Emperor’s Ihsahn reflects on black metal church-burnings: “We were all very consumed with the whole thing. The attention it got.”

(Image credit: Andy Ford)

Emperor frontman and solo artist Ihsahn has spoken about the “us and them” mentality which fuelled the Norwegian black metal scene in the 90s.

The singer/guitarist (real name: Vegard Tveitan) co-founded Emperor with guitarist Samoth (Tomas Haugen) in 1991, and their band became part of the “black metal inner circle” – also composed of Mayhem, Darkthrone and more – centred around the Oslo record shop Helvete. 

Some members of the inner circle committed heinous and infamous acts of violence. Ex-Emperor drummer Bård “Faust” Eithun committed murder in 1992 and Varg Vikernes killed his Mayhem bandmate, Øystein “Euronymous” Aarseth, the following year. Both men were sentenced to 14 years in prison in 1994 for murder and arson.

Samoth was also jailed for arson that year, following church-burnings committed by him, Vikernes and Eithun.

Now, talking exclusively in the new issue of Metal Hammer, Ihsahn has reflected on his place in the black metal scene and his attitude towards the church-burnings.

“I was very fortunate to not get involved in any of it in that respect, but I think we were all very consumed with the whole thing. The attention it got,” the musician says.

“All the negative attention and our local community’s reaction to it, it became fuel to the fire. It exaggerated this feeling of ‘us and them’. So I felt involved like that and in my band there were of course consequences.”

He continues: “And you can’t really deny that it kind of validated the seriousness of what we were doing. I heard someone talking about young rap artists these days who start doing criminal activity to give credibility and validity to the things they’re singing about.

“It’s a very strange teenage thing, some kind of rebellious wish to have power and be taken seriously. To be dangerous. Because when you’re a teenager you’re also so vulnerable. We don’t have to psychoanalyse it all but as a grown-up I think it’s much easier to see how this happened.”

In the same interview, Ihsahn also remembers Emperor’s earliest albums being “slaughtered” by the contemporary metal press.

“The major metal magazines absolutely slaughtered our first albums,” he said. “And then I’ve seen these stories 25 years down the line with the first Emperor album put next to the first Black Sabbath album.

“I learned very early that you have no control over what people think; the only thing you can trust is your own motivation. If you put your happiness in someone else’s hands, if that’s what controls whether you feel good or bad about yourself, you’re kinda fucked.”

Ihsahn initially disbanded Emperor in 2001, before going solo in 2006. Emperor have reunited on multiple occasions since, most recently in 2016, and continue to tour. However, they haven’t released a new studio album in 23 years.

Samoth continues to perform with Emperor, and Eithun has made appearances with them as a guest live member in 2014 and 2021.

Ihsahn’s self-titled solo album is out on February 16 via Candlelight.

The new issue of Metal Hammer is available to buy now.

It features an interview with cover star Bruce Dickinson about his long-awaited solo album, The Mandrake Project, as well as a review of Sleep Token’s landmark show at London’s Wembley Arena, the metal bands we think you should watch in 2024 and much, much more.

Bruce Dickinson on the cover of Metal Hammer

(Image credit: Future (Cover shot: John McMurtrie))
Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.

With contributions from