Ihsahn – Arktis. (2016)

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Author: Gay For Gary Oldman

Artist: Ihsahn

Album: Arktis.

Genre: Extreme Progressive Metal

 

Label: Candlelight Records

 

 

 

When I was in my last year of high-school, I formed a band with a group of friends, centered around progressive extreme metal, mainly in the vein of Opeth. Our lead guitarist was a lover of funeral doom metal; injecting his emotive and far-reaching riffs into our music. Our drummer and bassist were mainly followers of melodic and technical metal, at once keeping us both grounded with melodies but being able to play with that technicality. And I, as rhythm guitarist and part-vocalist, brought the biggest share of my love of black metal into the group. What resulted was a band whose music shifted between many styles whilst adhering to a strict identity, and the very next year Ihsahn released his solo debut The Adversary, elevating him as the peak of my personal musical inspirations. 

 

The Adversary was a diverse album, branching from the more familiar black metal territory with And He Shall Walk In Empty Places, to more melodic and even gothic songs such as Astera Ton Proinon, quoting Isaiah 14:12 to great and powerful effect. The album eventually culminated in the epic, almost Broadway-like musical spectacle of Pain is Still Mine. This album is one of my all-time favourites, and I have loved every one of Ihsahn’s solo releases, no matter how far he strays from his black metal roots (see synth-laden track Pulse from Das Seelenbrechen).

 

Questioned on his enduring black metal credentials, Ihsahn has often been quoted in saying that black metal is not a style of music, but an attitude to art and composition, embracing individuality. I’ve long disagreed with him, as said attitudes might just as easily be applied to a definitively death or doom metal project, and much of his solo work bears little reasonable resemblance to anything black metal. Mass Darkness promptly shuts me up. “Give in to Darkness, Mass Darkness”. Between the eerie and dissonant verses and the powerful invocation of the chorus, it is nigh-impossible to argue against Ihsahn’s position as he calls you to Give in to Darkness. That attitude is black metal as fuck, cold and furious, even playing with a Venom-esque speed metal gallop to drive home its point.

 

Unfortunately, I immediately recognized Trivium’s Matt Heafy in the guitar tone and the guitar lead of the track, thus returning the favor bestowed upon him by Ihsahn’s composition of Trivium’s recent intro Snofall. This isn’t a problem for me, as it works beautifully with the music, and I know that Heafy is an avid fan of the Norwegian black metal scene. But my above point might fall of deaf ears at the mere mention of his contribution.

 

Opener Disassembled wastes no time in rushing into Ihsahn’s now-trademark progressive riffing style evident since AngL and After, beginning with a series of mid-paced noodling. Ihsahn is never one to become predictable, and it isn’t long before a jovial, almost circus-like bounce and gallop is introduced in the vein of something Arcturus might find themselves playing. He continues to baffle expectations with South Winds, playing off the confusion 2013’s Pulse created by now forming a largely industrial track which could have belonged to White Zombie before the outstanding and familiar chorus sweeps in to usher out the doubts. What is most impressive is how seamless the transition between the radically different vocal and playing styles were. Until I Too Dissolve plays with traditional and even (gasp) Hair Metal riffing (and 80s synth subtly placed in the background), and if it wasn’t produced so perfectly alongside the other tracks, it would seem like an outlier.

 

For every hard-hitting metal track like Pressure, there is a pensive, lush and melodic track such as In The Vaults, washing the listener in a delicate interwoven interplay of piano and faintly-distorted guitar, along with his iconic cleans. But even this doesn’t fail to add punch when punch is due, with guitar solos driving that melody home throughout the last chorus.

 

Ihsahn’s previously releases were finding themselves more and more quirky and progressive in song structure and execution, culminating in the often difficult-to-digest avant-garde compositions of Tacit on Das Seelenbrechen. I am very glad to report that Ihsahn has again shifted back a more comprehensible form of songwriting as seen on After and Eremetia, but with obvious increased maturity in the application of subtle instrumental and progressive elements. An organ peppered in My Heart Is Of The North, a few electronic quirks to back up the already-industrial riffing in South Winds, the sexy saxophone intro in Crooked Red Line. Ihsahn is a man who knows how to keep his music interesting.

 

The crescendo of this magnificent album is without a doubt Celestial Violence. It’s subtle. It’s overwhelming. It’s fragile. It’s powerful. It shocks me to my core each time I listen to it. It’s already my song of the year, hype be damned! Leprous singer Einar Solberg provides his lush clean vocals, making this his sixth collaboration with his brother-in-law, including his guest appearances with Peccatum and Emperor. This song pulls you in with a heart-wrenching melody, then slaps you back with a thunderous wall of doom-laden distortion at exactly the right moments. Everything about this song is right.

 

A final note, the 9 minute closer Til Tor Ulven is primarily spoken word in Norwegian over a gentle piano composition. Ordinarily I’d be tempted to deduct points for the seemingly pointless anti-climax to the album, but being a monoglot, I’m hesitant to pass judgement. And so the album is scored on the first 10 tracks only. Perhaps resident Nord Jan Jakobsen will grace us with a translation.

 

Overall, this album is everything I expected it to be. If you wanted a more balanced, unbiased review, seek out another site. I can find no flaw in this album.

 

10/10

  • Gay for Gary Oldman

 

 

 

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