Written by: AP on 06/04/2016 15:34:00

It is no secret that Ihsahn, the alias of Norwegian composer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Vegard Sverre Tveitan, has a penchant for the eclectic and the avant-garde. Still, the former Emperor frontman’s most recent opus “Das Seelenbrechen” took his music into such wild, uncharted territory that even his most loyal disciples were left scratching their heads. But although Ihsahn’s ideas remain as liberal as ever on this latest LP “Arktis.”, it plays less like a headfirst leap into the unknown, picking up the trail after 2012’s “Eremita” and chasing his train of thought in a more disciplined manner. It is not that Ihsahn is limiting himself — the music is as organic and uncompromising as ever. It is simply easier to latch onto the red chord in his concoctions now, and “Arktis.” is all the more stunning for it.

The album has the rare quality of assuaging the listener from the first riff, a deliciously fiendish contraption of the Opeth school in “Disassembled”, that they need not be skeptical — Ihsahn is in total control of his ambition, and “Arktis.” promises to unfold once more the nigh limitlessness of his talent. With the exception of the drumming, courtesy of his trusty cohort Shining’s Tobias Ørnes Andersen, a couple of guest vocalists, and a saxophone cameo by ditto’s Jørgen Munkeby, all of the vocals and instruments were arranged and recorded by Tveitan alone, and as a result, there is a perfectionistic quality to the music, with no loose ends left to linger and pollute his vision. As a listener, you may not agree with all of the artistic decisions taken (such as the tradeoff between pulsating, almost Veto-esque electronics and lofty, Anathema-invoking atmospherics in both “South Winds” and “Frail”), but it is hard to dispute Ihsahn’s prowess in bringing together the extensive repertoire of influences on his palette. Some are more peculiar than others, yet try and argue that the 80’s big rock-style riff — like something Eddie Van Halen could have written — driving “Until I Too Dissolve” is not an attention grabber. That track is guaranteed to awaken the air guitarist in us all, if the metal-plated epic “Mass Darkness” did not do the trick with its bombastic gallop. It sounds like Children of Bodom and Stratovarius dusted off a couple of seven-string guitars and let rip together in the chorus, catching the ear of Trivium’s Matt Heafy, who incidentally makes a cameo near the end of the song in a brilliant call-and-response activity with Ihsahn himself.

Indeed, to appreciate Ihsahn is to follow his vision wherever it may lead, be it an elegant saxophone soliloquy by Munkeby in “Crooked Red Line”, the sudden eruption of “Pressure” into a full blown, symphonic black metal onslaught halfway, or the near orchestral proportions of the magnificent closing track “Celestial Violence”. The contrasts are as stark as they are many, but none of Ihsahn’s eccentric forays sound misplaced or unnecessary. Rather, “Arktis.” is the sound of a visionary unfurling his vast imagination; a diverse and multi-faceted experience that beckons awe not just in and of itself, but also by virtue of Ihsahn’s prodigious musicianship and vocal abilities. Often one is left wondering which guest vocalist it was that popped up only to realise it is, in fact, Ihsahn himself stretching the capacity of his lungs and vocal chords — and this is true of the growling and singing both. The fact that Ihsahn bears the brunt of “Arktis.” on his own shoulders is staggering, but it constitutes the main reason that the record sounds so considered, so complete, and yet so forward thinking. Absolutely nothing has been left to chance, and while such sterility might be off putting to some listeners, it makes “Arktis.” that much more captivating (if not quite as challenging) than its predecessor, “Das Seelenbrechen”.

Connoisseurs of black metal no doubt still grieve the decision of Ihsahn to lay Emperor to rest at last two years ago, but it benefits those of us intrigued by his solo material. The man’s focus is razor sharp on “Arktis.”, which stakes a substantial claim at one of the best prog albums of 2016. Together with one Steven Wilson, Tveitan is well underway, dictating the future direction of the genre and its more metallic aspects in particular.

Download: Disassembled, Mass Darkness, My Heart is of the North, Until I Too Dissolve, Celestial Violence
For the fans of: Arcturus, Enslaved, Opeth, Vulture Industries
Listen: Facebook

Release date 08.04.2016
Candlelight / Spinefarm Records

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