The chance to go see Norwegian legend, Ihsahn, play a solo show in London should’ve been something of a no-brainer, but we were still in bits following a weekend of carnage at Bloodstock. So it’s a good job our man Amit Sharma had the stamina for it then, isn’t it?
At the extreme end of metal, there are few musicians as highly regarded as Ihsahn. He has maintained perpetual artistic integrity throughout his 20-year career, despite the mass recognition of his former band, Emperor, as one of Europe’s premier metal exports. Even Peccatum, his more gothic flavoured venture with his wife Ihriel, was never really easy listening – if anything, it was less accessible.
More recently Ihsahn has been exploring his path as a solo artist, and the latest in his trilogy of albums, After, has been hailed by many as his best, or at least his most progressive yet. After only playing his first show as a solo artist last year (with Norwegian prog-metallers Leprous as his backing band) tonight he’s bringing his show over to London for one night only.
There is something very unassuming about Ihsahn’s stage presence, and from the opening arpeggios of ‘The Barren Lands’ he looks totally at ease, and almost grateful to be here (indeed, he spent much of the start of the evening out in the crowd, watching the support bands). The music sounds and feels a lot heavier live, perhaps because Ihsahn’s skills as a producer have reached a point where his recordings have a tendency to sound polished. Tonight there is a pinch of grittiness and air that adds some colour to these songs, and really breathes more life into the more avant-garde and progressive moments, which make up the majority of the set. Of course he still magically holds the delicate balance between beauty and brutality, but the newer material carries a frozen dreaminess under that signature venomous rasp.
Following on with ‘A Grave Inversed’ is a chance for his backing band to prove themselves, and it’s fair to say Leprous will have rightly earned a fair bit of exposure by the end of this tour. Everything from the relentless blastbeats to the twin guitars supporting Ihsahn perfectly vivifies the majestic wall of noise heard on the records. All of a sudden, Jørgen Munkeby from Shining (who were also tonight’s main support act) pops out to spunk his spazzy, chromatic jazz lines at everyone, adding a slice of mayhem to what would otherwise be a very structured set. Here is a madman who somehow encapsulates the punk attitude of Henry Rollins, the persona of a young Trent Reznor, and the absolute chaos that is Mike Patton simultaneously. The result is quite astounding – the smashed pieces of methodised progressive deliberation lying in the mud of improvisational turmoil and disorder.
It’s intriguing how easy it is to tell what tracks are off which album, and Invocation – the opening track from the debut album – sounds like it could have been an outtake from Emperor’s Prometheus sessions. The symphonic complexity of second album tracks like ‘Unhealer’ exemplify the transgression from Ihsahn’s thrashier debut to the gloomier discordance of the latest offering. Another notable difference is the low-end rumble on the newer tracks from Ihsahn’s new favourite toy, the Ibanez 8 string, and songs like ‘Frozen Lakes On Mars’ sound deeper and darker.
Ihsahn will teach you how to play his songs. What a nice chap.
Just when the set starts to lag, Ihsahn mentions playing a song from the “old boyband” and out comes the opening riff from Emperor’s ‘The Tongue Of Fire’. The band sound huge and, dare I say it, possibly even more rounded thanks to the extra guitar than Emperor did at their 2006 reunion show at The Astoria. and end on a high note with ‘Thus Spake The Night Spirit’.
It’s rather odd that Ihsahn came to these shores for just one show, literally days after Bloodstock. Considering he also performed at Brutal Assault in the Czech Republic – the festival which many bands booked for Bloodstock use to double-up their festival trip to Europe – it’s strange he should choose to sidestep our heaviest festival. Taking that into account, then tonight surely should have sold out – but instead there were still tickets available on the door. Perhaps the Bloodstock weekend was just too much fun, and most extreme metal fans were either too knackered or too skint for tonight? Either way, there really should’ve been no excuses for missing a show as outstanding as this.
Shining @ London Electric Ballroom setlist:
The Madness and the Damage Done
Ihsahn @ London Electric Ballroom setlist:
The Barren Lands
A Grave Inversed
Called By The Fire
Frozen Lakes On Mars
The Tongue Of Fire (Emperor cover)
On The Shores
Thus Spake The Nightspirit (Emperor cover)