There is no question that Ihsahn as an artist is a visionary. Always striving to provide music which is pure and free from any outside influence, he has not only achieved critical success as part of the band Emperor, but also as a solo artist in the later years of his career. Never one to remain quiet in the music landscape for very long, Ihsahn returns in 2018 with his latest offering Ámr.
Opening the album with a heavily 80’s inspired synth lead track “Lend Me the Eyes of Millennia” is sure to catch many off guard, particularly through its slow moving pace and grit filled sound. Make no mistakes though, once the vocals kick in there is little doubt that this is definitely Ihsahn It’s an interesting opener and all the more intriguing when you notice that it bears a very unique sound compared to the rest of the album as a whole. But that unsettling almost John Carpenter-esque sound is followed by the almost contradictory and faster tempo progressive track “Arcana Imperii”. This was the first track released as a single on the album and that is probably due in part to it being a great example of the work laid out on the album. The synth elements are still present, although in a much more diluted tone, but it is the progressive riff sequence of the guitars that really make this song an infectiously catchy track that only takes one or two listens through before becoming completely embedded in the listeners subconscious.
“Sámr” as the third track continues this tone embodying more of a ballad vibe, before “One Less Enemy” goes back into a heavier space with a chuggingly fierce riff complete with harsh vocal delivery. This hot and cold dichotomy between the softer and aggressive tracks serves a great purpose and provides a welcoming balance to the album.
Through the albums back and forth between soft and heavy you get a good idea for the breadth and depth that Ihsahn has when creating music. Never one to be pinned down to specific tropes or ideals, Ihsahn has really embraced the ability to be truly creative on this record. Whether it be from the overall tone of the guitar, the tempo of the drums or the eerily well placed synth elements, the end result is a package with enough variance to remain engaging for the duration of the album.
Reaching the mid-point with “Where You Are Lost and I Belong” and “In Rites Of Passage” follow more of the same pattern before “Marble Soul” begins and provides probably the most diverse offering on the album, hitting a very unique chorus piece that provides a high point of the album. This then leads into closing duo “Twin Black Angels” and “Awake” complete the album in a very fitting and moving way.
The fact that this album flirts with so many genres, yet belongs to none of them is truly remarkable. There are many times where ‘Ámr’ feels like it will double down into an overall progressive vibe, before the monologue synthesizers start up, or an Emperor-esque tremolo picked section comes kicks in and changes the landscape of the song entirely. With any less care placed this sonic soundscape could descend into a chaotic mess that fails to live up to the grand sum of its parts, but luckily the tracks on ‘Ámr’ have been pieced together in a way that gives each song an effortless flow.
While this may come as a disappointment to Emperor fans; Ihsahn’s clean vocals are easily the clear winners on ‘Ámr’. These sections exude an energy that is quite infectious; and while there are occasions where Ihsahn embraces that harsher vocal delivery on the album, it just doesn’t pop with excitement as much as the clean passages do. Whether it be the chorus from “Marble Soul”, or the held high note during “Arcana Imperii”, the emotive aspect to their delivery is really noticeable and adds gravity to the overall ‘Ámr’ experience.
What makes this album special is the overall journey that it takes you on – something that many artists attempt, yet falter with the implementation. Ihsahn has cultivated an enthralling album that excels not only in its diverse sound, but also its ability to push boundaries and be truly representative of the ‘experimental’ label that so many reviews are likely to bestow upon it. With a run time of a little over 40 minutes, this nine track album runs long enough for listeners to feel rewarded, while being short enough to feel like it has breezed by.