April 30, 2018 Ihsahn – ‘Amr (Album Review)
If one of the most ironclad aspects of Black Metal is its unwillingness to fit within anyone’s boundaries or expectations of artistic decorum, then it stands to reason that when one of the style’s originators departs from such roots for shores unknown, the results will be equally as uncompromising. Enter Vegard Tveitan, the man behind the persona known as Ihsahn. After carving out some of Black Metal’s greatest albums with Emperor, the native Norwegian is about to release the seventh studio album of his solo career. Entitled ‘Amr, this latest chapter of Ihsahn hits the shelves on Friday, May 4th, 2018, via Candlelight Records.
For fans who stayed with Ihsahn following his departure from Emperor, the journey has been one non-linear surprise after the next. ‘Amr, which means murky, or ‘rust-red’ in Norwegian, is another step – not so much forward – as inward for the enigmatic composer. At this point we have seen boundless experimentation (Das Seelenbrechen, 2013), the accessible fury of 2016’s Arktis, and everything in between emerging from Ihsahn’s mind. He has proven that he will follow his muse wherever it takes him, promising fans an interesting ride.
Beginning with a spacey dual keyboard suite, album opener “Lend Me The Eyes of the Millennia” hits the listener like a fist. Strong bass tones underpin a blasting beat every bit as incandescent as Thorns or Emperor itself. Orchestral keys overlay it all while Ihsahn’s familiar scream provides the finishing touch. The straightforwardness of the song is its strong suit, while those dueling keys are reminiscent of a bygone age of analog.
Juxtaposition of various elements is a strength of ‘Amr which reveals itself more with each listen. “Arcana Imperii,” which features a smooth solo courtesy of Opeth Guitarist Fredrik Åkesson, pops off with considerable menace. That Ihsahn, recalled from the heady days of Emperor, growls and rasps along before a clean vocal immerses the listener in melodies replete with a classic keyboard accompaniment. The song refuses to stay within the lines, transferring its energy to varying moods, but doing so quite seamlessly.
Admittedly using 808’s and other modes found in Trip Hop and Hip Hop, Ihsahn’s mastery of composition shows up in the unusual arrangements on “Twin Black Angels,” which packs a punch despite being less than supremely heavy. The penultimate song, it gives way to the assault of “Wake.” Fast as hell, with yet another masterful performance by long-time Ihsahn Drummer Tobias Andersen, the song’s melodic chorus interlocks perfectly with its hard-as-nails outer shell.
The Art Rock stimulus that is “Where You Are Lost And I Belong” saunters from the speakers, black velvet elegance and Ihsahn’s smooth vocal tones giving over to a chorus that fans of latter-day Ulver would love. How Ihsahn can drop such an unusual, truly unique song into his albums is a testament to the honesty to self with which he writes, but also the acumen and skill required to take such a departure and make it sound so good. Nevertheless, the guitar riff worked into it after he speaks the song title is menacing, like the rumbles of thunder that occur between the big blasts in an electrical storm.
The experimental meets the progressive once more on “In Rites of Passage,” head-spinning time signatures mixing with a very Rush-like keyboard run about halfway through. Industrial breakdown mid-song a la Samael, Ihsahn’s poetry erupts out both in screams and a lounge-worthy croon. Moods are shifted like masks at a masquerade, smooth as porcelain, black as onyx.
Perhaps the most consistently beautiful song on ‘Amr is the similarly titled “Samr.” Following the two more vicious opening songs, it introduces us to Ihsahn’s love of Trip-Hop style beats. Lyrical delivery is perfectly synthesized, the words poignant, the delivery a harmony of dark thoughts worthy of repeated listens. The song may be constructed using materials from different genres, but at the end of the day the house Ihsahn has built is firmly a power ballad – just a very sophisticated one sipping bourbon and reading philosophy by firelight. Gorgeous soloing at around the 3:35 mark reminds us that behind all the experimentation, Ihsahn is an old-school Metal rocker at heart. The results are simply breathtaking.
With ‘Amr, Ihsahn takes yet another step further away from the majesty and moonlight of Emperor, and yet, somehow, the art within the album shares a soul with the forces which shaped his earlier works. Unafraid, unshackled, and limited only by the walls of his imagination, Ihsahn once again immerses us in his vision, yet again achieving excellence by staying true to his muse. CrypticRock gives ‘Amr 5 out of 5 stars.