IHSAHN - Àmr
Ihsahn might forever be associated with black metal pioneers Emperor, and at a time he was even the only member of that band not sitting in prison for church burning or murder. And yet he only released four longplayers with Emperor, whereas Àmr is already his seventh solo album, coming two years after its predecessor Arktis.
I have here and there listened to some of Ihsahn’s solo material, but Àmr is the first of his albums I have been listening to very closely. Comparisons to Emperor will be inevitable, as they were one of the first Norwegian black metal bands that played around with progressive elements. And it’s this progressive black metal sound that is Ihsahn’s signature move. The opener Lend Me The Eyes Of The Millennia starts with a cold vintage synth sequencer part, with the vocals soon joining in black metal style. The regular instruments only appear after one minute, making this a strange hybrid between dark wave and symphonic black metal, as if the Sisters Of Mercy had decided to become a black metal band. The following Arcana Imperii shows Ihsahn from his more progressive side. This song combines complex rhythmic patterns with tremendous vocal melodies that show that Ihsahn cannot only croak and shriek, but would even make it in a Scandinavian melodic metal band. Up next is Sámr, an unbelievable yet successful attempt at modern progressive rock. While I also like the more aggressive Ihsahn, he really seems to excel whenever he behaves in a more moderate way.
The following three tracks are quite good but still feel a little like a slump. One Less Enemy has a certain industrial feeling that doesn’t work so well in my opinion. Where You Are Lost And I Belong is a more meditative piece that lacks dynamic tension. In Rites Of Passage, while perfectly performed, lacks the melodic grandeur of the first three songs of the album.
If you are afraid that Ihsahn put all his good stuff at the beginning of the album, you will find yourself fortunately mistaken. Marble Soul comes with a killer riff, and Twin Black Angels once again shows us the commercial Ihsahn that could really become a popular musician in the mainstream. The album ends with Wake, another hyperdynamic slab of progressive black metal. The double vinyl edition contains as the tenth track the eleven-minute bonus track Alone, which is a poem by Edgar Allan Poe set to music. The first three minutes are orchestration, and then we get some kind of blackened doom metal, with some nice parts but also some repetition so that this track alone would not justify the purchase of the vinyl instead of the CD or the digital download.
Despite the slight creative slump in the album’s middle, Àmr still offers enough greatness to make it one of the most original albums of the year. When playing live, Ihsahn is usually joined by Norwegian progressive metal band Leprous, although the record has been recorded mostly by Ihsahn himself, except for Tobias Ørnes Andersen (Shining, Leprous) on drums and a guest solo by Opeth’s Fredrik Akesson on Arcana Imperii. Progressive black metal that is unafraid of the occasional melodic outbursts should have no hard time finding a core audience.