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Interview: Samoth

Front and top photos by Sebastian Ludvigsen

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Samoth (Tomas Thormodsæter Haugen) is one of Norwegian black metal’s founding fathers. While a teenager, he founded Emperor with Ihsahn and later recorded some of the genre’s cornerstones, including In the Nightside Eclipse and Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk. When Emperor broke up, Ihsahn continued tweaking his progressive take on black metal while Samoth fused death, thrash, and industrial music in Zyklon. His latest project The Wretched End mines Samoth’s love of thrash even more. The band released their debut Ominous late last year. He spoke to us about his legacy and living in the shadow of a genre giant.

— Justin M. Norton

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Can you tell me a little more about your new project? What happened to Zyklon?

(Former guitarist) Thor got to play in Morbid Angel, and he took that amazing opportunity. I felt that it was the right time. We are all still friends. We didn’t leave on bad terms. But I felt I had started to stagnate a little bit and started thinking about going in a new direction in 2009. It had been too long since a good, creative period, and I started to miss it. My focus was to find another forum and enjoy the process and just be more active creatively instead of grinding down the same path for the sake of continuing. We kind of went for it, and The Wretched End is the result. It’s not a completely different direction musically – there are a lot of similarities with Zyklon.

What about the new box set of Zyklon’s catalog?

It’s called The Storm Manifesto. It has all three CDs – our entire catalog. They all include bonus materials and videos in a nice package. It’s definitely worth checking out if you want to get all of Zyklon in one package. It has a nice design and a nice booklet, and each album has bonus materials.

Are you able to make a full-time living from music?

I’ve taken up a part-time job as a graphic designer in addition to music. I’ve always been interested in design going back to when we did everything ourselves for Emperor, whether it was photos or booklets. I’ve always been a part of the design process in Emperor, Zyklon, and The Wretched End. It’s been a hobby. I also did some school work a while back. I studied visual communications. It’s something I’ve been interested in, and it’s something I can use in addition to music.

Did you go back to school part-time for it?

In 2006 I studied graphic design for a year. I also took some courses before that in philosophy and stuff that I wanted to learned about.

What kind of clients do you work for?

I’m working for an outdoor company. I’m an in-house designer. I design clothing and thermoses and outdoor gear. I got this assignment by chance, but I love the great outdoors. We have an amazing house, and it’s far away from city life. It’s a lot of nature and scenery and definitely inspiring. I always felt very close to nature.

So it wasn’t much of a leap from music to design.

I really like it. It’s good to combine things.

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Photo by Erin Haugen

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Since you played in Emperor, your musical approach has changed. Do you listen to different music than in the past?

[What I listen to] hasn’t changed all that much. I grew up as a metal kid. The same bands influenced me in Emperor, Zyklon, and The Wretched End. I grew up on the classic stuff, and that’s what has interested me all these years. Obviously, I have progressed as a musician. When we started Emperor, we were all teenagers, and pretty soon it will be 20 years. I’ve learned a lot since then.

How have you changed?

You feel a little more secure in your playing, and you can push yourself further. The Wretched End is more thrash-oriented, and you need more endurance. And it demands more technically, at least compared to the earliest Emperor stuff, which was based on feeling and groove. But I’m not one of those players who is concerned about being massively skilled. I play the music I feel comfortable with and like. I’m not really a guitar nerd. I never try to analyze things in music. I basically play on feel. When we are in the studio, it’s easy for us to recognize what works, and what doesn’t work.

What about thrash appeals to you?

Growing up, I always listened to Slayer’s Reign in Blood and Metallica’s Ride the Lightning. They are filled with kick-ass riffs from beginning to end. It’s that feel that gets you hooked. One of our new songs, “With Ravenous Hunger”, has a Slayer feel. It’s our homage to Slayer. In general, the album is quite varied. It has death and thrash.

Did you always want to do something with thrash even though you spent so much time in the black metal scene?

I was huge Metallica fan growing up, and there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to be a musician. As soon as I got my hand on a guitar, I started playing music. I first started to play bass because my father (Jens Haugen of Spoonful of Blues) is a blues bass player. He inspired me to play bass. In some of my earliest bands, we’d do covers of AC/DC and Deep Purple. But I wanted to play even heavier, and my friends weren’t into it. That’s when I threw away the bass and got a guitar. I needed to be a guitar player to be in a death metal band. So I became the guitarist.

You didn’t want to spend your life in a bar playing Deep Purple covers.

Definitely not (laughs). I came to a point where I wanted to make my own stuff. I wanted to take it beyond what I was doing. The underground scene and tape trading were coming together. We started to do rehearsal tapes. It was an exciting time.

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“With Ravenous Hunger”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v21D76IkEfE

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You mentioned that it’s been almost two decades since Emperor first got together.

It’s amazing. I’m really grateful I was able to experience that and help bring Emperor to that level. It doesn’t feel like 20 years! I keep thinking back to when Ihsahn and I formed Emperor in 1991. No one in Norway was playing that kind of music. We built it up and became an international extreme metal act with a lot of influence.

Is it difficult to always have Emperor as part of your history when you try to do something different?

In a way you always end up being the little brother of Emperor. I try not to focus on that. Emperor was one of my big achievements, and I totally stand behind it. I now realize people will always compare what I’ve done to something I’ve done before, but I try not to let this pressure influence me too much. I always try to have something I can stand by. I try to not view this as something negative.

In a way, Emperor can act as a bridge.

I learned a lot from that time, and that name is such a big name. We have a loyal fan base, and hopefully they will check out this new project and the other things I do.

Ihsahn and you have gone in very different directions musically.

That was one of the reasons Emperor split up. We wanted to do different things. After we split, you can see the direct results. He’s gone on to do his solo thing, and I’ve done more extreme, in-your-face death metal.

Do you talk frequently with Ihsahn?

We’re still good friends. We don’t hang out too much because we are busy leading our lives. But we’ll have a cup of coffee and meet up and talk about the music business and what we’re up to.

Do you ever reflect on the time you spent in prison (for arson of a church) in the 90s?

It’s so long ago. It’s something I hardly ever think about. But I’m forced to think about it, because people keep asking about it. It’s not at all relevant. With the popularity of the black metal movement, I’m not surprised people are interested. But I’ve been in the scene for so many years, and it was so many years ago. There’s not even much to talk about. It’s irrelevant to who I am now. I’m much more grounded.

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. . .

HEAR OMINOUS

Full album stream

. . .

BUY OMINOUS

Amazon (MP3)
Amazon (CD)
Candlelight USA (CD)

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