November 7, 2013 Ihsahn – Das Sellenbrechen (Album Review)
For any casual fan of black metal the name Ihsahn is synonymous with the frozen and blast beat ridden soundscapes of Emperor, one of the Norwegian pioneers of melodic black metal in the early 1990’s. However, in more recent years since Emperor’s dissolution, Ihsahn (Vegard Tveitan) has continued creating music in the form of his self-titled solo project. Since 2006 Ihsahn has released four solo albums, each varying slightly in terms of style but for the most part retains an experimental/metal vibe. His fifth and latest offering, Das Sellenbrechen (roughly translated as “The Soul Crushing”), continues in an experimental vein but has some noticeable interesting dynamics.
The album opens with “Hilber,” an appropriately enticing track reminiscent of Opeth or Dream Theatre. This song presents the listener with all of the elements that are to be contained within the album, stylistically speaking. The spell binding repetitive piano lick serves at the centerpiece for some interesting and varied rhythmic patterns. The next track, “Regen”, is a song with a slower feel and a more patient build up than its predecessor. It starts with a soft piano line and features Ihsahn’s clean vocals, which are prominent on the album. From this moment the track increases dynamically and most notably features a choir part, as well as one of two guitar solos on the album. The third track “NaCl” continues the musical themes presented in the first track, but also have more clean vocals over the heavy parts. Ihsahn executes this with great proficiency considering his screaming background. “Pulse” is an interesting track because it stays in a dynamically static range in comparison to the previous songs; featuring a drum loop, keys, and clean vocals. Distorted guitars are placed in the final minute of the song to give a climax to this vocally driven song. The next track, “Tacit 2”, takes an almost complete 180-degree turn from “Pulse”, and presents the listener with a barrage of drum fills, tremolo picked guitars, drawn out screams and overall distorted and chaotic ambiance. “Tacit” is similar to “Tacit 2” with rampant drum fills and churning guitars, but also features a soft interlude as well as some more complex arrangements compared to “Tacit 2”. “Rec” is the shortest song on the album, and also is one of the more experimental tunes, but the pervasive element is the haunting and eerie melodic qualities of the guitars and keyboard parts. The next song “M” takes this experimentation to its zenith with a captivating creepy keyboard intro and then leads rather unexpectedly into a blues style jam much like a heavier Pink Floyd. The second to last track “Sub Alter” is led by a dark-sounding picking riff and is one of the more minimalist tracks in terms of distortion, dynamics, and instruments used. The repetitive quality of the guitar part creates an almost hypnotic effect on the listener’s perspective of the song. The final track, “See”, is by far the most “out there” of all the songs on the album. It uses heavily affected guitars to create an atmospheric euphoria, and also has long screams similar to “Tacit 2/Tacit”. The song also has very sparse drums, and Ihsahn even implements what appear to be “industrial” sounds to truly augment the strange and experimental presentation.
Overall, the new Ihsahn album is an unpredictable web of musical twists and turns that can easily leave the listener guessing what will come next from track to track. Listened to from beginning to end, it is interesting to note that the tracks not only get more experimental but more minimalist in terms of riffs, instrumentation, and rhythmic complexity. In reference to the title, it is as if musically speaking, Ihsahn is “crushing your soul.” As long as the listener is able to keep an open mind, this album will present itself as quite entertaining. However, those whom are bigger fans of Emperor or perhaps don’t venture too far from the “norms” of metal may find this album somewhat confusing and lacking. This aside, it’s truly great to see a musician expand their musical horizons as Ihsahn has done on this album, and as a whole it is a fantastic display of his guitar, keyboard, vocal, and arranging prowess. Cryptic Rock gives this album 3.5 stars out of 5.
reviewed by Cameron Stucky