, rejected their way of life, it made them feel special.
In an email interview, Ihsahn, who appears quite cheerful in recent television interviews, explains: “In my experience, most artistes feel misunderstood, because there is not always something to understand, but rather to feel, and experience. And as for the general population and how they reacted to our black metal is concerned, I think we all thrived on their misunderstanding. This is because it just widened the gap between ‘us and them’. It is youth rebellion, with a somewhat extreme twist."
After building a cult following with Emperor (which had initially lost its drummer to a nine-year prison sentence for murder ), Ihsahn left the band. It was time for a new phase, which has seen him experiment with sounds across the metal spectrum. Did he fear losing a demanding fan base, which had grown accustomed to a distinct style? “If wide acceptance and popularity was my motivation, I would probably not have started playing black metal in the first place. I try to show my appreciation to my listeners by being uncompromising in my music, and by trying my absolute best every time I make a new album. For better or worse, that is why I left Emperor, and why I do my solo work today. I’ll leave it to someone else to try customising music for a specific audience.”
His latest album, Eremita, is ample proof that it isn’t time to tone things down just yet. Ihsahn points to his “love for music” as the reason for his continued success nearly two decades after bursting onto the scene. The 37-year-old adds that his recent work is “some of the darkest and most disturbing music I have ever made.”
When as an 18-year-old Ihsahn bluntly told MTV about his fascination with death, and a need to “kill for my beliefs”, it posed a conflict in the viewer's mind. These were unacceptable ideas, yet seemed quite convincing when argued with such passion. A couple of peaceful, happy smileys in this gloomy email interaction poses a sharp contrast as well. It cannot simply be viewed in black and white.
(Ihsahn will perform live at the Bangalore Open Air festival on July 6, at the Jayamahal Palace).