Norwegian black metal trailblazers Emperor are set to return to Antipodean shores later this year – Our very own Carrie Gibson caught up with the band’s Ihsahn to find out more…

To be honest, I was quite shocked to see the announcement that we are seeing Emperor in Australia again – and so soon! “We really had a good time last time – the first time I was in Australia was with my solo band, and that worked really well. That kind of lead us to building relations with the promotional team; they are all amazing people, and we worked with them again for Emperor, if it works really well – why not. What a privilege though, each time I have had an amazing time. I love Australia, the atmosphere and the people, its just amazing…. Apart from the flight [Laughs] what’s not to like”.

Bringing Emperor back on the road in general, when was this decision made? “It’s a long story, but when we quit the band, of course we didn’t tour the last album, that was 1999, I kind of had enough of touring. I worked on my solo stuff and I hadn’t played live shows since like 2006, and it was really Samoth who came to me and said ‘how about we get together and do some anniversary shows, play some music that we haven’t played live before from the last record’ and I’m like ‘Absolutely not’ and he gradually convinced me, so that was Emperor touring in 2006 and 2007 and that was it, I’m like, ok, been there – done that, lets put a lid on this. Then I started touring with my solo band, I was in the game and having the routine and then there was the anniversary coming up for In The Nightside Eclipse (2014 was the 20th anniversary) and then I went to Samoth and said, like, ‘hey [Laughs] there is this anniversary’ I mean, I was comfortable with touring and Samoth had not played live shows in seven years, ‘No way’ he says, and I kept at him. It would be fun. I ended up convincing him. So, we did that, ok lid back on that. This third time around – we were both agreed on it. We had a great group of people working together and had a great opportunity to come together to play the old songs and share that experience with the fans. We are so appreciative of this. We were just in South America for the first time and had thousands upon thousands of people singing along to every note and having this incredible relationship to our music. Creatively, my solo stuff is my creative focus point and I’ve released almost twice as much [Laughs] as Emperor did and in the beginning I didn’t want to step on my focus point but I’ve been so fortunate to balance the two now. I get to be creative, I get to do Emperor shows, my solo shows, releasing records; I am in a very privileged position”.

There is a connection to this past that we had with Emperor and of course yourself and the band would feel very invigorated touring at this point in Emperor’s life and giving your fans this experience “When we first started doing these reunion shows, my worry was that on an artistic level… I mean we created …Eclipse in our teens, I was sixteen or seventeen years old, would it be possible to reconnect and perform these tracks with the authenticity and the integrity that I think it deserves? I didn’t want to stand there like a puppet in my own show, you know. But as soon as we got together and played – I mean it’s so embedded in our spines, even the songs we couldn’t remember the words for or how I played the guitar to – as soon as we started, it was all there. Muscle memory. And the energy of it – I would say it was similar to the songs you and I grew up to, the soundtrack of our teens and you hear that song and you’re back at that moment, you sense smells and the atmosphere of where you were. And its the same as these songs”.

We’re all transported back – and I believe that we all appreciate it a lot more, as we are that much older now. You yourself; you have come such a long way from Emperor – as a writer, as an artist, and to still hold that nostalgia with the music is a special moment for both the band and the fans. So, when you play Emperor on the recent tours and anniversary shows – you are playing as is, no variations, just exactly how you intended to play them live all those years ago? “Ohh, absolutely, during the first couple of years, we tried to vary it a little – we didn’t know at that point that it was going to happen again, so we did some medlies, trying to cover more tracks within the set, but now we try to stay very true to the original intent. But at the same time, since we have now been touring Emperor again for a while now, we won’t use the exact same keyboards for instance that we used back in the day, so we’ve tried to, not modernise but kind of bring the entire production up to the expectation of people would expect in 2023. The light show, the equipment; it is different to what it was back in the 1990’s, so when we had this opportunity – we wanted to bring a performance that holds a standard”.

Upping the anti with production value, stage tech and presence – comparing this to the performances in the original days of Emperor, what has this done for you as a live performer? “I love it! I’ve always loved music technology – for me, being that old – I have recorded several albums on analogue tape, without metronomes, playing each keyboard part for a song, trying to emulate this orchestral sound with very limited synthesizer technology – today, I can have a full sampled symphony orchestra at my finger tips. As a creator, to see all this it has been such a huge leap. One of my biggest struggles, playing live shows in the nineties and of course, we didn’t have the big production – we were still very much an underground band. Just using, like, rental amps, bad gear and horrible listening environment, its difficult to orientate yourself with this if you don’t have for instance, in-ear monitors, time coding, so I’m not ballet dancing on stage switching between rhythm sound and lead sound, while singing! [Laughs] really, all this technology – some think it takes away the authenticity but in my experience – having less technical things to worry about, the more energy I have to perform and express the music, so I have so much more energy, excess energy even, for the actual performance, rather than spending so much mental energy trying to orientate where our heads are at during 560BPM blast beats” [Laughs].

Australia are thrilled to see Emperor again, what are your anticipations this time around, what do you want to do with the live show, what tracks can fans expect? “We have been touring, where the focus point was either the Emperor anthems, or a particular album. Since we obviously haven’t released any new material – it has been more of a challenge as to how we put together a live set – that is not an average set – trying to deliver something that is more distilled. We had the In The Nightside Eclipse focused set on our last tour in Australia, this was a popular choice. You will all just have to wait and see. Touring is going well. We have just recently returned from Japan, we will head out over Europe soon and then we head over to America in the summer, I think we might go back to Mexico too. I’m a bit distracted by a project I’m working on and don’t have the touring schedule in front of me – but its going to be a busy year, not super extensive, but busy” How are you still fiding the balance, now that Emperor are gearing up for a busy 2023? “Timing wise, I have had to turn down a few solo tours and shows, but I do want to have enough time and energy to fulfil the stuff that I have signed up for. I am looking to 2024 with a new album for my solo material – if you’ll have me, I’d love to return to Australia with this”.