Ihsahn’s musical journey over the years has been more evolving than meandering because there is a certainty in the choices he has made over the last decade and a half, whether it is the experimentation, the presentation, or the production. The progressive metal framework binding the sporadic extreme metal parts has become Ihsahn’s go-to structure ever since he started his solo project. Over the years, the framework has been fleshed out from being a skeleton in his first couple of albums, to a meaty and cohesive unit. Ihsahn last released a full-length five years ago with Àmr, and after that came a couple of EPs, ‘Fascination Street Sessions’ being the latest one to be released on March 24th through Candlelight Records.
‘Fascination Street Sessions’ was recorded as an academic experiment with URM Academy’s program for music production, in collaboration with Fascination Street Studios’ owner Jens Borgen (of Opeth fame). Lasting a short 13 minutes, the EP consists of two original tracks and a cover track. The experiment involved Ihsahn creating a couple of demo tracks, which Borgen took over from pre-production to the final master applying the tenets and course material of the program.
The result is a sample of a variety of ideas around Ihsahn’s typical prog sound, classic heavy metal riffs, and alt-rock, testing a range of sounds around the metal and rock audio sphere. As the key intent here was to see how the production enhances and brings life to the music, that’s what we’ll first talk about. As expected from Borgen, the production is lush. The first track “The Observer” can find its home right in Ihsahn’s discography, and considering Borgen has mixed a majority of Isahn’s albums, it is quite easy to hear it. It’s the darker track on the EP, with Ihsahn’s interplay of screaming vocals and singing (also featuring keyboardist Øystein H. Aadland with the soft vocals) bringing the best of him into full display.
The second track “Contorted Monuments” has a strong heavy metal vibe going on with the riffs and guitar solos, but Ihsahn partners it with softer, sombre, brooding sections bringing gravitas to the whole track. The production is spot on here as well, with all the instruments filling the right amount of aural space. The final track “Dom Andra” is a cover of the alt-rock band Kent from Sweden, and Jonas Renske of Katatonia came in as guest vocalist for the track. The track sounds like any alt-rock from the early naughts, nothing out of the ordinary here, but being a huge fan of Katatonia, it forced me to listen to it from another view. The track also provides an example of a more airy production on simpler tracks.
Overall, this EP shines in brief instances. Ihsahn allows himself to apply the sound of his acclaimed works, primarily on the first track and parts of the second track. The production is spotless, showing what Jens Borgen has done so far and can do. While the exercise was academic, every new Ihsahn track is a bonus to the world.