From a strictly musical perspective, Norwegian singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Ihsahn is among the most influential and celebrated personas in European black metal history. He textures his metallic and progressive tendencies with ambient, industrial, techno, classical, and found sounds. His sound has evolved toward prog metal since his early days with pioneers Emperor. In that band, he helped to construct a massively aggressive and threatening musical attack, complete with blistering tremolo picking, angular symphonic keyboards, and blastbeat drums that influenced the two generations of metal bands. After their initial split in 2001 (they have reunited twice for festival tours and 2000s and 2010s recordings), Ihsahn's early solo offerings showcased a jagged fusion of prog and black metal (The Adversary, angL, and After) that evolved into the wildly experimental (2012's Eremita and the improvised masterpiece Der Seelenbrechen), eventually coming full-circle to mine a new vein of extreme prog rock on Arktis and Amr.
Born Vegard Sverre Tveitan in Notodden, Norway in 1975, Ihsahn grew up on a farm and began playing keyboards and guitars at age seven. As a teenager, he met Tomas Haugen (Samoth) at a music conference and they formed Thou Shalt Suffer in 1991. They managed to release a handful of demos before Samoth left, and Ihsahn set the idea aside as a solo side project. Eventually, they would work together again in Emperor, whose early lineup included Ihsahn, Samoth, Faust's Bård Eithun (who was replaced by drummer Trym Torson in 1996), and Mortiis, who left to start his own band after a year and was replaced by a series of bassists.
With Norway's black metal establishment -- including Mayhem vocalist Euronymous and his eventual murderer, the white nationalist Varg Vikernes of Burzum -- fully behind Emperor's work, the band released the groundbreaking Emperor EP in 1993. Their critically acclaimed full-length debut, In the Nightside Eclipse, was released in 1994, but the band's momentum was stalled by the jailing of Faust and Samoth in the wave of violence (church burnings) so prevalent in black metal at the time. Ihsahn soldiered on and undertook his more theatrical solo project, composing much of what would be Emperor's follow-up, Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, released in 1997. During the late '90s, Ihsahn also appeared on a number of different projects outside of Emperor, including Zyklon-B (which was a mélange of members of Emperor and Satyricon) and the Peccatum project (which formed in 1998), an experimental group made up of Ihsahn and his wife Ihriel (real name Heidi Tveitan).
Ihsahn made two full-length appearances in 1999, on the debut full-length with Peccatum entitled Strangling from Within, and the acclaimed Emperor full-length, IX Equilibrium. Ihsahn and Emperor would release two more albums over the next couple of years, 2000's live Emperial Live Ceremony (which also saw a DVD release) and 2001's Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire & Demise. While both would garner Emperor and Ihsahn further acclaim, that was to be the end -- somewhat -- of Emperor, as the band decided to call it a day following the release of Prometheus. Although a compilation of the band's work would surface in 2003, and they would play a handful of shows in 2006, Ihsahn's attention shifted in focus to Peccatum (a band he co-led with Ihriel). The project released album number two, Amor Fati, in 2001, followed by 2004's Lost in Reverie.
In 2002, Ihsahn was the proud recipient of an award from his home town recognizing him as one of the area's leading musical artists and cultural figures. After the 2005 EP The Moribund People with Peccatum, Ihsahn began work on what would be his solo full-length debut. The album, 2006's The Adversary, featured a collaboration with Ulver's Kristoffer Rygg and the percussion work of Asgeir Mickelson, and was released on his own label, Mnemosyne, as well as seeing international distribution on Candlelight. The album, the first in a series of three planned conceptual pieces, received rave reviews and was followed in 2008 with the sophomore solo release AngL, which featured a collaboration with Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt. The year 2010 saw the release of the final album in the trilogy, After, which featured a guest appearance from Shining frontman and saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby. Devin Townsend and Nevermore's Jeff Loomis appeared on 2012's Eremita, and the following year's Das Seelenbrechen, which drew inspiration from artists like Scott Walker and Diamanda Galás, and saw Ihsahn exploring more improvisational and dark ambient territories.
Ihsahn issued his sixth solo studio long player, Arktis, on Candlelight in early 2016 -- featuring guest appearances from Leprous' Einar Solberg (his brother-in-law) and Robin Ognedal, and saxophonist Munkeby -- it was chosen by many metal publications as one of the top genre albums of the year as well as charting on the Hard Rock and Heatseekers lists. Adding vintage synthesizers to his tool kit, 2018's Ámr, mastered by Jens Bogren, found him performing solo on all instruments save for drums, played by Tobias Ørnes (Shining). It was a musical expansion of the tenets displayed on Arktis, and, while it didn't chart in the U.S., it did hit many industry and critical lists across Europe. In early 2020, Ihsahn returned with the crushing Telemark EP, followed later in the year by the more melodic Pharos EP.
© Chris True /TiVo