REVIEW: IHSAHN – “Arktis”
Ihsahn’s creative journey has been one of the most interesting ones in extreme music, with ceaselessly increasing experimentation throughout his career, whether it was while in Emperor or his solo work. Even with his solo releases, there were larger risks taken with every release, as the music incorporated jazz, avant-garde and his other musical musings. ‘Arktis’ continues in this same direction of unorthodox compositions, varied influences and great overall musicianship.
‘Arktis’ extends from ‘Das Seelenbrechen’ but this time with a little more standard song structures. The album features guest appearances from members of Matt Heafy (Trivium), Einar Solberg (Leprous), Jørgen Munkeby and Tobias Ornes Andersen (Shining). The album features some electronic music interplaying with the progressive riffs and melodies, and is also the longest album in Ihsahn’s catalog. The lyrical concepts delve in the helplessness in the uncertain, and the darkness and claustrophobic feeling surrounding the uncertain. The album starts off with the track “Disassembled”, reminding me of the music from After and Erimata. The beautiful mid-section featuring Einar Solberg’s vocals positioned between the technical riffs and Ihsahn’s rasps gets the album off to a perfect start. “Mass Darkness” begins with what sounds like power metal guitars, but soon enough, the atmosphere gets cold. Matt Heafy joins Ihsahn on this track as well. The track to me was a bit reminiscent of something off Enslaved’s recent album.
While “My Heart is of the North” begins uninterestingly, the second half makes for it with a stunning guitar solo, erratic riff, soothing clean vocals and keyboards. Electronic beats introduce “South Winds” as Ihsahn raspily whispers over it, until the melodic and emotional vocals glazes over the prog-infused guitars, and is one of the most interesting tracks on this album. “In the Vaults” is a prog-rock feast built on exquisite melody featuring more keyboard overlays. “Until I Too Dissolve” has a simplistic hard rock-like rhythm and feel to it, in turn making it very catchy. “Pressure” sounds a lot like it taken from the A – trilogy albums, with good amount of heaviness and technicality, but the most impactful part was the powerful Emperor styled riffing over symphonies – something I’ve been waiting for all these years, and although this was short lived, it was well worth it. “Frail“, like the name, begins with frail strings that open up to funky and quirky electronics that playfully sneaks around complex song structure. The saxophones on “Crooked Red Line”, of Jørgen Munkeby, along with the clean vocals attempts to un-knot tensions while the vile and gloomy guitars pulls the strings tighter, and the juxtaposition of both these forces create a beautiful product. “Celestial Violence”, the final track, is an immensely riveting and heart wrenching piece of work, and turned out to be one of my favorite Ihsahn tracks in his discography. If only there were more album endings that gave you goosebumps like this did. There is also a bonus track called “Til Tor Ulven” which is a spoken word track of Tor Ulven’s poem “Søppelsolen” over spacey dark ambient and somber pianos, creating an uneasy atmosphere for the nine minutes it lasts.
Ihsahn, with ‘Arktis’ treads forward on his path of reaching places he has never reached, while being rooted in emotions to his raw self. Something that is noticeable is how freely the album musically flows along with his sentiments. The electronic elements, though I was not a fan of, was an interesting edge to the album. Ihsahn, as expected, has released yet another cohesive and engaging record while pushing his own boundaries.