Review: IhsahnIhsahn

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Ihsahn you to check out Ihsahn’s upcoming self-titled album.

It should come as little surprise to folks familiar with his work that the new offering from Ihsahn is an orchestral black metal epic. The intricacies come in that the album comes in multiple versions to form one complete concept album—one metal version and one fully orchestral version, both with differing but parallel narratives to the story.

I initially only had the metal version for review and the orchestral parts are very nice, especially in that it seems so far that these are new works rather than sampled standards or mushy stuff played on a keyboard with way too much delay. Again, not super surprising if you have a passing familiarity with the guy’s work, but nice nonetheless. As far as the story for this side of the concept goes, I’m not completely sure what’s going on here—I don’t have access to lyrics, but that can be something folks dig into deeper once the album is out.

What I like about this album is that the orchestral parts were composed to be able to work on their own as well as in combination with extreme parts in the context of a metal song. What this does is give the music a fullness and rich texture despite the quite honestly slightly anemic-sounding heavy instrumentals. Everything still works for me and I want to keep listening, and in a way the more pared back heavy instrumentation allows the orchestral work to shine a bit more without worrying about being buried. Could the bass and lower ends come out a bit more in my opinion? Yes. But the rest of the instrumentation fills in in a way that makes everything still work.

In the past I’ve done a sort of “plot summary” of albums (and other things I’ve reviewed), and these days I want to try and step away from that. Partly because I’m just simply reviewing fewer things these days, but also because I feel like summarizing material is somewhat lazy. So instead I’ll opt for general impressions of the entire work here, and offer a couple personal standout tracks.

At first blush this offering doesn’t really seem to be breaking any new ground. In a way it isn’t—while it’s on the rarer side, Ihsahn isn’t the first person to put actual effort into orchestral parts and blending those efforts with extreme music. The new conceit comes when you dig deeper to see that this is actually two united works with related and intertwining individual stories, that the orchestral parts were made to stand alone as well as work in tandem with metal instrumentation. It’s especially nice for me because it doesn’t just feel like the two styles are trading off sections in the compositions, they actually are working together rather than just taking turns. I actually want to check out the orchestral version of this album and see how things stand up, and maybe check out some lyrics or liner notes to try and piece together these stories. As always, Ihsahn’s switch between extreme and clean vocals sounds pretty nice, especially for someone who’s been at it this long.

Ihsahn is a solid effort with a more subtle form of personal experimentation, though I think that subtlety might make this work have a harder time standing out to those who have been listening to Ihsahn or even just the genre for a while.

Standout tracks: “Hubris and the Blue Devils,” “Pilgrimage to Oblivion,” “Twice Born.”

4/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

Ihsahn drops February 16 through Candlelight Records.

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