Known primarily as the frontman for the legendary Norwegian black metal band Emperor, Ihsahn (pronounced E-sawn) has forged a rather substantial solo career. Emperor distinguished themselves from their peers by integrating extensive melodies and orchestral influences into the hard tremolo of the black metal riff. In the 1990’s the Norwegian black metal scene gained media attention through a series of events involving murder and arson, and all three of Ihsahn’s bandmates were at one point imprisoned.
The writing on the final Emperor album is credited solely to him, and it was definitely a sign of where he would go with future material. His solo albums retain a certain extreme element, but also integrate progressive rock and jazz, including the outstanding saxophone playing of Jørgen Munkeby from the band Shining. Some fans laud his bold choices, while others yearn for a recreation of the past.
I met Ihsahn backstage at Wacken Open Air in Northern Germany, the world’s biggest heavy metal festival. He’d just played a solo set under a cloudless sky and blistering heat, which isn’t exactly conducive to a grim atmosphere. But it’s also just been announced that Emperor will reunite for a performance at next year’s festival. We discuss his legacy with Emperor and his solo material, along with fan expectations and why he isn’t so progressive after all.