Album review: Ihsahn – Ihsahn

Norwegian black metal legend Ihsahn continues to boldly go where others wouldn’t think to on eighth solo offering…

Album review: Ihsahn – Ihsahn
Nick Ruskell

Though his de facto surname will forever be ‘From Emperor’, Ihsahn (From Emperor) has spent far more time and released far more records under his own banner than he did at the helm of the Norwegian black metal icons. It’s also true that the music he has made over his solo discography has gone to places far from anywhere Emperor did. Or, indeed would or could. When they ended after four immaculate records, they explained to Kerrang! that to continue writing under that name would dilute the essence of the band. They were moving too far away from it, they said, so to end it would be the best way to preserve it.

Appropriately, then, Ihsahn's self-titled eighth solo work is an exercise in creativity, loose boundaries, and incredible talent, all the while also expressing that its creator knows exactly who he is. That he's chosen to release it with a companion record of orchestral versions isn't just a service to the range of sounds within, but how high the standard of everything must be to pull it all off.

Both worlds are inseparable, though. The title of The Promethean Spark may echo the name of Emperor’s final dispatch, but it’s actually a dazzling bit of prog-metal that takes in dramatic strings in a way that’s more like The Dark Knight soundtrack than black metal’s usual sweeps and pomp.

It’s typical of the album as a whole. Classical influence is nothing new – indeed, Ihsahn was one of the artists who pioneered it in black metal when he was still a teenager – but its use in these songs is often as crucial and expressive as guitars. The stabby Twice Born, its intro cut from a similar cloth to Biffy Clyro’s unwieldy Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies, is a sharp, dissonant thing like the shower music from Psycho wound up to peak tension, all dread and unrest. It’s a similar case with Hubris And Blue Devils, again not wedding one form to the other, but simply not seeing them as separate at all.

He goes to both extremes, as well. Anima Extranae is all classical, a swelling interlude, as is closer Sonata Progana, while the thrashing Pilgrimage To Oblivion is a moment of metal mania. Elsewhere, The Distance Between Us is a noodly guitarist’s dream, and At The Heart Of All Things Broken brings reflective emotion with its slow-burning, isolated grandeur.

Once again, Ihsahn From Emperor has made a work that could only come from someone with a natural flair for making the music that he does. Here, there is a master’s skill, as well as an innocent curiosity for something new. And that’s something for which Ihsahn, the solo artist, should continue to be rightfully proud.

Verdict: 4/5

For fans of: Opeth, Ulver, Pink Floyd

Ihsahn is released on February 16 via Candlelight

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