As a member of black metal legends Emperor, Tomas Thormodsæter Haugen – aka Samoth – helped to shape the face of extreme music. And since Emperor’s split, the guitarist has continued to forge his own path, first with deathsters Zyklon and since 2008, as the driving force behind The Wretched End – who released their third album, In These Woods, From These Mountains, in April.
Delayed due to Samoth’s involvement in Emperor’s 20th Anniversary live reformation, the ambitious opus saw The Wretched End emerge back into the limelight – and exploring exciting new dimensions.
RUSHONROCK’s Richard Holmes caught up with the Norwegian to talk about the album’s impact, Emperor’s legacy and the future of extreme metal…
RUSHONROCK: In These Woods, From These Mountains has been long in the making – how does it feel to see this music finally getting out there?
SAMOTH: It’s always good to complete an album, with this one it definitely took a little bit longer than expected, with the Emperor reunion and everything. However, we didn’t really feel any major pressure and just allowed ourselves the time to ensure the result we wanted. I must say we are quite happy with the outcome.
RUSHONROCK: Which aspects of the album are you most proud of?
SAMOTH: I guess the fact that we recorded everything by ourselves and that we managed to change our sound a little bit towards a more organic and spontaneous vibe. I am quite pleased with the album as whole really.
RUSHONROCK: After a long career in extreme music are there still boundaries you want to push, themes you’d like to explore?
SAMOTH: I think I’ve probably been a part of pushing enough boundaries throughout my career, so it’s not something I think very much about. I think the direction of this new album is inspiring and I can see us exploring it further.
RUSHONROCK: As a guitarist, you’ve developed a signature style yet you are constantly evolving as muscian – what inspires you to try different techniques, or write in different ways?
SAMOTH: To tell you the truth, I’m not really so concerned with techniques or to constantly evolve as a guitar player, but I don’t want to just repeat myself either, so I try to evolve more as a songwriter, and with The Wretched End, I’ve written more lyrics as well. Sometimes it’s hard and it all really comes down to being in a creative flow and getting on an inspirational path.
RUSHONROCK: How does the ‘spirit’ of The Wretched End compare to your time in Zyklon and Emperor? Is there a similar level of understanding and connection between musicians?
SAMOTH: I think Cosmo (guitarist/vocalist) and myself have a very good level of connection and understanding as musicians. We work well together and usually enjoy the process of making and recording music. Our main obstacle is really to find time have a constant work-flow, as we both have families with kids and all that comes with it.
It’s always different working with different people. Ihsahn and I obviously have a strong history that goes way back to our teenage years. We have made history together. I guess we were both kind of opinionated and after a while kind of pulling in slightly different directions. You could say one of the things that made Emperor what it was our polarity in our approaches to the music.
Playing with Zyklon, there was a lot of talent, but the creative process was sometimes difficult as everyone was living in different places and it became too much of a hassle just to get everyone fully focused on the creative process. A lot of time was just spent keeping the live set intact and we did a lot of touring. The lack of creative flow in Zyklon, in the end, was one of the reasons the idea of The Wretched End came about, where we have in a way gone in the opposite direction and focused much more on the process of recording and making music rather than being an entertainment unit that spends a lot of time on the road.
RUSHONROCK: What is it like to write with Cosmo and Nils (Fjellstrom, drummer)?
SAMOTH: The writing process with Cosmo is usually quite constructive as long as we get into a pattern with good work flow. Nils has really not been a part of the creative process. We always do full pre-productions with pretty detailed drums before Nils comes into the picture. He basically rehearses on his own, and then flies over from Sweden, goes right in the studio and lays down the tracks with a massive amount of energy. If Nils were located in our neck of woods, we would have done this process differently.
RUSHONROCK: You’ve worked with Mayhem vocalist Attila Csihar on In These Woods, From These Mountains – why bring him on board for the song Old Norwegian Soul?
SAMOTH: I had the idea of inviting him for guest vocals for this album. I have known him for years and he is a unique vocalist. As Attila is strongly linked to the Norwegian black metal sound, we thought Old Norwegian Soul could be a fitting track. He definitely added a strong layer of obscurity that fit the song perfectly. At times his vocal track almost reminds me of Treebeard from Lord of the Rings!
RUSHONROCK: Are there any other musicians you’d like to work with in the future? Is there anyone on your ‘wish list’?
SAMOTH: I love classic Celtic Frost and it would have been amazing to get Tom G Warrior to lay down some vocal lines!
RUSHONROCK: Your cover of Bel Canto’s Dewy Fields is one of the most intriguing tracks you’ve ever put your name to – could you envisage experimenting more in this style?
SAMOTH: Yes, this is an unusual choice of cover song probably, but I knew right away it would be an interesting one if done right, and I think we achieved that, with the contribution of Lars (Sørensen) from Red Harvest and Einar (Solberg) from Leprous on vocals.
RUSHONROCK: Do you feel that Emperor’s legacy has overshadowed your subsequent work and achievements?
SAMOTH: Emperor will always be the bigger brother, that’s just how it is and I’m totally fine with that. I am very proud of our achievements with Emperor; it has been a big part of my life for so many years already and still is.
RUSHONROCK: What does the future hold for The Wretched End?
SAMOTH: The future will hold what the future will bring. At this point, our next step is probably to start looking at material for the next album. We are not really looking to achieve anything other than working with music and creating something artistic.
RUSHONROCK: What is your opinion of the current state of extreme metal? Is it still possible for band like Emperor to emerge and make the same impact… and create the same kind of legacy?
SAMOTH: I think metal as a whole is definitely strong worldwide. I don’t really follow the current state of the extreme metal scene that closely though. I’m sure there are good bands out there, with new inspiring blood, but it seems to be too many bands and too much of everything. And I get the feeling that everything is sounding too generic and overdone.
The extreme metal scene is definitely different than when we started with Emperor in the early 90s. I believe music as an entity is very strong though and there will always be people who tap into something unique. I think it’s harder though to stand out and create a long-term legacy. Just look at the metal scene in general, who is really the next Iron Maiden, Metallica and Slayer? The giants are slowly dying it seems. Of course, there’s always a possibility, who knows what the future will bring, right?
In These Woods, From These Mountains is out now on Indie Recordings.