Ihsahn: Arktis – album review
Ihsahn: Arktis (Spinefarm Records)
LP | CD | DL
Deep into his solo career Ihsahn has yet again managed to produce a record brimming with innovation and creativity. Exploring even more musically diverse sounds the iconic front-man manages to incorporate elements from multiple influences and genres whilst hanging on to his black metal roots, making an album incredibly unpredictable and eclectic whilst still sounding undeniably individual.
Louder Than War’s Adam Jones reviews.
Over the course of his solo career Ihsahn has been no stranger to experimentation. After creating such masterpieces as “In the Nightshade Eclipse” during his time in iconic black metal band Emperor, the enigmatic Norwegian has since produced five outstanding records featuring everything from black metal to jazz to progressive rock. With the release of his latest effort, entitled Arktis, Ihsahn has once again proven his chameleon like qualities when it comes to writing music. Throughout its eleven tracks you will be subjected to a whole magnitude of musical ideas, each as unpredictably eccentric as the last.
As mentioned Arktis is an extremely diverse record and its clear Ihsahn is not fazed by the idea of trying new things. This record probably contains the largest blend of styles he has attempted yet and it has to be said he has succeeded in making it work. Despite this barrage of different sounds Ihsahn never loses his identity amongst the stream of disparate genres.
The biggest thing that immediately hits you about this album is the prominence of a more electronically influenced sound. Opening track Disassembled exemplifies this perfectly as the songs jazzy winding guitar riff is matched note for note by the rumbling sound of the buzz-saw like synth. As the song explodes into its chorus the track becomes drenched in layers of monstrous keys and synths adding a huge otherworldly sound to the tracks already monolithically massive melody. You can also hear this exploration into more electronically minded territory on the track South Winds, the song featuring a pounding dance rhythm complete with stomping bassline, something you’d never thought you’d hear from a pioneer of the black metal scene. This song incorporates an almost gothic element to the record with Ihsahn providing a dark and maniacal sounding vocal line to the sinister sounds of the aforementioned thunderous bass-line.
Ihsahn does an expert job of creating a whole variety of different emotions and atmospheres throughout this record. There seems to be a real light and dark dynamic at play as he can seamlessly shift between two almost completely opposite feelings in the space of mere seconds. When listening to the song In the Vaults this really becomes apparent, the verses feature a threatening orchestral build as the foreboding strings begin to ramp up as they rise from underneath the gentle melody of the subtle keys. Just as you are becoming overcome with this burgeoning sense of dread the song quickly hits with you this life affirming uplifting melody. As the song draws to a close you feel almost emotionally exhausted and mentally drained. This genius manipulation of different sounds and emotions has to be admired and applauded especially considering this is all coming from one extremely gifted musical brain.
There’s no real blanket term that can be used to describe Arktis it seems to not want to stay within any one genre for too long and it’s hard to find anything remotely similar, apart from Ihsahn’s previous material obviously. However, in saying that Ihsahn has clearly gone for a different approach with this record, yes there are still multiple nods to his black metal roots along with the returning jazzy saxophones on tracks like Crooked Red Line, but the inclusion of bigger choruses along with a larger focus on electronic elements are signs of someone wanting to continue to keep pushing themselves creatively. The only real complaint to be had is that the album does occasionally feel slightly too long with only the previously mentioned Crooked Red Line providing the record with some breathing room. Although this is honestly only a minor complaint in the grander scheme of things. Arktis is a record testing the limits and attempting to break boundaries of metal from someone who could so easily be coasting along on the coattails of his previous successes.
All words by Adam Jones. More of Adam’s writing can be found at his authors archive.