What made you decide to make another metal album after so long away from the genre?
Well, the initial idea came a while after we quit Emperor. I started getting ideas that at some point I would do a metal album again. Itís an idea that has been cooking for two or three years. I think that some of the reason why came because I was in contact with Rob Halford, about possibly doing something with him, and so it started out as a mix between wanting to do a solo album at some point but also I got in touch with him and we talked about doing something together. I started writing some material but it all went very slow because I was busy doing things with Peccatum, and that was my main focus at the time. It was all just a vague idea. It wasnít until from January 2005 that I really started to do the actual work. I basically wrote the main parts of the album, the basic songs, from January till March one year ago.
Itís five years since ĎPrometheusí. How easy was it to get back into the swing of writing that kind of material?
The main challenge was to get out of the experimental style of working that Iíd been doing with Peccatum, because itís very easy when you only work in the studio to fiddle around with keyboard sounds and plug-ins and making effects and working on different sound textures, but that doesnít really make metal albums. I just have to set very strict borders, a frame to work within. I just started with a couple of guitar tracks and drum sequencing and some piano and they were the writing tools. I worked very chronologically. I wrote the first song (ĎInvocationí) first and carried on writing them in the order that theyíre presented on the album. I wrote all the songs and then I focussed on song number one, did the string arrangements and everything. I wrote the lyrics in that order, too. So it was very strict, almost a very military way of working. Very different from the very open structure weíve used in Peccatum.
Did you bring anything to ĎThe Adversaryí that you learned while working with Peccatum?
Oh, definitely. Much of Peccatumís work has been a learning process as well, particularly with learning about string arrangements and learning the written way of doing it. We studied a lot of composition and orchestration techniques and weíve been taking lessons and doing studies. On this album Iíve just laid off the more experimental sounds, but all the work you do as a musician will influence you in one way or another. My experience with Peccatum has been invaluable in terms of my relationship to the craftsmanship of making music.
Is that the difference between artists like yourself and the general morass of mediocre metal bands out there?
I donít know. I donít really know how other people write music. I get the impression that a lot of bands within this genre work with a method of building songs in rehearsals, and thatís probably a very correct way of doing it in terms of keeping within a certain style. Iíve had that in mind, since I started doing a metal album, writing for the orchestra of a five-piece band. There are hardly three or four guitar parts on the album. Itís kept to that line-up, plus string and keyboard arrangements. At least initially I felt very much into providing for that kind of ensemble. The reason I do music is because I love it as an artistic expression and a channel for my personal expression, but over the years Iíve begun to enjoy the craftsmanship of writing and producing and composition. Itís such a long history of rules that youíve got to break the music down into notes and technique. Iím a bit off the topic here, but when I was writing the tablature book for Emperor and transcribing the older songs after having studied compositional techniques and song structures, it was interesting to analyse what we did before we knew anything about any of that, to adapt the rules to it to see what weíd done unconsciously. So I guess the more I work in the studio and the more music I make, the more I learn and the more I get into the craftsmanship and the history of this kind of work.
Did you ever consider allowing someone else to produce the album for you or did you always intend to do it yourself?
It was always the plan to do everything myself. When we toured the ĎIX Equilibriumí album with Emperor, we were approached by Ross Robinson, which I suppose was kind of fun, because heís produced all these big hit metal bands, and he seemed like a nice guy, but I guess Iím very particular with my own stuff. Weíd cooperate with people who really know their stuff, but if Iíd worked with a producer or an engineer like Ross Robinson, the album we produced would probably have more of a suitable production with strict levels and maybe it would even be lifted professionally, but Iím so afraid of compromising my vision. Iím very egocentric. Iím full of myself, basically! (laughs) Itís very important for me to be a control freak with my own music. Itís very hard for me to let go and let others have input into what I do, especially on a solo album. Itís not that Iím against using producers. At some point it would be very interesting, especially to get a different perspective and to learn new stuff, but as for Emperor using Ross Robinson, we had our own sound and it was so strict already, it was really not a good idea to change anything. On this album I was very eager to do it all myself. I want to produce other artists in the future myself anyway, so I had to use myself as a guinea pig! (laughs).
Do you see ĎThe Adversaryí as a continuation of your work with Emperor or is it the start of something completely new for you?
Not necessarily a continuation of Emperor, but Iíd say itís the next step in my work as a musician. But since this is such a different album from what we did in Peccatum, Iíd say itís a continuation of my work in the genre of metal. Obviously there will be an influential legacy there, from playing black metal with Emperor for ten years. Thatís been in my thoughts, but also from the years prior to that as well, my overall interest in metal. I really donít see that itís doing something new. To be honest, the way Iíve written the album and the expression and way of doing it, itís very similar to how I did the ĎPrometheusí album, but without the consideration for the specific expression that was Emperor. When I wrote ĎPrometheusí I took into account, not necessarily Samoth and Trym in particular, but I was writing music for Emperor and that had a certain progression so I couldnít do it as a solo album, it has to be for Emperor.
Has making a solo album been a liberating experience for you?
Definitely. Itís been very liberating. After having, for over five years, touched very new ground and tried to reach into areas that I hadnít really had any long experience with, going back to metal songs and writing for that kind of ensemble was very interesting. It was liberating in the way that I didnít have to consider anyone else, but also because Iíve had so much experience and written so much music over the years in metal, it was so easy in a way. I wonít say it was easy to write the album, but there was a feeling of being in control of everything because I was doing something that I know I can do well. Also, being able to put in all those other things that would not have been suitable ingredients for things Iíve done in the past, but now I can take my Priest and King Diamond influences and put those in there too.
You can definitely hear the Andy LaRocque influence at the beginning of ĎCalled By The FireíÖ
Andy LaRocque is one of my favourite guitar players, particularly for that kind of riffing. I know itís common now to tune the guitars down one or two semitones, but Iíve always wanted to, just for nostalgia in a way, do something in a straight key with no down tuning.
Was it exciting to revisit the music that you listened to when you were a kid?
Yeah! You know, I wonít even mention some of the things from my musical past, but things that contain that energy and make you want to recreate that feeling. Itís bits and pieces from memory, things I havenít heard for ten or fifteen years almost, they just lie there like old emotional treasures. You just pick them out. Maybe itís better not to listen to those songs again, they work better as a memory.
In a way, some of the new album is more accessible than Emperor. Did you make a conscious effort to make something that was distinct from what youíve done before?
My state of mind at the end of Emperor was reflected in ĎPrometheusí. Itís not really a sharing album, is it? I just listened to it after two years or something, and it really sounds like an album that doesnít want to let you in. It builds up towards something pompous or some kind of release, but it just turns into something black and impenetrable. If people donít get into it that easily I can understand! For me personally, my reasons for quitting Emperor had a lot to do with keeping it to myself because there were so many people having opinions on what Emperor should be and what I should write and play or not. It lit that spark for a black metal guy! (laughs) I wanted to keep things for myself. I react very negatively to that kind of pressure. But this time I was very conscious about wanting to put the music out there and in metal tradition too. I wanted a pure expression. ĎCalled By The Fireí is a heavy metal song all the way through, and ĎCitizení is a full-on black metal song all the way through and ĎAstera ton Proinoní is a slow ballad-like thing all the way through. I didnít want to bring too many themes in. I wanted to use the different material in other forms in the same song rather than having different pieces stuck together. There are common rules in metal. Itís intro, verse, refrain, verse, refrain, bridge, double refrain, fade-out (laughs). Itís very much built the same as a regular sonata. So Iíve tried to keep to those kinds of rules, rules that will work within the form.
Clichťs become clichťs because they work, presumablyÖ
Yes, thatís true. I suppose Iíve always wanted to do something that is new and special, but at a certain point I became so obsessed with the originality of what I should make that I threw away anything because I felt that anything I did, Iíd done it before. This time I didnít really care. I went more with what came from the heart. If there are riffs or ideas on the album that sound like metal clichťs then they just sounded right and I wanted to do things that way. Iím old now and I donít care if people are going to accuse me of anything!
Even if you were to use riffs that were perceived as being clichťd, the sound and style of your music tends to make what you do sound original anywayÖ
Thank you. I hope so anyway! I do have my way of doing things. Now that this album is finished, there will always be things that Iíd like to change and Iím sure I could have done something technically or sonically different, but I didnít care about that too much, although of course I wanted a good sound. I wanted to create a very powerful album, both lyrically and musically, something that will get to you, something thatís very honest and says something about something! (laughs).
The only other musician on ĎThe Adversaryí is Asgeir Mickelson, who plays drums. Why did you choose him?
I knew from the start that Iíd need a drummer. When the word got out there that I was making a solo album, he actually contacted me to offer his services. I know his work better from Spiral Architect than from Borknagar. I know both, of course, but I knew from that that he plays so differently in those two bands, that we would be capable of playing very progressive stuff and also black metal stuff. We were emailing back and forth and I found that we shared that Mikkey Dee is our favourite drummer, so I was sold. Heís done a perfect job, too, from start to finish. He runs a Steinberg Nuendo studio too, so the process of exchanging files has been very easy and efficient. Heís been a very good partner.
When did the title ĎThe Adversaryí come to you, and whatís the overall concept behind it?
The title came last, as it usually does with me. After going through all the lyrics, ĎThe Adversaryí seemed a very short but descriptive title for the whole thing. I suppose even within this black metal scene I see myself as an adversary to that as well, and also the whole album being influenced by a metal legacy thatís older than I am, the genre of rock Ďní roll and metal and hard rock has always been an adversary to society. I have also returned to symbolic figures that are adversaries, whether itís Prometheus, Icaros, Lucifer, Cain or whoever. Theyíre figures that defy the opinion of authority or the common mass. I feel that there are two main themes on the album. One is carrying a torch for all those Lucifers and Prometheuses out there through history, who have been cut down by the present time for having new ideas that everyone wants to be part of a hundred years later. Iím carrying a torch for new thinkers. Itís also a harsh criticism of that exact grey mass, the lukewarm, those whose biggest ideal is to never have an opinion on anything or not to contribute to change or progress in any way.
Can you tell me a bit about the studios where you recorded the album?
Most of the album, I recorded it at Symphonique Studio, which we have at home. Basically itís a digital set-up with a Steinberg Nuando being the main recorder and sequencer. Weíve got loads of synths and an outboard. I recorded everything there and then brought it to Jukejoint Studio in Notodden. Mnemosyne Productions has shares in the studio. So I went there to mix it, to get a new perspective but also to take advantage of all the analogue gear they have there. Itís all from the Ď50s, Ď60s and Ď70s. For studio enthusiasts, you can find most of the classics there! The mixer I mixed it on was originally from Stax Studio in Memphis. That has a legacy too, I suppose. Itís good old analogue gear. It was good to have that different set-up. Maybe next time I will do it the other way round: record it there and mix it at home.
Describe the process of piecing ĎThe Adversaryí togetherÖ
The real work started in January last year. I wrote the skeleton of all the songs with two guitar tracks, programmed drums and piano and that took until March. Then bit by bit, starting chronologically, I began with different arrangements and working on bass parts and keyboard parts and string arrangements. When all the songs were finished from A to B, I started sending files to Asgeir. I had a three month break during the summer because itís hard to get black metal work done during the hot weather! (laughs) Then starting in the autumn again, Asgeir was continually recording drums and sending MP3 files with raw mixes, with his interpretation of my programming. Weíd email back and forth until I got the results I wanted, and then he would just upload the files for me and I would put them into my arrangement. He would do that while I was recording guitars and writing the final lyrics throughout the autumn. I finished recording and right after New Year I aimed to start mixing.
Has everything gone to plan?
In October or November I was put back a month because of a computer crash. We had to buy a new one, which was supposed to take a week but ended up taking three or four weeks. Thatís fairly typical. Apart from that itís just been about putting in the hours and working hard.
Tell me about each track on the album, starting with ĎInvocationíÖ
It was always intended to start the album. Musically itís a thrash-like black metal song. Itís got a certain groove. Itís rather straightforward. Lyrically, it starts off the album playing with traditional elements of the genre but giving them, hopefully, some new meaning.
ĎCalled By The Fireí
Itís a more straightforward heavy metal song. That was the intention. I wanted to start the album with two different songs like that build up the mood. This is basically a song about my perception of having been doing this kind of expression for so long, and feeling that call, that itís almost a duty to do this, and that I donít really have a choice. Itís such a strong calling.
This is a really, really hard black metal song. Lyrically, Itís a very hard criticism of the lukewarm in society.
I wanted to continue the contrasts, so this is a progressive song. I initially did some test vocals on it, but they ended up being in a style that suited Garm from Ulver very well, so he ended up singing on that one. I thought it would be good for him to sing on one of my albums for once. Iíve sung for Ulver and Arcturus before, so itís payback time! The lyric is a contemplation, a feeling of having returned to a starting point with a new perspective.
ĎAstera ton Proinoní
The title means ĎMorning Starí. Thatís my interpretation of a black metal ballad. Again, this song is a tribute to the visionary thinker, personified.
'Panem et circenses'
]Again, this is a black metal song, but with a circus twist! (laughs) The title means ĎBread and Circusí. It deals with the rather hypocritical sensationalism that people love. The hate/love relationship that people have with extremes, and how people devour it. People want the extreme so they can hate it. I think I explained this much better in the lyric itself! (laughs).
ĎAnd He Shall Walk In Empty Placesí
The album hardens towards the end. The songs become more and more extreme at this point. Itís a hard black metal-sounding song. It has a long groovy section in the middle of the song. Lyrically, it deals with people who are ahead of the rest of the world and who want to bring about progress, but who have to walk alone around this circle that feels never-ending.
ĎWill You Love Me Now?í
Itís not a traditional black metal title, is it? Musically, itís very hard extreme metal. Lyrically, I guess it confronts conservatism. Using a title like that confronts the conservative elements within this genre. Itís saying that when I put something out there for people to have opinions about and to relate to, when I get to the heart of things, when the truth comes out, when I speak directly, saying what it really is without the fantasy and the mysticism, will you love me then? Can people relate to things for what they are? Even Asgeir, when I told him the title, reacted a bit strangely! (laughs) Itís not just my intention to provoke and to be different, but I see the same things that piss me off in society in this so-called progressive scene, and that they are as much following the rules and thinking the way they believe theyíre supposed to think. The whole idea is to try to make up your mind on your own, and be truthful, at least to yourself.
ĎThe Pain Is Still Mineí
Itís an epic! I know itís rather ambitious, but the kind of elements that it plays on have been done many times before, with much greater resources than I have, but still I wanted to capture that kind of feeling. Lyrically, I suppose that instead of all this criticism, this almost supernatural, arrogant feel that runs through the album, this last song reflects on that pain that makes me deal with this kind of expression as an artist. It reflects on the very emotional side of things. The reason for doing this, this constant drive for doing what I do, I just know I want to throw everything that I have into it. I have to confront the pain to be able to do it, but Iíd rather that than to just hide it all away. I feel that in the music industry, even within this extreme genre, everything has become superficial. The source of what I do, it comes from a lot of soul-searching. It sounds very dramatic, but it is very dramatic! It comes at a price, to search yourself, all the dark corners of yourself, to bring out that kind of expression. I wrote the song almost as an acknowledgement