Ihsahn - Arktis Review

Ihsahn - Arktis
Ihsahn - Arktis. Candlelight Records

Arktis is worth every precious kilobit to stream, download or siphon off your next door neighbor’s wi-fi connection. If you live in Notodden, Norway, hometown of Ihsahn, you’ll probably hear the album booming in between acts at the town’s big Motstøy Festivalen. If you’re really old skool and buy music on shiny things that spin, feel free. Arktis may even come out on cassette, the medium of choice for cavemen in Ford Pintos.

 Whichever way you choose to consume your tunes, consume Ihsahn’s Arktis and enjoy a head full of genius.

 

For the few unfamiliar with Ihsahn, his background is an embarrassment of riches. Playing metal in front of strangers since he was fifteen, he met up with a homey named Samoth and started Thou Shalt Suffer, In Norway, they might have been a wedding band, but the outside world was impressed. Enter Mortiis, another homey from Notodden, and together they formed Emperor, the most influential black metal band in history. If you’re playing some form of extreme metal, Emperor has its creepy fingerprints on the vibe of everything you chug out.

Emperor’s 1994 In the Nightside Eclipse is cited so often as black metal’s fundamental masterpiece; you risk having your church burned down if you disagree. Ihsahn was 19 and the album’s main musical composer. Technical black metal became the progilicious rage during the era of Creed and Puddle of Mudd.

Ihsahn, Mortiis, Samoth and other single-named miscreants kept Emperor going for 10 years. In the meantime, everyone had their side projects.

Out of the chaos, Ihsahn walked through the clearing smoke as the pre-eminent solo artist. It helps to be able to play every instrument in the world, screech like a ghostly horseman riding through the frozen skies, and have impeccable taste from which to gather influence for his art.

Arktis is Ihsahn’s sixth solo album. If you’re asked what Ihsahn album you’d recommend to those who have not heard him, Arktis will do nicely. Arktis, without the bonus track, is like a masterfully built home where every room is different, cool and fascinating. With the bonus track, and the inability to understand Norwegian as well as an unfamiliarity with Tor Ulven, one of Norway’s greatest writers, you have an album that ends with 12 minutes you’ll never listen to. It’s like Ihsahn showing you the last room in the hall where meaninglessness has meaning, just as Ulven would’ve liked it.

Ihsahn starts things off with “Disassembled.” Einar Solberg (Leprous) helps out superbly on the chorused vocals that take the handoff from Ihsahn’s wicked vocal verses. The song doesn’t ping-pong from dirty vocals to clean as is the cliché, but rather incorporates the transitions as a polarity of emotional hue. The iconic Ihsahn vocals are remarkably well-articulated in every song, but especially in this track, the single “Mass Darkness” with Matt Heafy (Trivium) guesting on vocals possibly as payback for Ihsahn’s co-writing “Snøfall” on Trivium’s last album, and especially on “Celestial Violence,” again accompanied by Einar Solberg.

“Until I Too Dissolve” is ashes-to-dust precise with its Tubeway Army keyboard melting into a paint-blistering guitar and then into an explosive wall of rhythmic thunder. The song charges along into softer breaks slathered with Moog-y growls, then technical prog-rock, and then back to the flesh-peeler guitar. This song would be a smoldering pot of cheese and bald tire stew in the hands of lesser talent, but Ihsahn makes it work like a fine meal of many courses.

Ihsahn spreads his musical influences all over the album. Dream Theater, Nosferatu, Coltrane, Danny Elfman, Radiohead, and even a cop of ’s “Frozen Lakes on Mars” on Arktis’ “In the Vaults.” The album’s production is dense in texture, seamless in its pacing and twice as dynamic as the blast-o-matic records demanded by today’s loudness-crazed record execs.

Arktis even sounds great under the crush of an MP3.

Arktis will belt you with a left hook, haunt you with wondrous choruses, make you smile at its retro keyboards buzzes, chill you with its icy string fills, terrify you with its passionate blackness and beckon you through its lyrics to enter Ihsahn’s void of disbelief.

(released April 8, 2016 on Candlelight Records)