(Here’s Andy Synn’s review of the new solo album by Ihsahn, which will be released on May 4 by Candlelight/Spinefarm.)
My, my, my… for the second week running I find myself writing about one of the “big” new releases about to hit the Metalsphere, rather than something more unknown and underground.
Clearly this means that I/we have finally “sold out”, and I expect that riches and rewards will come cascading through my letterbox any time now.
But while I’m sat here waiting for my cheque to appear… do you have a few minutes to talk about our Lord and Saviour Ihsahn?
It’s almost weird to think about, but, at this point, the man also known as Vegard Sverre Tveitan has produced more music as part of his pseudonymous solo project than he ever did in Emperor, to the point where, in certain circles at least, he’s probably more well-known for his proggier endeavours than he is for being a member of one of Black Metal’s seminal bands.
But, regardless of what he’s considered most famous for these days, the general consensus amongst his fan-base seems to be that the sublime and saxophone-infused After remains the defining and quintessential moment of his solo career thus far, with each subsequent release never quite managing to hit the same stupendous heights (though not for lack of trying).
Ámr, however, is undoubtedly the closest he’s ever come to recapturing that same sense of progressive dynamism and metallic fluidity which infused his third album, and could almost be said to be that record’s spiritual and stylistic twin in many ways.
That doesn’t mean it’s a carbon-copy of After, however – particularly since Ámr exchanges that record’s jazzy squall for a heavy dose of synth-based strangeness – as the more you listen to it the more it becomes clear that the music presented here is just as much a product of the lessons learned during the writing and recording of the three records which separate the two albums.
Neither the strobing neon blackness which underpins idiosyncratic opener “Lend Me The Eyes of the Millennia” or the minimalist electro-pulse of “Sámr”, for example, would have been possible without the unorthodox exploration of Das Seelenbrechen, while both the ear-catching rhythms and keenly-edged riffs of “One Less Enemy” and “In Rites of Passage” owe a heavy debt to the guitar-focussed ingenuity displayed on Eremita.
And while the magnetic “Arcana Imperii” and protean closer “Wake” feature perhaps the strongest call-backs to After (in style, if not in substance), it’s unlikely that the proggy balladry of “Where You Are Lost and I Belong” or subversive anti-pop anthem “Twin Black Angels” would have come to life anywhere near as well if not for the willingness to embrace simple hooks and earnest emotion first demonstrated on Arktis.
But even though certain tracks perhaps lean more closely towards one or the other of his previous albums, overall Ámr feels very much like a roiling metallic melting pot of all Ihsahn’s influences – including, unsurprisingly, his Black Metal past, which remains a key foundation for (almost) all the material found here – all processed and refined towards their inevitable conclusion.
Hopefully I won’t have spoiled all the album’s surprises for you, as I’ve tried to speak more about the general character and flavour of the tracks (both individually and collectively) than the specific twists and tricks and subverted tropes involved, all of which you’ll be able to experience for yourself when the album is finally released on Friday.
But suffice it to say that the question of which of Ihsahn’s solo records is the best just got a lot more complicated.
Àmr is available for order via the links below. below you’ll also find one song from the album that has been released for public consumption so far, and another (“Wake”) can be heard at Spotify or Apple Music.
I also think “After” is his best album from the solo stuff. After that Ihsahn started going on a path I feel I don’t belong to.
However, after this (p)review, I’m curious about what’s coming.
PS: link for “Wake” doens’t work (“This video is not available.”).
Thanks for the heads-up about the “Wake” stream. I revised the notation at the end to include links to other platforms where the song can be heard.
After Emperor split, I found myself paying attention to what Samoth was doing and not being all that interested in what Ihsahn was doing. Fast forward all these years, and I haven’t listened to any Ihsahn stuff at all. The linked song is certainly….interesting. Not really in my wheelhouse, but it is at least interesting to see the increasingly stark difference in writing between these two.