25 January 2010
by Tom Gibbons
If former-Emperor frontman, Ihsahn, gets involved a project, people sit up and take notice, but when the ‘Mr. Music’ of black metal spends the best part of a year stinking out his home studio, it has the potential to become a heavy metal milestone.
Except that it’s not exactly heavy metal this time.
Like some sort of black metal Rush – complete with jumpy saxophone jazz-spazz-outs, the Norwegian’s latest solo album After is initially a strange, drawn-out affair. With unorthodox song structure and a peculiar 80’s prog-rock atmosphere, it eventually swells in to a monster of musical achievement, somewhere around about the time you give it a fourth spin.
Refreshingly original and discordant guitar pieces (blessed be the new 8-stringer), and a clever mix of harsh/clean vocals on ‘Heavens Black Sea’ hark back to the later Emperor albums, and although the lengthier tracks (ten minutes and counting) might require careful processing, there’s still space for a catchy, gothy chorus in the more forthright ‘Frozen Lake on Mars’.
The fact that this is the end result of a solo project is obvious in its indulgences. One should consider that very few bands could possibly achieve this avant-garde mayhem and colossal scope, where perhaps the collective minds would fail to agree on such ideas. It’s little wonder that Ihsahn was invited to support one of the few collectives capable of such a thing, Opeth, on their Norwegian tour last year, even if production complications eventually restricted Ihsahn’s presence to a one-off show in Oslo. The Opeth connection didn’t end there though – for After, Ihsahn drafted the Swedes’ chief mixer, Jens Bogren, to apply his own unique skills to the album.
Watch Ihsahn in the studio recording After
It’s not all Nordic glory here though, and impressive as the songs are, the bass guitar (‘recorded’ by Lars K. Norberg of Spiral Architect) is barely audible at times, and that sax might freak some of you out on the first listen, although respect to Ihsahn for trying it. It’s difficult to know what more a listener could ask for in terms of creativity, stimulation and execution.
Sounds like: Opeth, Emperor, too much spare time
Top tracks: Heavens Black Sea, Undercurrent, A Grave Inversed
Ihsahn – After tracklisting
The Barren Lands
A Grave Inversed
Frozen Lakes On Mars
Heaven’s Black Sea
On The Shores