Notodden (with Ihsahn from Emperor)

In The Nightside Eclipse

Notodden, Norway

Black Metal has always been a genre of music I have been passionately in love with. The mysticism that are the legends that surround the genre, the musicians, the bands, and even the country where the style has found it’s home are something of mystery to any of those not directly involved with Black Metal. Even those not into the genre (either from not “getting it” or not liking it) are in some way at least up-to-date with the goings-on of Black Metal (but usually with the less education in the genre of someone – the further the misunderstanding). Sonically – it is without a doubt one of the most extreme forms of music; musically – all the members in the bands were well-versed in the instruments they play, having a solid understanding of exactly how to control the chaos that they would create. It is hard to pinpoint exactly the culmination of musical styles that the original “founders” of black metal were listening to, but one can detect the influence of early NWOBHM, Norwegian Folk, Classical Music, and some of the pre-first wave black metal bands like Bathory; it’s hard to know who was listening to what at the time of the genres true inception.

Without going back into the same bloody stories that one always paints (although impossibly captivating), Black Metal for me has always evoked feelings of something beyond the realms of normality: when listening, one is usually taken back visually to more savage Viking or Medieval-eras; it’s not unlike being immersed into legendary tales set within the landscape of the cold wilderness of the Northern-most, snow-engulfed foreign and forgotten lands. The note choices and performance aspects always pushed the boundaries of what basically anything else in any genre of Metal were doing. 

My love for Black Metal eventually spawned the idea of creating a side musical project based upon the same early values of Norwegian Black Metal: a project shrouded by anonymity – a musical venture that no one would ever know was “me”. I think that initial idea was due to the fact that the Black Metal genre usually warrants some of the most elite-minded fans; the kind that… well basically don’t like anything anyone else likes – ones who even quickly turn their backs on their favorites of the Black Metal genre once any kind of popularity occurs. It’s that close-mindedness of a small-faction of the fans that I initially wanted to try to grasp, but one day I befriended a new mentor who would help change that outlook through their musical and artistic influence. 

Emperor is hailed as one of the greatest Black Metal bands of all time by fans and press alike – I consider them the absolute best of all the bands to ever grace the genre. Uncompromisingly, Emperor always did what Emperor wanted. One attitude of Black Metal is to stay “true” and stick to the same production, playing, scales, sounds, imagery, and lyrical-focus – Emperor always was a step or ten past the pack. In The Nightside Eclipse delivered the best of what one would imagine of the style, but with every album that would follow – musically, new ingredients and textures would be found that were unlike what any other band could comprehend. Essentially being on the top on their Prometheus record, Emperor called it quits. At the very pinnacle of their musical-career – they ended the legacy that was Emperor. I feel this is yet another iconically Emperor thing that Emperor did to and for the genre… instead of ever allowing a mediocre effort to ever be produced (not that they would have done that even if they considering not calling it quits) – it was just done; preserving their legend. 

Ihsahn went on to do multiple different projects simultaneously and post-Emperor; creating astonishing solo albums under his name – and it was when Eremita was released that I again was blown away by Ihsahn’s musical-influence on me. When I heard Eremita, it was like discovering the genre all over again – Ihsahn again combined things that never should have made sense together, but made them make sense when he created his own sound of song-writing. I was able to get in touch via email with Ihsahn through a mutual friend of ours at Candelight Records; and amazingly we kept in touch. Passing around each others’ favorite music, films, artists, authors, poets and overall philosophies on life and music – it was a creative exchange that gave each of us different perspectives and intellectual-wells to draw from. 

Through our conversations and the influence of his new record, the idea of the Black Metal “project” I was intending to do completely took a new shape and form. No longer was I concerned what anyone would think about it – all I wanted to do was make exactly what I felt like; the principles of Black Metal I learned from Ihsahn all made complete sense with this attitude. Through the next few months, we would occasionally pass around more things for each other to check out, including passing back and forth the demos of Mrityu. The decision was clear – when time outside of Trivium existed, Ihsahn must produce the Mrityu record. 

On the Trivium winter headlining tour, it worked out that there was a ferry-travel for the bus in-between Helsinki and Oslo – and Ihsahn and I worked it out that I would fly from Helsinki to Oslo, then take a couple busses to get over to his home-town of Notodden. 

I finished up the sold-out Helsinki show, headed to an airport hotel, slept about 3-4 hours and flew to Oslo. I don’t have much bussing experience being from Florida (busses are seldom used by anyone in Orlando), but I eventually took the couple-hour journey and made it into Notodden. The scenery on the last 15-20 minutes into the town are absolutely breath-taking – it is exactly what you imagine when thinking of the scenery of Black Metal – I mean – it is the town that Emperor was creating in. Nervous? Of course I was! I was about to meet and hang out with one of my all-time greatest heroes in music.

Arriving at the station, I meet Ihsahn and we head off to grab some food (Ihsahn is well aware of the food-maniac that is me). Notodden is a small town – there’s one grocery store, hardly and restaurants, but a nature backdrop unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. There’s no question that if a musician were to grow up here – they would probably make Black Metal. The chill in the air, the snow-capped forested mountains in the distance, and the massive frozen-lakes make you feel like you’re in Winterfell or in the midst of your quest to Mordor. We get some Notodden-style baguettes (baguette with small, sweet shrimp, mayo, cucumber, lettuce) and head to see the Stave Church in the middle of town. 

Seeing one of these Norwegian churches in person felt fake. This may seem odd to those of you who live outside of the USA, but those who live in the USA and have travelled abroad can relate – everything in the USA is pretty new; everything in Europe and the rest of the world is older; to see a church done in the classic Nordic-style in person feels like you’re at a theme park. This church had been up since the 1200’s; and it is hard to grasp that several of the native, original Norwegian Black Metal artists torched these works of art down (I mean – even if you’re not religious, these are still some impressive works of human craftsmanship) – but it’s all part of the evolution of Black Metal I suppose. 

The conversations we’d have throughout the day certainly go down in some of the greatest-moments-of-my-life-living-in-music, but those I feel in the specifics are best left for the moments they existed in. Needless to say – it is always a wonderful thing when you can hang with someone who exists in a state of like-mindedness to yourself. 

The next stop we checked out was Juke Joint Studios – the studio that Mnemosyne (Ihsahn and his wife’s company) co-owns and spends much of their time creating in. The studio itself (the gear, sound-proofing, etc.) were all brought in from Seattle several years back from an ex-pat musician; the old-school gear and instruments present were of a serious caliber. To see the old Leslie keyboards and massive old compressors was trippy for someone who grew up in the digital age of recording. We ate our lunch and chatted the Mrityu project amongst other bits, I excitedly was able to inquire my wonderings of the early beginnings of Emperor. The production ideas and instrumentation recommendations Ihsahn had… well… lemme tell ya – that Mrityu record is going to be unlike anything you or I have ever heard…

The next stop was Ihsahn’s home where I was able to hear some early (incredible) demos of the next solo record, see the Emperor Gold records, jam on some of his gear, and learn Emperor’s style of Black Metal picking. Where I thought Black Metal was picked one certain way… I learned from the man himself the way the Nordic Black Metal bands and Emperor do it. I jammed through the gear that was the guitar tone of Eremita and we passed around more ideas for the Mrityu project, Ihsahn taught me some musical theory he has been into lately (some brainy theoretical concepts) – and soon it was time for food. 

I really never have been able to have a culinary experience in Norway before – and Ihsahn knew I was always into local specialties; I was able to try local Norwegian-style goat cheese – and it blew my mind. It has a delicate texture, a lightly salty taste in the beginning, then in the finish tastes almost like white milk-chocolate. The opposing flavor spectrum reminded me (not flavor-wise, just contrast-wise) of true Mexican mole’. I tried some locally-prepared pig liver pate’ which was livery-delicious just like I like it. Ihsahn prepared entrecote with béarnaise sauce (very traditional Norwegian); potatoes sliced almost down to the bottom and seasoned with herbs, butter, oil, and another kind of local cheese; and a salad with local parmesan and oil and balsamic; Norwegian spiced-butter was served with it. I was able to try a locally made Nordic pure apple juice and Norwegian Christmas beer with the dinner. It was absolutely fantastic to have traditional Norwegian food made by a good musician-friend – the food was truly fantastic; it had been a month since anything home-cooked, and my first time being able to have a home-cooked Norwegian meal. After dinner, I tried some traditional Norwegian chocolate that was really great as well. 

Again – a great connection in life over a great meal; I was honored to have one of my heroes open his home up to me. This without a doubt goes down in history as a legendary moment in my life. We said farewell and I headed off to my hotel. I always said Ihsahn was one of the greats of the music-world, and this was a complete affirmation in the fact that not only is he one of the most important figures in metal and a incredibly knowledgable musician and artist – he is one of the coolest dudes I’ve ever met and I am proud and privileged to call him a friend. 

5 thoughts on “Notodden (with Ihsahn from Emperor)

  1. Wow, that was such a great story! Thank you so much for sharing some of your dearest moments in life. I loved the fact that you’re deciding to be “true”, but true to yourself with the Mrityu project, and I’m really intrigued to hear you and Ihsahn have in store :-)

  2. Pingback: TRIVIUM Frontman: I Am Proud And Privileged To Call IHSAHN A Friend •

  3. Hey Matt. Great post! Loved the read. It’s a part of the world that I find intriguing and have always had an obsession with all that is Black Metal. However, I’ve only started to delve into it as of the last couple of years as my tastes expand. Immortal and Watain being my first foray into the genre.

    Looks like you had some good food too! Nice one!

    Safe travels.



  4. IHSAHN was probably brought up C Christian household.I’m a Christian myself and was Impressed with his artistic talent.I consider him the Mozart of Black Metal.This Man steals my ear.Very versatile and articulated work from Musical to wearing the shoes of the Devil in the album “Adversary”, which he doesn’t use Abby biblical reference or verses, but the songs themes/subject are in the Bible from Satan being present in front of God, where God Authorizes Satan to tempt Job (song:he should walk into Empty places).I understood why he named his album the ADVERSARY by taking the Devil place, which there is no Story or much to be said Of Satan in the Bible, but just that he is the Adversary.IHSAHN did tremendous making something out of nothingness.Which he always loves to explore beyond boundaries…..I think he is phenomenon, sadly he doesn’t get much media attention like other Rock stars, maybe he don’t Care of media attention and mainstream.Which if he was American he would of have more recognition.But Thankfully, he remains in the shadows.

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