EM­PEROR

Ih­sahn re­vis­its the darkly fan­tas­ti­cal an­them that took the black metal ti­tans to the next level

Metal Hammer (UK) - - Contents - WORDS: MATT MILLS

Why I Am The Black Wizards makes grown men burst into tears.

FOR AL­MOST THREE

decades, sym­phonic BM pi­o­neers Em­peror have been a name con­sis­tently ranked among ex­treme metal’s elite. Their unas­sum­ing ori­gins in the snowy forests of Nor­way put them at the fore­front of a game-chang­ing yet ini­tial mi­nus­cule move­ment, in­ject­ing eerily bom­bas­tic grandeur into the dis­tant, lo-fi roars made in­fa­mous by con­tem­po­raries like May­hem and Burzum. Em­peror’s un­hal­lowed union of ma­nia and so­phis­ti­ca­tion soon al­lowed them to birth the clos­est thing their sub­sect ever came to a “hit”: the me­dieval I Am The Black Wizards.

The open­ing track of the band’s fiery self-ti­tled EP and the sub­se­quent har­monic high-point of their lauded de­but, 1994’s In the Night­side Eclipse, this six-minute slice of or­ches­tral ex­trem­ity has been a fan-favourite for a quar­ter of a cen­tury. But when asked to give his thoughts on why the trail­blazer has had such a cru­cial im­pact on heavy mu­sic, the eclec­tic Ih­sahn is re­duced to pure guess­work.

“It’s hard to say. You could say that it has a rather strong hook and a melody line that is very dis­tinct,” he thought­fully muses. “I would say that it’s a very typ­i­cal ex­am­ple of some of the early Em­peror stuff. [Gui­tarist] Samoth would come up with the open­ing chords and I had a some­times an­noy­ing ten­dency to find melody in those pro­gres­sions. I Am The Black Wizards is an ex­am­ple where chords are tweaked into some­thing that feels al­most like a singable melody.”

The in­tense open­ing hook of …Black Wizards is leg­en­dar­ily cathar­tic. Ih­sahn’s fran­tic strum­ming quickly de­scends into an oddly en­velop­ing break­down, where lead gui­tar shred­ding dances over thrash­ing rhythms and earth-shak­ing drum­ming. It’s an un­apolo­getic jolt of en­ergy both on record and dur­ing any live per­for­mance. How­ever, that in­vig­o­rat­ing in­tro­duc­tion ap­pears to have fallen into place by happy accident. “There was noth­ing con­scious about the song­writ­ing or any think­ing about hooks in those days,” in­sists Ih­sahn. “It was pure in­tu­ition; it was never as cyn­i­cal as, ‘Oh, OK, let’s get the peo­ple go­ing!’

At the time, we wanted to have a lim­ited group of peo­ple, [and] not the ‘wrong’ peo­ple lis­ten­ing to our mu­sic.”

AS IS IN­EVITABLE

with black metal, af­ter an­other pum­melling break­down, Ih­sahn’s screech­ing wails slice through the mix, hiss­ing words that punc­tu­ate I Am The Black Wizards’ clear dark fan­tasy theme: a lyri­cal con­cept that was the bread-and-but­ter of early Nor­we­gian heav­i­ness.

“It’s sim­i­lar to Quorthon in Bathory. He was in­spired by Motör­head and he wanted to sing about girls and driv­ing fast cars, but he was only 16: he didn’t have a girl­friend and he def­i­nitely didn’t have a driver’s li­cence. Ha ha!

“With I Am The Black Wizards, it’s [ex-bassist and song­writer] Mor­tiis’s lyrics – who other than him can ac­tu­ally make sense of them? I still can’t make sense of them, but there’s an en­ergy be­hind them that just fits. It’s so ab­stractly ex­pressed that it res­onates with other peo­ple who are in a sim­i­lar space. I Am The Black Wizards’ lyrics don’t make sense, but you see peo­ple singing along, think­ing, ‘I am them!’”

The epic im­agery con­jured forth by such lines as ‘Might­i­est am I / But I am not alone in this cos­mos of mine’ and ‘Sum­mon the souls of macro­cosm / No age will es­cape my wrath’ be­comes in­creas­ingly apro­pos as I Am The Black Wizards pro­ceeds to flour­ish fur­ther and fur­ther into grandiose ter­ri­tory. In keep­ing with its con­stantly em­pow­er­ing yet de­struc­tive tone, …Black Wizards’ mid-sec­tion and con­clu­sion im­bue the song with a mid-paced ex­trav­a­ganza of en­tic­ing lead gui­tar-work and heav­enly key­boards, the sheer melodic bril­liance of which per­haps epit­o­mises the key to the an­them’s un­prece­dented pop­u­lar­ity.

“It was one of those early songs where the key­boards played a ma­jor part, es­pe­cially in the mid-sec­tion. I get the feel­ing some­times that, be­cause we do play ex­treme metal fes­ti­vals, the melody lets you tell those songs apart, in a way,” Ih­sahn pro­poses.

“I came back from play­ing a show in Poland yes­ter­day: I saw grown men cry when we played

I Am The Black Wizards. It’s a hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence, as a mu­sic fan that has close re­la­tion­ships with songs from when I was grow­ing up, to re­alise that you’ve cre­ated a song that has had a sim­i­lar ef­fect on some other peo­ple. They’ve at­tached emo­tions and mem­o­ries to that sound­track.”

“WE DIDN’T WANT THE WRONG KIND OF PEO­PLE LIS­TEN­ING TO OUR MU­SIC”

Ih­sahn’s new solo al­bum, Ámr, Is out now vIa Can­dle­lIght. em­peror play blood­stoCk Fes­tI­val on au­gust 10

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