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NORWAY, Notodden

Date Formed 1991

Categories: Black Metal

EMPEROR

Current Members

Past Members

Live Session Members

Studio Session Members

Biography

Overtly Satanic act based in Telemark that gained a fair degree of attention on the back of the MAYHEM and BURZUM feud in 1993. However, a few short years later EMPEROR's star has eclipsed many other Black Metal acts and the band can truly be regarded as amongst the handful of leading bands in their chosen field. Their original reign lasted over just four albums, their continuity persistently fractured by external forces. EMPEROR toured globally and their record sales are into the many hundreds of thousands.

EMPEROR started young in 1991 with the debut single featuring a fourteen year old vocalist / guitarist Ihsahn (real name Vegard Sverre Tveitan) and fifteen year old Samoth (Tomas Thormodsæther Haugen). The band's early line-up also included bassist Mortiis (Håvard Ellefsen) who appears on the band's 1992 demo, the 7" single 'As The Shadows Rise' and EMPEROR's split 1993 album with ENSLAVED.

Prior to EMPEROR, Samoth and Ihsahn had operated in the bands DARK DEVICE and XERASIA. This Akkerhaugen based trio comprised vocalist / bassist Finn Arne Nielsen, guitarist Tomas Haugen with Ronny Johnson on drums. A 1990 live rehearsal demo was issued, after which the group inducted Tveitan, in place of Nielsen, to become EMBRYONIC. This latter act released the demo 'The Lord Of Lost Souls'. Ihsahn had also tried his hand at Punk Rock with the proto band HAM RIDERS.

EMBRYONIC subsequently evolved into the Death Metal outfit THOU SHALT SUFFER comprising of Ihsahn on lead vocals and guitar, Samoth on guitar, bassist Ildjarn (a.k.a. Vidar Vaaer) and drummer Thorbjørn Akkerhaugen. A demo session 'Into The Woods Of Belial' was undertaken and a 7" EP released on the Mexican label Distorted Harmony entitled 'Open The Mysteries Of Your Creation'. This latter release saw a switch in the band membership with Thorbjørn taking over the bass role and Ronny Johnson taking on drums.

In mid 1991 Samoth had got a further project up and running titled EMPEROR, taking this Mortiis suggested title after the CELTIC FROST track 'Dethroned Emperor'. The band's debut line-up had the guitarist joined by vocalist / guitarist Ygg (Ihsahn), Samot (Samoth) on drums and bassist Mortiis, exclusively handling lyrics too, for the inaugural July 1992 'Wrath Of The Tyrant' demo. Captured on a primitive 4 track machine, the rustic nature of its execution and bass that was reduced to an angry buzz could not temper the ferocity and quality of EMPEROR's first excursion into the studio. The demo scored a label deal with Candlelight Records and all of the songs, bar 'Forgotten Centuries', would be re-recorded for wider appreciation. A US commercial cassette release adding two earlier tracks, via Wild Rags Records, came in 1993.

After this tape, 'Orcustus' magazine founder and THORNS member Faust (real name Bård Eithun) then active with STIGMA DIABOLICUM, took the drummers role and Samoth switched to his more familiar role on guitar. Faust had in the late 80's played in a proto Black Metal band made up of Frost, later of SATYRICON, Messiah, pre-MAYHEM and IMPOSTER, Nemo, another future IMPOSTER member, along with bassist Jonas Alver (later to join the EMPEROR family tree). In side activity, Samoth also performed on BURZUM's 'Aske' mini-album, the cover art for which featured a photograph of the burning Fantoft stave church. Mortiis had departed in 1992 to concentrate on his self-titled solo project, considerably raising his profile by adding a prosthetic nose and ears.

The drummer had relocated to Oslo in July 1992 and just weeks afterwards, on August 21st, gained his place in infamy with the murder of Magne Andreassen. Having resolved to kill someone, a walk to his mother's house across the Lillehammer Olympic Winter park was interrupted by a stranger requesting a light for a cigarette. Convinced that Andreassen was a homosexual, Faust followed him into some trees and there killed him, stabbing in the stomach, then between the shoulder blades before repeatedly kicking him in the head until he was silent. He then carried on his way, washing the blood from his hands in the river. It would be over a year before he was arrested. However, Faust was soon to commit a further serious crime, aiding BURZUM leader Varg Vikernes in the torching of the Holmenkollen Chapel as part of a sustained campaign of church burnings.

EMPEROR's CD debut, four tracks recorded in December 1992, two from the prior demo and a pair of new cuts 'I Am The Black Wizards' and 'Cosmic Keys To My Creations And Times', came with a split album on Candlelight shared with Viking Metallers ENSLAVED, suitably wrapped in a Doré woodcut of the Grim Reaper.

Candlelight would be keen to get the grim protégés onto the world stage. Scheduled to support DEICIDE in London, prior to the headliners cancelling at the last minute, EMPEROR went on to play their own hastily arranged show which highlighted their many weaknesses as an inexperienced live act. EMPEROR proved that scary face paint was not enough. Strangely enough their support band for the London show was Christian Thrash band MOURN, who duly brandished a large golden cross onstage much to EMPEROR's displeasure. Samoth also established his own label Nocturnal Art Productions to issue the 1994 'As The Shadows Rise' EP, again employing Doré artwork.

Both Ihsahn and Samoth were involved with the ZYKLON-B project, leading up to the 'Blood Must Be Shed' album, working alongside Frost (a.k.a. Kjetil Haraldstad) of SATYRICON and DØDHEIMSGARD man Draug Aldrahn. Naturally this endeavour stoked controversy, the Zyklon-B title adopted after the chemical used to exterminate millions in the gas chambers of the holocaust.

However, shortly after completing the ZYKLON-B sessions Faust, Samoth and bassist Tchort (Terje Vik Schei), of GREEN CARNATION, were imprisoned for church burning, which delayed the recording of the debut album. These charges related to the arson of the Holmenkollen chapel and others in which it is alleged members of EMPEROR participated with Count Grishnackh of BURZUM and MAYHEM's Euronymous.

Although EMPEROR was highly active, they suffered a severe blow in August 1993 when Faust was charged with the murder he had committed a year previous. Count Grishnackh's slaying of MAYHEM leader Euronymous had led many within the circle to suggest that Faust was implicated in another death the police had not previously seen any connection with. Upon conclusion of court proceedings in Spring 1994, he was sentenced to fourteen years.

February 1994 saw the arrival of EMPEROR's 'In The Nightside Eclipse' album. The evocative cover art was executed by Necrolord, also known as GROTESQUE guitarist Kristian Wåhlin. Horrifically under-produced, credited to "Mr. Pytten" (a.k.a. Eirik Hundvin) at Grieghallen Studios in Bergen, any enhancing rawness was unfortunately lost in a thoroughly amateurish mix, pitching Samoth's high velocity rasps against a blurred guitar quagmire, an anarchic percussive texture and tinnitus like, hissing bass. Notably the lumbering 'Beyond the Great Vast Forest' was a re-named, re-worked version of the demo track 'My Empire's Doom'. On the plus side majestic synth-work seemed to transcend the audio tumult and more importantly EMPEROR had churned out half a dozen recognised classics, laden with commanding riffs that held strength enough to battle through the sonic swamp.

Following their shaky start on the live front, and further touring with CRADLE OF FILTH in 1995, EMPEROR opted to dispense with the corpse paint. From this juncture they would quickly establish themselves as one of the premier acts of the genre. Tchort would leave the fold for SATYRICON but would later be jailed for six months convicted of desecration and knife assault. The band achieved further notoriety in France when a youth obsessed by the Black Metal genre actually went as far as to desecrate a child's grave, stealing the corpse and fashioning himself curtains from the cadaver's skin. When questioned by Police he claimed inspiration from EMPEROR.

In the face of EMPEROR's enforced lay off Samoth was far from idle contributing as a guest musician to albums by GORGOROTH and ARCTURUS. Ironically, the bassist had contributed to GORGOROTH's 'Pentagram' album when the group's original bassist Kjetter was imprisoned for his involvement in the burning of the 800 year old church Skjold Stavkirke. Samoth would also undertake some live gigs with SATYRICON and put down bass and guitar on their release 'The Shadowthrone'. Ihsahn meantime breathed new life into THOU SHALT SUFFER pursuing this as an electronic project.

EMPEROR regrouped by adding Ildjarn of THOU SHALT SUFFER employed on bass. The incarcerated Faust's position for recording was taken by MAYHEM's Hellhammer, with keyboards supplied by Steinar Sverd Johnsen of ARCTURUS. Hellhammer quit in late 1994 and Mefisto had a brief tenure on the kit but despite these uncertainties as to their future stability EMPEROR remained at the forefront of the Scandinavian Satanic Metal scene.

In 1996 EMPEROR cut a cover version of a HELLHAMMER track 'Massacre' for a tribute album 'In Memory Of Celtic Frost' recorded with ENSLAVED and GEHENNA man Dirge Rep (Per Husebø) on drums.

With Samoth finding his freedom after serving his sentence EMPEROR settled their line-up for recording with Ihsahn and Samoth joined by DØDHEIMSGARD bassist Jonas Alver and erstwhile ENSLAVED drummer Trym Torson (a.k.a. Kai Johnny Mosaker) for the October 1996 'Reverence' outing, 1000 of each being pressed on 7" and 12" vinyl.

July 1997's 'Anthems To The Welkin Dusk' album retained the same roster of musicians. EMPEROR honoured the late Euronymous by recording his 'Ye Entrancemperium'. Financial constraints had been eased somewhat and the album, again cut at Grieghallen with Mr. Pytten, certainly boasted a crisper production. The pace had accelerated in the guitar department and Ihsahn adopted a throatier more ubiquitous approach to his vocals, employing a cleaner delivery and a predilection towards spoken narrative. Opening with an innocuous 'Alsvartr (The Oath)' before plunging into an abyss of epic, symphonic black metal, 'Anthems To The Welkin Dusk' finally gasped it's last with the hypnotic repetition of 'The Wanderer'.

Keyboards from April 1998 were in the hands of Charmand Grimloch of TARTAROS. 1998's 'Wrath Of The Tyrants' CD comprises all the Mortiis era EMPEROR material including the band's 1992 demo and four tracks cut for the split 'Hordanes Land' CD. The band also appeared with their version of 'Gypsy' for a MERCYFUL FATE tribute album on Listenable Records and also with a version of BATHORY's 'A Time To Die' on a further tribute effort. The 1998 Moonfog release 'Thorns Vs. Emperor' novelly included EMPEROR covering 'Aerie Descent' and 'I Am' from Faust and Snorre's act THORNS.

EMPEROR's line-up problems were far from over though and in June 1998 Alver quit. European touring on the festival circuit in April 1999 found EMPEROR enlisting MORPHEUS WEB bassist Tyr (a.k.a. Jan-Erik Torgersen). Meanwhile, Grimloch released 'The Red Jewel' album by his project TARTAROS in 1999. That same year both Ihsahn and Samoth featured as guest vocalists on ULVER's landmark conceptual piece 'Themes From William Blake's The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell'. EMPEROR persevered as a triumvirate of Ihsahn, Samoth and Trym to record third album 'IX Equilibrium' at Akkerhaugen Lydstudio, released in November 1999. The violent inceptor 'Curse You All Men!' proved deceptive, as from this outrageous intro the band then indulged themselves for the duration in a keyboard orientated symphonic soundscape. Stretching his vocal abilities to a greater degree, Ihsahn even attempted a falsetto on 'The Source Of Icon E'. Marked as either a cornerstone or a calamity, depending upon sharp divisions the album provoked, 'IX Equilibrium' certainly ushered in a new epoch for Emperor.

Their May 14th 1999 show at London's Astoria venue was captured for posterity on the 'Emperial Live Ceremony' album and VHS video emerging in May 2000. That same year Ihsahn's side project PECCATUM, in conjunction with his partner Ihriel and her brother Lord PZ, released the 'Oh, My Regrets' single. Meanwhile Samoth and Trym created ZYKLON for the 2001 'World Ov Worms' cult album with MYRKSKOG's guitarist Destructhor.

Portuguese Black Metal band SIRIUS, signed to Samoth's Nocturnal Art label, covered an EMPEROR track on their second album 'Spectral Transition - Dimension Sirius'. The song featured Samoth on bass and even Faust on spoken word and drums.

EMPEROR then announced they intend to continue only as a studio project leaving the 'Prometheus: The Discipline Of Fire And Demise' album as their live era epitaph. Recorded at Symphonique Studios the album hosted barely any Black Metal traces, being an ambitious, atmospheric work of bombast decked with a profusion of sound effects. That same year EMPEROR announced they had split. Former bassist Tyr went on to work with SATYRICON and BORKNAGAR.

During July 2002 reports indicated that the former EMPEROR drummer Bård 'Faust' Eithun would be sitting behind the kit for the comeback of the equally controversial Black Metal band DISSECTION's comeback release, due in late 2004. Purely as a PR exercise let alone a creative union this proposed arrangement stoked controversy as it paired off two convicted murderers, DISSECTION mainman Jon Nödtveidt also jailed for a similar crime. The ex-EMPEROR man would also be reported as having formed a further project in alliance with erstwhile EMPEROR and now ZYKLON man Zamoth and Lars-Stian of SOURCE OF TIDE. However, this project, although announced, did not materialise. Eithun would figure in other Metal endeavours, scoring the lyrics for a new ZYKLON release and providing spoken word passages for Italian Black Metal band ABOYRM. Another high profile EMPEROR connected project in 2002 would be SCUM, a collaboration of extreme Metal elite players comprising ex-EMPEROR personnel Faust, MORTIIS and Samoth, Casey Chaos of US band AMEN, Cosmocrator of ZYKLON, SOURCE OF TIDE and MINDGRINDER with bassist Happy Tom from TURBONEGRO.

An EMPEROR anthology retrospective 'Scattered Ashes - A Decade Of Emperial Wrath' was slated for early 2003 release. Ex-drummer Trym unveiled his new SHADOW SEASON band project with a December 2002 EP 'The Frozen'. Trym would also be manning the drums for Nottoden Heavy Metal band PAGANIZE. That same month ex-EMPEROR man Bård G. Eithun was released from prison, having served nine years and four months of an original 14 year sentence.

Candlelight Records would re-issue 'Wrath Of The Tyrant', 'In The Nightside Eclipse', 'Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk' and 'IX Equilibrium' in late 2004, all four albums adding bonus material, being enhanced with both live and studio footage. 'Wrath Of The Tyrants' would include early rehearsal film alongside live outtakes from the band's 1993 support tour to CRADLE OF FILTH. 'In The Nightside Eclipse' saw the inclusion of material from a live show in Oslo for the song 'Towards The Pantheon' as well as other clips from live recordings in 1997. 'Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk' boasted a Finnish TV interview plus live clips from 1997-98, including the Dynamo Festival. 'IX Equilibrium' held footage from the No Mercy Festival tour as well as film from the band's only headline North American tour in 1999 and a clip from the Mystic Festival in Poland, the final EMPEROR performance.

In June 2005 the Back On Black label re-issued classic EMPEROR albums as limited edition, coloured vinyl discs with 'Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk' pressed in green, 'IX Equilibrium' in brown, 'In The Nightside Eclipse' in blue and 'Prometheus: The Discipline Of Fire And Demise' on white vinyl. That same month the erstwhile EMPEROR drummer Faust announced a Punk project BOMBEROS in union with ex-MANIAC vocalist Maniac. Faust would also enroll into the ranks of Italian Black Metal band ABORYM and also teamed up with Oslo Thrash act BLOOD TSUNAMI in mid 2005.

EMPEROR announced they were to reform in September 2005, confirming a headline appearance at the 'Wacken Open Air' festival in 2006. Just as this reunion was made public EMPEROR, original members Ihsahn and Samoth alongside drummer Trym, put in an unannounced, three song live appearance, featuring 'The Loss And Curse Of Reverence', 'I Am The Black Wizards' and 'Inno A Satana', at 'Scream' magazine's anniversary show on 30th September at the Oslo Rockefeller venue. Samoth and Trym still forged ahead with plans for the next ZYKLON opus, recording at Akkerhaugen Lydstudios in November. Also on the agenda would be a solo album, 'The Adversary', from IHSAHN featuring Asgeir Mickelson from BORKNAGAR on drums.

The start of EMPEROR's July 2006 US tour ran into trouble when Samoth encountered visa problems. Ihsahn, Trym, Secthdamon and Einar persevered, performing as a quartet at B.B. King Blues Club in New York City on July 13th. With Samoth unable to secure a visa, EMPEROR completed the entire tour without him. The dates proved ultimately successful and EMPEROR scheduled a return to the USA for more shows in the summer of 2007.

Mnemosyne Productions released the second IHSAHN solo product, 'Angl', in May 2008. THE BLACKSMOKE ORGANIZATION released a remixed version of 'I Am The Black Wizards' in August.

A five track concert EP, 'Live Inferno', saw issue in April 2009 through Candlelight Records. This set hosted recordings from the band's headlining performances at Norway's 'Inferno' festival and Germany's 'Wacken Open Air' festival. The recording was also pressed as two individual double-vinyl sets; the first pressing limited to 1,000 copies on black vinyl with additional pressings in varied colors selected by the band, and a gold coloured vinyl 7" limited to 2,000 copies titled 'Thus Spake The Nightspirit', featuring a live rendition of the track from the album 'Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk' with a live recording of 'Inno A Satana'. This was released through the band's official website in February 2009. 

Garry Sharpe-Young

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