September 9, 2020 Ihsahn – Pharos (EP Review)
An artist who has reached far beyond the extent of his roots, the highly productive Vegard Tveitan – more commonly known by the moniker of Ihsahn – has continued to evolve out of the blistering, orchestral darkness of Black Metal and into the realm of boundless progressivism.
Once more, he is poised to release new music, this coming in the form of an EP entitled Pharos, to be released via Candlelight Records on September 11, 2020. Appearing as a sort of counterpoint to the February released Telemark EP, the odd placement of releases is just another facet to this ever-morphing songwriter’s penchant for surprising fans and flouting conventions.
Dwelling longer in his solo career than he ever spent in Emperor, if fans have come this far they know there are scarcely any dimensions within the spectrum of his versatility that Ihsahn will not try. Most of the time, he sticks the landing, and while the smooth and sedate nature of the three new songs on offer can get nicely under the skin, these are far more within the realm of Pop music than Extreme Metal. “Losing Altitude” with its electro-beat and layered clean vocal, features some meaty guitar licks which build in swirling layers toward the end. The orchestral flourishes in the final minute are a great touch.
Certainly one of the calmest, lounge-atmosphere styled compositions in his repertoire, “Spectre at the Feast” bleeds into a bit of Trip Hop with a hypnotic bassline. Its sweet, catchy chorus would not be out of place on FM-radio, and this may not sit well with some factions of Ihsahn fans. Nevertheless, if the poppier sections of 2016’s Arktis or his collaboration with wife Ihriel on the avantgarde Peccatum project piqued the interest, then this digression into calmer waters will not leave the listener dismayed.
“Pharos” meanders along with some piano and lightly sung vocal lines before percussion and orchestral keys expand it into something a bit more familiar to the connoisseur of Ihsahn’s former musical proclivities.
The nature or focus of the Pharos EP becomes more apparent when the fourth and fifth tracks are absorbed. Ihsahn boldly takes on the immaculate misery of Portishead classic “Roads.” Approaching the vocals of Beth Gibbons could not have been easy. This is, after all, the same vocalist who shrieked his way into our hearts on many a murky Grieghallen night back in the crucible of the 1990s. Taking on such a challenge reveals a lot about Ihsahn’s real world versatility. Fragile yet competent, its fair to say that Ihsahn succeeds in doing justice to the perfection that is “Roads.”
Leaning on the higher octaves of Leprous Vocalist Einar Solberg, Ihsahn offers up a cover of “Manhattan Skyline,” by 1980’s Norwegian Pop icons a-ha. Fantastic vocals, with a keyboard sound welded to the heart of Europop, the duo absolutely knock it out of the park here.
When the brief listen is over with, the EP seems to work best if the two covers are absorbed first. Their existence helps shed light on the chilled down nature of the aforementioned three originals. The synth-laden backbeat of “Losing Altitude” suddenly clamps down into the listener’s head. And though the covers burrow deeper into the soul, repeated listens reveal a silky heaviness lurking amid the calming stretches of the original songs. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives the Pharos EP 4 out of 5 stars.