For fans of Black Metal worldwide, the Norwegian band Emperor surely need no introduction. Among the original purveyors of the Norwegian arm of the genre, alongside luminaries such as Mayhem and Darkthrone, Emperor are a classic band who Australian fans could have been forgiven for never expecting to see on our southern shores. But after a highly successful solo run last year, Ihsahn now returns with bandmates Samoth and Trym to give Australian Emperor fans what they’ve always wanted.

From the appropriately frozen temperatures of -35˚, Ihsahn reflects on his previous travels to our scorching land. “The people were amazing. I’m sure you hear this a lot, the atmosphere is so relaxed. People seem very, very genuine. We felt very much at home in Australia. There are obviously things that have affected the process of finally getting the Emperor stuff there. It’s a long way to travel, but to know for a fact the organisation, the touring company, the fans – everything is top notch, all great experiences, amazing food. I’m very happy to be coming back.”

As to whether the experience of travelling with Emperor changes the dynamic, Ihsahn reveals, “On a personal level, the journey isn’t that much bigger. Travelling with my solo stuff or travelling with Emperor, personally I do all the same things regardless. The only difference is that more people offer to carry my stuff when I’m off with Emperor,” he laughs, “which is kind of hilarious.”

Emperor will be celebrating over 20 years since the release of their now classic ‘Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk,’ and Ihsahn offers his thoughts on the album in retrospect. “’In the Nightside Eclipse’ was the debut album. It was compiled from previously recorded songs, and some new ones. With ‘Anthems,’ we had slightly more experience of recording, and it was the first full album that was written as a whole. I guess for me, since I took over a much bigger part writing and arranging parts, and also writing all the lyrics, it’s a slightly more developed album, and I feel it’s more complete – but still very much from an era where it was a ‘rehearsal space creation,’ such that the songs are really programmed into all of us. Even the stuff that we didn’t remember, you just start a song and it’s there in muscle memory. It’s an almost physical relationship with the album. And with our experience of travelling,” he adds, “playing this album in its entirety, there are so many songs off that album we’ve kept regularly in our live set regardless. There’s a lack of surprises for an audience when you play an entire album, but the main effort is to conjure up that whole ebb and flow of ‘Anthems.’ And with the age of the album, people have had a lot of time to develop that relationship. It’s powerful to see how people around the world have a similar relationship to that album as I do. It’s one of my favourite albums. The atmosphere, the whole thing is something special. I have this kind of relationship with Iron Maiden’s ‘Seventh Son’ album, for example, and some other albums that are just attached to so many memories, and so many experiences. To see people have a similar thing, and to re-live that from our perspective, from the band’s perspective is a great thing.”

Looking back on the writing of the album, Ihsahn reflects, “It was a special situation. There were some line-up changes, there were some line-up challenges – me and Samoth being kind of separated by distance,” he chuckles wryly. “But it was never really a mentality of ‘Well, are we going to continue the band or not?’ That was kind of just a given. It was more just trying to work around how to achieve this. It kind of came together with the ideology of the time. It’s always been about the freedom, the individual growth, and the existential questions in a way. And I guess we were put to the test at times. A lot of the surroundings and the situations we were in formed that fighting spirit and uncompromising attitude that I think has been very present in Emperor all along.”

Digging deeper into the philosophy of the time, Ihsahn muses, “I think if you take all the image labels off it, I think for a lot of people involved in the early Black Metal, it was about challenging yourself. And that’s something that’s still alive – how can I utilise who I am to become the best possible version of myself? I think it’s been interesting in that respect, as I said about carrying my equipment when I play with Emperor. People will treat you differently depending on what role you are in. For me, whether I play my solo stuff or I play with Emperor, I’m the same person. I don’t grow any extra skills playing with Emperor. It’s something that’s funny to see, and has been so obvious to me over these years. Even in the early days when people absolutely hated Emperor, it was such an underground thing without any commercial success or anything, people didn’t really do it in a negative way, but when success and money came into the picture regardless of the fact the music was the same, the albums were the same – the people changed their attitude. So in that respect, I had an opportunity to evaluate my success or lack thereof, in a private environment, because everything else fluctuates like the stock market. You have no control over that. The only thing you have control over is, ‘What are my ambitions? What are my goals? And to what extent did I achieve that?’ Everything else is beyond your control.”

Emperor have certainly been successful with their Australian tour already, having sold out their first Melbourne show. Make sure you get your hands on tickets for the remaining shows before it’s too late!