18 June 2012
by Tom Dare
Given the seemingly everyday occurrence of yet another band reuniting, it’s perhaps a little surprising that you don’t hear too much clamour for an Emperor reunion. Despite their legendary status, near-perfect back catalogue and (by black metal standards, anyway) popularity, it’s not speculated about or demanded with regularity or vigour. Perhaps it’s because Ihsahn’s solo albums are so bum-clenchingly good, there’s no need for nostalgia – the present’s too good to get misty-eyed about bands past.
Right from that first Wrath Of The Tyrant EP, Ihsahn’s compositions have always carried an otherworldly quality that draws the listener into its mystical plane. It’s also noticeable that the individual feel of those atmospheres has shifted with every single record, from the frostiness of In The Nightside Eclipse through the infernal fires of Prometheus and the exploratory visions of After. So it will come as no surprise that Eremita has a character all of its own.
The Norwegian maestro has significantly tightened his compositional style, which is key to this. The wandering 10-minute odysseys of discovery he favoured last time out have been supplanted by leaner, more directed meanders that manage to convey a similar volume of ideas and with equal or greater effect in more concise songs. Also crucial to Eremita‘s personality is Ihsahn’s focus on the furthest extremes of each component in his sound.
Watch Thrash Hits TV: Ihsahn @ Bloodstock Open Air 2011:
There’s a decided increase in the metallic crunch, lending a much more visceral edge to proceedings, something that’s noticeable from the beginning of opener ‘Arrival‘ and at many points throughout. Included in this is the album’s most expansive, progressive track ‘The Eagle And The Snake‘, a jazzy voyage that is dragged back from its spacey floatations and saxophone-driven tangents by jarring guitar punches whenever it threatens to veer too far from the narrative path.
Throughout the entire opus, Ihsahn pushes his borders back – his most extreme, heaviest guitar parts and his most intensely melodic singing, his most immediate, instant hooks (including a stunning one from Devin Townsend on ‘Introspection‘, who really should do a boundary-free album with Ihsahn a la Åkerfeldt and Wilson) with his most esoteric mania, and liberally brings two or more aspects of them together. Symphonics and black metal riffage clash with prog and space rock on ‘Something Out There‘. Devastating weight and maniac sax (courtesy once more of Shining’s deranged genius Jørgen Munkeby) power the sensational ‘Departure‘ only for the album’s most placid moment to follow courtesy of the ghostly vocals of Ihriel (aka, Mrs Ihsahn).
All of this creates a profoundly introverted, self-reflecting work that, while making you gurn at the extremity, bang your head with the prog grooves or hum the beautiful melodies, transports you into your own psyche, forcing you into a claustrophobic, confined space to confront your own demons. It’s a deeply personal, profoundly emotional experience that once more proves what a genuine musical genius Ihsahn is, and what a complete privilege his music is to experience.
Watch a “teaser trailer” for Eremita by Ihsahn:
Not content with shitting all over every other black metal band that’s ever walked the Earth and proving his wandering muse hasn’t lost its astonishing skill with his first three solo albums, he’s made another genuine masterpiece, and his finest work under his own moniker. Who needs an Emperor while Ihsahn still reigns supreme?
Sounds like: One of the most distinctive, brilliant musicians alive at his absolute best.
Stand-out tracks: The Paranoid, The Eagle And The Snake, Departure (and all the others).