In the music industry, it’s often really easy to trade off your past. Let’s take W Axl Rose as an example. In fact, let’s not before I get really angry. I don’t know about you but I’m far more interested in artists who keep challenging themselves, keep striving for something new and innovative: artists who are well, interested in the art. Let’s take Ihsahn as an example. It would be really easy for him to trade on a glorious past. You know what I mean: black metal overlord, blah blah, genius, blah blah, massive influence, blah blah. Blah blah: meh.
How refreshing, exciting and pleasing then to be able to talk about what Ihshan is doing NOW as an artist, of the music that he is making today, of the creativity that he is expounding, of the boundaries he is pushing. Today’s Ihsahn is, for my money, every bit the equal of his time with the much feted Emperor. His latest record, Eremita, is no exception. In fact, it might just be yet another record that we will roll out the term “masterpiece” for. Only mean it this time.
This is his fourth album under the Ihsahn moniker and released via Candlelight Records, and, to these ears, is a massive step forward in terms of his musical and creative output. By no stretch of the imagination is this a black metal album (despite the presence of some of his trademark growling); it’s a massively ambitious record of dark presence and foreboding idiosyncrasy: it veers between progressive, metal, jazz, dipping a toe towards black metal and then back again. It is a record that will excite, infuriate, cajole and beguile you. All in a good way.
As with his last record After, here Ihsahn utilises the brilliant saxophony of Shining‘s Jorgen Munkeby to dazzling and often unexpected effect. On the brilliant Catharsis it is a perfect musical representation of the progtagonist’s emotional angst yet, elsewhere, it’s used playfully and skittishly. On The Grave, Munkeby is front and centre, harrowing and brutal: it is, as you’re already thinking, absolutely scintillating stuff. Also appearing on this complex and compelling album is the mad professor himself, the enigma that is Devin Townsend, adding some backing vocals and, one assumes, a little bit of guitar and production arrangements.
The nine songs here are ambitious, nuanced, detailed, often containing the same level of ferocity as they do harmony and emotion- witness the effect from The Eagle and The Snake or the utterly barking mad Departure that had me scratching my head in disbelief at just how he was able to pull victory from the potential jaws of defeat. When you hear it, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
Often, artists of limited potential and insight will tell you how their latest record (invariably a work of puerile and inconsequential fluff) is a “musical journey”- as if they were creating something that means something. Ihsahn makes no claims to this kind of emotional effect but, believe me, this is the extraordinary effect he achieves. This is not an album that you’re going to put on casually- it needs and demands your attention significantly more than that. Ihsahn is a serious artist making serious music for serious times. We should stand and applaud him.