Monday, March 17, 2014

An open letter to Ihsahn

In Inferno Magazine 10/13 Ihsahn points out that (freely translated) "I think that anyone who does music for living or has a past like this [Emperor], understands the fact that it´s not always easy to relate to people who think you were at your best when being seventeen years old". However, I remember reading the same kind of sentence from various places before, like in 2010 here and in 2012 here and I started to think how irrititating it must be for a musician, who is definitely not a "one- hit- wonder" or some untalented luck of the draw.

Ihsahn´s past being taken up in every single context really seem to bug him for obvious reasons. I get the point, though- no matter how good you get or good music you put out, you´ll be always compared to something you did 20 years ago when you barely could play your instrument, while being referred as the "high point of your career." So, as a musician and a someone who loves old Emperor albums but doesn´t find saxophones sexy at all, I felt like spilling my guts over the matter- directed straight into the accused himself-

Mr. Ihsahn.

I´ve been following your career since In the Nightside Eclipse, loved Anthems,...not sure if liked IX and thought Prometheus was pretty much the "Spheres" of your band. But I never thought "you´ve lost it". On the contrary, I thought you (and still think) as one of the most talented musicians on this planet who could probably do whatever he wished and pull it off easily. The thing is just that I didn´t like the style you went on with Emperor, that´s all.
Just like in a smaller scale people would like to hear only trollhammarens from Finntroll, in your case people would rather have a thousand innoasatanas mixed by Pytten. This is something we musicians with a long career history have to live with, or start dwelling in the past like there was no tomorrow. Which is something that a true musician and a self- respecting individual would never do, so I guess we just have to move on instead of cheesing and reissuing it out the Swedish way (no names mentioned, but you can probably figure it out anyway if you aren´t Blinded By anything).

Obviously, we musicians tend to -or at least should- evolve. I don´t think Sibelius was born with a filled orchestra sheet on his hand before he learned how to play piano nor do I think Steve Vai´s first crappy acoustic guitar was a 7- stringed one. But when we evolve, we always leave a bit of something behind -or at least more to the background- when we push forward.
I tend to think this musical evolvement as a sort of a trade- off, really. When we were 19 years old, our composition skills, musical theory or knowledge on e.g. orchestration wasn´t exactly what it is today. Not to mention the production values of our recordings, which were close to "weekend at this guy´s parent´s garage with a 8- tracker" instead of now actually getting weeks (!) at a professional studio. Our main creative force was sheer passion (and love for the bands we listened to) and what we lacked on skill, we replaced with that passion. I´m not saying that either of us lacks it nowadays- quite the contrary- but I´d say it has become more sophisticated, more controlled and more "evolved" passion. Besides, still composing the way we did it 15-20 years ago would be rather uninspiring and regression- driven, don´t you think?

For what it comes to the cause of your irritation of people comparing your different works in the same context, I´d like to draw parallels into the world of painting; if we were impressionists in the beginning and mostly known because of that style, many of those admirers back then would have gone rather apeshit if we´d go total Caspar David Friedrich (or Hans Gude, if you prefer).

Wrath of the Tyrant 
Das Seelenbrechen


Why? Because they just happened to like impressionism over romanticism. Our sophisticated use of colors and shadings would only pale in comparison on our TRVE EARLY WORKS, even though we´d think quite the contrary. But they liked it that way we used to do it in the beginning, just like we preferred ..And Justice For All over Black Album.

Audience Reaction
I think everyone who has ever done anything creative in their early 20´s while still doing it in their mid- 30´s (especially if you do it full- time) finds that many times it´s not about being good or bad; it´s about the star signs, what you had for breakfast and did that passing car have a bumper sticker or not. In other words, sometimes you succeed with a piece and sometimes you fucking blow.  No reason. Live with it, love it. I know I do.
And as it all is a sum of it´s parts, I dare to claim that you couldn´t pull off another Cosmic Keys, just like I couldn´t do another Jaktens Tid. If we tried, it most likely would sound a watered- down, calculated piece of shit. Add a production either too good - or intentionally too bad- with everyone playing on beat detection like their lives would depend on it and the result would be just horrible. All sum of their parts again, stars aligned.

Could we actually recreate that one fun day again -just the way we remember it- if we all just put the same clothes on we wore then?

Like everyone creative person looking retrospectively on his works, among the more common works of ours we also find either "oh god this is just so bad, what was I thinking" or "jesus fucking christ how could I compose THIS even though I barely knew how to play, fuck, I´m gonna sell all my gear and start driving a truck instead"- type of stuff.

The most important thing, however, is that we do not let our past affect us unless it´s in all aspects 95% better than what we do nowadays. Which it probably isn´t.

Sincerely yours,

Henri "Trollhorn" Sorvali,
a colleague, fanboy and a music freak.
(who sucks on using Blogger layout, so sorry about that)

1 comment:

  1. Not being the addressed Ihsahn, could I be excused to comment with a pair of lines?

    That's the problem troubling me for a long time by now. The thing which buys your listeners when you were young and light-headed and no limits - is exactly the passion! with which you do your first bits of music. (To the passion of youth, I'd also add the constant search to GETTING LAID - with no proper constant girlfriend you're all uneasy, so it adds up to the sparkling creativity). The energy that's bursting from every piece of every riff easily excuses all the drawbacks of performing/recording.

    Compared: you're all mature, having your home, wife and kids, and cats, and dogs, and countryhouse, and a job and whatnot - so the passion of youth is a bit gone. But now you're a cold blood Dr.Evil, sitting in your chair with a white furry cat and black leather gloves, and you're like: now I press the button and transpose this very chorus a tone up, and everyone will cry happiness at this bit! BWAHAHA! Cause you really know how to control your listeners and deliberately USE the skills.

    Although we are aware of the world-known bands that could exist 10-15 years, and they have small gigs and no one listens to or wants them. Suddenly their next album shoots up the charts, and life for them is a-piece-o'-pie since, every next release going better and better. It's not the mastery or a style change, but the state of mind allowing to create a HIT song - not always about youth. Two big examples are The Offspring (founded 1984, no one really needs them, - BANG - "Smash" album in 1994 -> world-famous) or The 69 Eyes (got really popular since 2000 I guess, though celebrating their 25th anniversary this year).

    Amazing matter: listeners change TOO. I mean, when they were young, they thought the world is SOOOO bright, and all party, and drinking hard (with little hangover in the morning), and kissing girls, and so many emotions at gigs - so they ASSOCIATE the old tracks with that TIME. When they buy your next album, they remember their OLD emotions and want to feel them again. But it's not only the composer has become more mature, the listener's also a bit grown-up and his feelings are more DIMMED. Thus the frustration, and "they're not the same anymore"-shit.

    Music and life-period are linked closely. So maybe Skogsdotter is way cooler and more complex, and more amazing than Slaget, but Slaget will always be the song when you suddenly caught up the last evening train to Karelian forest with a friend, and drank and slept there a whole night (well, more froze, than slept), and came to university next morning all covered in pine needles. while Skogsdotter will be a song when you came home from work, washed the dishes, fixed a lamp, fed the cats and ate dinner with your wife, then listened to the album with one beer.