Congratulations with the new album ‘Àmr’! I remember with the former record ‘Arktis’, you wanted to be a bit more accessible, surely in comparison with ‘Das Seelenbrecher’… What was the intention this time when starting to write new songs?
I think being more accessible, has never been my intention, but it was a matter of challenge myself to write it more a bit in a classic pop-rock form, with Iron Maiden or Judas Priest in mind, with a clear intro and liner hooks and most early metal bands as guidance. In pop music many of the songs I have learned to know and like are written in that format. This new challenge turned out very rewarding and since I do not want to repeat myself, I keep it interesting for myself as well.
You do a lot more clean vocals on this new album…
Yes, that is how these songs turned out. It is kind of interesting to do more melodic vocals. The black metal vocals are very much more second nature to me, clean vocals are a subject I try to work on and get better.
It is a world of contrasts, because on one hand you still do the Emperor gigs, thus black metal, and on the other side you have the progressive and dark experiments with Ihsahn…
Live it is a bit more challenging to play the Ihsahn material, but I think with both bands I kind of have the same approach. When going on stage it comes natural and it happens kind of automatic.
Recently you played at Netherlands Deathfest. Good memories on that?
Oh yes, what struck me was the sound at 013. That’s so perfect, almost like you are playing in the studio. Only for that reason, it is already very rewarding to play in that venue. There is a difference between prog fans and more extreme metal fans tough. The energy is a bit more focused let’s say.
The new album is called ‘Àmr’. What does it stand for?
Literally it describes the artwork of the album. It means dark or murky or it can mean restless. It reflects the whole atmosphere of the album. The cover artwork was done by my wife and she knows what I like. It also means rusty red.
I also thought about the throne of the emperor…
(laughs) That was not the intention. It is a very nice chair, that’s true. At home I like to sit and relax in it. My family knows it is daddy’s chair. On the cover you have this black and rusty red, that is all in conjunction with the album title, which is old Norse language.
In ‘Sàmr’ I hear you sing about solitude, as bonus the song ‘Alone’. Do you often retreat yourself into solitude?
There is a certain artistic charm in it. Yes, from time to time I prefer to be alone, surely when I am working on new stuff.
But that’s a different feel than being lonely…
Absolutely. So many people feel uncomfortable when they are alone, as if there is something wrong with them. But they should not feel uneasy just because they are alone. You can find solace and reflection in moments on your own. And when I write music I prefer to be alone, in solitude. It increases the inspiration and concentration to come up with something good. Being alone in nature is another precious time I like to spend.
One of the songs is called ‘Sámr’, is it also old Norwegian word?
It is not an old Norwegian word, but with a similar meaning as the title.
In the second song ‘Arcana Imperii’ we hear a guest solo from Fredrik Åkesson of Opeth. How did this contribution come into being?
We first met in Oslo when I did my debut solo show as support of Opeth. Of course we have met each other – also the other guys from Opeth – several times on festivals through the years. Last time we played in Japan with Emperor and Opeth was on the bill as well, we were talking about guitars and I told Fredrik that in my opinion, he is one of the best contemporary guitar players I know. I really mean that and I told him that I most likely would call him one day to play a guest solo on one of my records. He instantly said ‘I’m in’, so when I had written ‘Arcana Imperri’ I thought it would be fitting for this guest solo and indeed, he did a fantastic job, just as I hoped and expected. I never met him at home, but we always hang out when we meet each other at festivals. They are all great people. I really admire his work in Opeth.
We have a video clip for that song ‘Arcana Imprerii’. Can you tell something more about it and about the dogs?
(chuckles) We mixed shoots from me playing guitar and singing, nature, the chair and the three dogs in the video are all ours. Well, I am happy with the result and it is a strong song to present as forerunner of the album. My wife brought in some ideas for the video as well. I think it came out really well.
One of the returning co-musicians on your albums happens to be drummer Tobias Ørnes Andersen. It seems that you have a strong bond with him…
That’s true. You know that the guys from Leprous used to be my live band in the beginning and they are all so talented. With Tobias I am on the same wavelength when making music. I do not have to use many words to make him understand what I want. He is able to transfer abstract ideas into something very good. Technically he is a master in his discipline too. Working with people like him and Jens Bogren again – he did the mastering of the album – is a privilege. They expand my imagination to go beyond boundaries in my musical direction. They are precious to me. It is due to those people around me that I can get there. I am really lucky to have such wonderful colleagues and help from Heidi, my wife too. In this way everything comes together in a marvelous way.
How did you come to the idea of interpreting the poem from Edgar Allan Poe as bonus track?
I did vocals for that poem before on my own, but as always, when I am stuck with it, I turn to Heidi and she said I should probably do regular black vocals on my version of ‘Alone’, but in a different perspective.
Your vocals are very intense there…
Sometimes words are that perfect, that it feels easy to do a passionate performance.
Will you stay with the idea to do selected gigs with Ihsahn or is there a possibility for touring?
We are looking for options to do a tour late Autumn, but nothing is settled or scheduled yet. We have some ideas, but they are still in the making. For this Spring and Summer there are some back to back shows with Emperor and Ihsahn. We will also play in Poland soon for the first time. I kind of ease my way to play live more often with Ihsahn, but still I am cautious about touring too much. That is because I like to keep the momentum when things are great. When touring intensively, I know that I will not be happy, living on the road like that.
What comprises those back to back shows?
For instance. We will soon be playing at the Inferno Festival in Oslo. We are headlining with Emperor on Friday and on Saturday I play with Ihsahn, co-headlining on another stage with Satyricon. Then I go to Romania with Ihsahn and then to Poland to headline another festival. It is a bit of a tight schedule there, but I think we can make it. In Finland we will also play.