Altar Boys

Arson (read: church burning), murder (read: hate crime), burglary, knife assault, desecration— these are the cute convictions some past and present members of Norway's Emperor, who make their NYC debut Sunday at Tramps, have procured over the years. Still: "I want to have an honesty about what Emperor is really about," frontman Ihsahn, who has no criminal record, told me last week over the phone. "It has bothered me quite a lot. I'm quite pissed off. I want Emperor to build a career on music."

Norwegian authorities in 1991 awarded aspiring satanists Ihsahn and guitarist Samoth a cultural grant to record a studio demo, a move that backfired in 1993, when Samoth's penchant for fire made headlines. Ex-drummer Faust was convicted of fatally stabbing a gay man that same autumn and is still doing time. But the new IX Equilibrium (Century Media) is Emperor's third full-length attempt to earn notoriety more from musical all-inclusiveness than past felonious whimsies. "The record brought out a more right-in-your-face perspective," Ihsahn explains. "We're more technical— everything on the quick track."

Emperor's loud-screaming yet soft-spoken mastermind refuses to be pigeonholed: "Musical labels make communication easier— but limit what you can expect." A devoted family man, Ihsahn takes formal vocal lessons from his mother-in-law and also devotes time to Peccatum, a classically-oriented trio whose other singers are his wife and brother-in-law. Combining traditional howling with more operatic and extreme variations, symphonic riffing, fucking-straight-up romantic wine-and-thine rhymes, and an excellent patented melodic shriek, Emperor have transcended mere black metal. Not bad for guys whose new album's inside sleeve depicts an orgy of half-worm-, half-centaur-looking human bodies in a despairing hellscape!

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