Thou Shalt Suffer
Interview with Ihsahn
Why did you decide to maintain the name of the project, as it represented the pre-Emperor era, with a quite dissimilar sonority?
Thou Shalt Suffer was the name I worked under when I chose to do this solo album in 1991 and, even though many things have been re-evaluated, re-arranged and changed since then, I did not see the point in changing it now. After all, the contents on the album are from different periods between 1991 and 1999, so I preferred to keep some things as they were. If some should find this misleading by any means that will have to be their problem.
Why Somnium (Latin for dream) for a title? Did it have anything to do with the initial idea you had for writing lyrics in this language?
Personally, I find it easier to write instrumental music, as lyrics and words do not “come” as easily to me as music does. Initially, I had five lyrics for this album but, as I mentioned above, many things have changed since I started, so I chose to use only one of them. Despite the few sentences that are sung on the album, I still regard it as instrumental. I have also left out track titles and more or less kept it clean of anything but the music. My intentions have become, during the years I have been working with this, to make an album with contrast and atmospheric range without making the themes too concrete. Also, considering the concept Somnium (the dream), the themes are themselves abstract and do not portray concrete views or atmospheres (only vaguely).
How did the composition method for Somnium develop? Were the the production, mix and mastering processes done at Symphonique? Also, how many tracks did you use to assemble the recording and what synthesizers did you employ?
You could say it has been musical experiments, exercise and curiosity. Due to my gradual enjoyment of soundtracks and classical music, I have found it very appealing working with this kind of instrumentation and arrangement. I think my ambitions for this album have outgrown each other through different “experimental” periods and they probably would have kept on doing that if I had not chosen to finish this once and for all. I feel I have learned quite a bit from this process, both musically and technically, as I have done this only in my own studio, except the mastering at Strype Audio.
As for technical details: since I have 6 outputs on my JV1080 and 16 on my E4XT Ultra, I did not have to record this physically down on multi-track tape or HD. So I mixed it down to DAT with a rather unconventional loop through an MPX1 and an Art tube pre-amp.
The album blends classical music with electronic passages in a quite effective way. How were you motivated to create such a brand of harmony and, prior to attend that Rock colloquium many years ago, have you ever had any classical training? Also, do you believe that classical music is the most suitable and unquestionable form of channelling your feelings (especially through the piano)?
Firstly, I chose to bind the album together with these more “technological” mid-parts to create contrasts. I also think this presents the true nature of this album. It is not merely a “classical simulation” nor is it a “wannabe soundtrack”. Though, of course, highly influenced by both soundtracks and classical music, I do not wish to necessarily compare or measure this product to them.
Secondly, apart from piano lessons which I was never any good at, I have taken singing lessons, and, recently, Ihriel and me have taken private lessons with a composer. I have no formal musical education, but I think I am always eager to learn more, regardless of the formalities.
Lastly, music is my main medium of artistic expression. Whether distorted guitars or flutes play, it is a matter of instrumentation, arrangement and judgement.
Some classical composers were controversial individuals and, ultimately, felt like outcasts in their day. How do you feel in the new millennium and how do you see society and its behaviour? Might Mars be the solution?
This is a very wide subject to discuss, and a monologue from me at this point would be too long and too boring. But to answer the last one, I believe Mars has been tried as solution since the beginning of mankind and what do we get? “Same shit, new wrapping”, as they say. No, give Venus a chance.
According to traditional significance, a Satanist is directly regarded to be a Devil worshipper. For you, what is the factual meaning behind it? Also, would you agree that death is of utmost importance to understand life?
Satanism is, the way I see it, as most “isms”, a philosophical and religious system where you can attach thoughts and emotions to icons and symbols, in order to systematise, measure and understand them easier, and also to signal your views and individuality unto your surroundings. Satanism, or any other “ism”, for that matter, does no longer capture the essence of my nature and is, therefore, no longer a sufficient medium alone through which I can “breathe”.
Questions on life and death are often directly, or indirectly, the essence responsible for many of the “isms”. Nevertheless, they are important and delicate (too important and delicate for me to make quick comments on in an interview). However, I exchange the portions of these views that I wish to share in my music.
I once read that you were also a visual artist. If so, have you got any works you might like to present in the future? Also, as far as literature is concerned, who are your favourite authors and works?
My “career” as a painter was very private, very short, and resulted in less than few “masterpieces”. In other words, I have always liked drawing and I tried painting for a short while, but I suppose I was a bit over-ambitious when I considered doing the Thou Shalt Suffer cover myself, so I think I’ll stick to music.
As for authors, there are quite a few books I would like to read before I reveal my favourites in public, as I will probably change my mind several times before I feel I have read enough to make such a statement.
How do you view Black Metal and Emperor’s symphonic leanings in the towering hierarchy of the genre? Do you think that most of the magic and dark atmosphere have been lost over the years?
I have had quite a few remarks concerning Emperor’s atmospheric development. Some people seem to prefer In the Nightside Eclipse, some Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk and some IX-Equilibrium; some even prefer Wrath of the Tyrant. It is all a matter of taste and it is the same for me. I write music to the best of my abilities at the given time: if that equals the listeners’ expectations, is not up to me to decide.
Once again, it was a pleasure. To conclude, do you have any live plans for Thou Shalt Suffer? Feel free to address others as well.
I have not been able to make any further plans for Thou Shalt Suffer, as right after I finished Somnium we recorded the Peccatum EP, Oh, My Regrets (which will be out shortly). Since then we have worked with material for the next Peccatum full-length, Amor Fati, which we aim to finish in time for a September release. Meanwhile, new Emperor songs are in progress.
Thank you also for a well-formulated and interesting interview. I hope my answers made sense, even though I did not fully discuss all the issues.