Ihsahn – Arktis

Ihsahn - ArktisBy Wouter B.
Ihsahn is a bit like wine. We buy wine, gift-wrap it, talk and brag endless about its’ taste. Some may elect to store it and consume at a later date. This may lead to an assortment of bottles, and voila: we can choose to leave certain special bottles in (conditioned) storage just a little longer. When finally uncorked, have our tastes evolved or has the wine aged into elusive exclusivity?

Norways’ favorite black metal hipster and ex-Emperor frontman Ihsahn has released his sixth full length album Arktis (Candlelight Records) on the 8th of April. With his Empirical past, he has set a high standard for himself, his fans and any releases bearing his name.

To be honest, I was rather disappointed with his second release angL (2008) and therefore never gave his other releases any proper attention. But here the metaphor of wine comes in play again: both music and personal taste are prone to aging and evolution.

The album opening song, Disassembled, slightly betrays the style of the rest of the album: progressive elements, mid-tempo but upbeat drums and vocals that interchange between clean and a ‘civilized’ version of the old Emperor screams. Groovy at times, but never dulling into an easy listening record.

The guitars are not forgotten on Mass Darkness with its’ (rather short) solo. The 80’s seem to have called in on Until I Too Dissolve with its hard rock style of riffing. Ihsahn is clearly not afraid to experiment with electro samples on South Winds, which at times has similarities in a poetic and vocal sense with Rammstein. No directionless fiddling around though, everything is very well composed and put together, no matter the instrument involved. The cheesiness threshold is almost met at My Heart is of the North (speaking of metaphors) with its’ keyboards, but this luckily only temporarily. The album even has a rather Emperial (there, it’s said now) song: Pressure, with some real massive and orchestral sections.

A special track for me was Crooked Red Line, which made me (if only slightly) reminiscent of Pink Floyds’ Shine on You Crazy Diamond, with its’ trademark saxophone and laid back feeling.

Arktis is an album with a great musical quality, layered with a sufficiently thick fog of Norwegian mystery. One thing amiss for me is the apparent lack of cohesion between the songs. Aside from that the album (as well as the artist) age well with multiple listens; the music is well thought through and composed. Although still not quite my personal choice, the wine definitely has aged well with Ihsahn; Arktis definitely deserves many a listen.

Rating: 8/10
1. Disassembled
2. Mass Darkness
3. My Heart Is of the North
4. South Winds
5. In the Vaults
6. Until I Too Dissolve
7. Pressure
8. Frail
9. Crooked Red Line
10. Celestial Violence
11. Til Tor Ulven (Søppelsolen) (bonus)