Category: Progressive / Metal / Experimental
Blurb: Still darkly experimental and rooted in black metal, Ihsahn’s progressive compositional abilities take a turn for the accessible with magnificent results.
While never having abandoned his roots in black metal, Ihsahn’s music has long transcended that genre to incorporate more experimental and progressive, even jazz flourishes. He’s as much an architect of sound as he is a musical composer, crafting each element of his music to achieve the highest quality of texture and mood. His previous outing, Das Seelenbrechen was a monumental tour-de-force of exploratory metal, relying more on noise and ambience for a grimly disconcerting but beautifully dark effect. As such, Arktis is in some ways a step backward, bringing back many of his most productive musical partnerships – saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby, vocalist Einar Solberg, and drummer Tobias Ørnes Andersen – and focusing on, in the artist’s words, “more traditional song structures and still give each song a strong individual identity.” In this, Ihsahn succeeds quite magnificently.
A thunderous rhythm and an angular guitar riff aided by subtle keyboards enter with the force of a battering ram, Ihsahn’s monstrous croaking voice leading us into a haunting operatic chorus for “Disassembled,” and the voyage through Arktis begins. From this opening track alone, all of Ihsahn’s compositional skills are on full display, every intertwining passage of harmonizing vocals, finely textured keyboards, and precision guitars creating a marvelous symphony that is sure to please progressive aficionados and longtime fans. Nicolay Svennæs Tangen appears on “My Heart Is of the North” to provide an organ accompaniment that along with the sustained chords and menacing hooks (yes, you read that correctly… these riffs are damn catchy!) makes for a rich atmosphere, while the mournful pianos and lushly melodic vocals give “In the Vaults” an almost romantic tonality that is simply beautiful. The same can be said of “Crooked Red Line,” Munkeby’s saxophone along with the song’s slow cadence evoking an ambience on par with film noir, and the interplay between Solberg’s sad, soaring melodies and Ihsahn’s demonic screams on “Celestial Violence” is simply one of the album’s most satisfying moments. As well, songs like “Mass Darkness” with its howling chorus and breakneck rhythms, “Frail” with its acoustic guitar intro leading into an upbeat synth and percussion grooves and lovely vocal harmonies, and especially “Until I Too Dissolve” with its power metal riffs and crooning vocals add an almost poppy element that Ihsahn only occasionally incorporates… but when he does, it’s undeniably powerful. “Til Tor Ulven (Søppelsolen)” ends the album with a spoken word tale from Norwegian short story author Hans Herbjørnsrud, his somber voice hovering amid a steadily building tapestry of trickling pianos and mystical ambience that culminates in a cacophonous and cavernous guitar. With Herbjørnsrud being renowned for his blending of various Norwegian dialects, making his works difficult to translate, the closing track is almost reminiscent of a segment from Shadow of the Colossus.
Still progressively minded and experimental in its production values, Ihsahn’s focus on more traditional song structures gives Arktis a slightly greater tinge of the accessibility that had lingered just beneath the surface of his past work. Metal fans need not worry though as the full force of his raspy black metal vocal stylings are still employed lest his music become too inviting. Nevertheless, Arktis is yet another marvelous opus from a musician whose talents seem more and more boundless with each release.
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Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)