Ihsahn

Eremita

01. Arrival
02. The Paranoid
03. Introspection
04. The Eagle And The Snake
05. Catharsis
06. Something Out There
07. Grief
08. The Grave
09. Departure

[06/19/12]
[Candlelight Records]

It goes without saying that Ihsahn is one of metal’s most prominent figures — especially in the realm of black metal as frontman of the legendary Emperor — and his impressive career is continually expanding. It has been two years since he wowed the metal-verse with the stunningly bleak and beautiful masterpiece, After, and now coming off of such a highly acclaimed album, Ihsahn begins a new phase in his career. Delving even further into the realm of progressive music, the focus of his latest solo release is the theme of isolation. Eremita, the fourth album in his solo discography, is centered around the expression of ideas fueled and influenced by the great German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. The follow-up to a major album is always a worrisome affair, with everyone’s expectations high, the line between good and bad is wire thin. While this album is a bit more scattered thematically, the level of quality set precedent on Ihsahn’s passed efforts is maintained, and unsurprisingly, surpassed.

Eremita is an album that brings to life fresh images to Ihsahn’s musical gallery. The last three albums under his wing all fell under a conceptual banner which culminated into its final breath with 2010’s After, an album that received instant and widespread acclaim and is still being lauded to this day. To signify the coming of a new age, and a new sound, Eremita opens with the dynamic, rock oriented track ‘Arrival‘. While After was an album that evoked large open spaces, and expansive soundscapes with its blend of  depressive progressivism and keenly placed black metal, Eremita settles on a more groove-oriented and closed in sound while still maintaining a progressive sense about itself. The general sound of Eremita is akin to hard rock, with intense grooves, rhythmic throbbing, and catchy hooks that drag the listener by the ear and hardly ever lets go.

Even with that in mind, Ihsahn never relents with the heavy hitting black metal stylings that have made him famous. In a way, this album backslides sonically to a more familiar sound than that of After. Where that album only meandered and dipped its toe in the bleak waters of black metal, Eremita features several tracks that are almost entirely composed of a black metal-eque nature. The majority of the music on Eremita is fast-paced and extremely dark, as one should expect if they are familiar with this man’s work. Not wanting to fall too far away from the sound of After, Ihsahn made sure to include several intense jazz-influenced passages akin to those found on his last release. They are not as prominent as they were on its predecessor, however.

Ever since Ihsahn began his solo career, he has felt more than comfortable enlisting the help of other prominent musicians in his field, and Eremita is no exception. This album features a nice compilation of guest musicians and vocalists that all stand out and contribute a great deal to the tracks they appear on. In fact, for those unfamiliar with Ihsahn’s work, the impressive arrangement of guests should prove to be a major drawing point. And rightly so, as these contributors include several members from the impeccable Leprous, who of course act as Ihsahn’s touring band, the guitar virtuoso Jeff Loomis, SHINING‘s Jorgen Munkeby (whose skills as a saxophonist greatly contributed to After), Ihsahn’s wife — and former band-mate from the Peccatum project— Heidi S. Tveitan, and the internet’s favorite metal nerd Devin Townsend. As was said, each musician contributes a great deal to the sound of the specific piece of music they are featured on. Munkeby once again adds a beautiful and dissonant layer of  his signature saxophone work on key tracks, Townsend and the other vocalists bring in a breath of fresh air with their varied and contrasting vocal styles to that of Ihsahn’s snarling rasp, while Loomis and Andersen tastefully compliment Ihsahn’s music and add a bit of their own personality to the instrumentation on these songs. Despite the fact that all of the guests have a strong presence on the album, none of them outshine Ihsahn’s performance, which says more about Ihsahn than the others; the man is just too powerful of a persona to be anything but dominating.

The key to the musical success of Eremita is the avant-garde factor. While there is a lot going on within the context of the album, nothing stays the focus of the music for too long. One aspect of music gives way to another, giving the record a transformative, or almost revolving door quality. It keeps the listener on their toes, as the album is laden with a multitude of surprises that helps prevent it from truly being defined by one, two, or even a handful of genre tags. It’s not a wholly progressive album, far from a complete black metal album, and not crazy enough to be considered avant-garde, but this mish-mash of sounds and styles is what makes Eremita so profound and enjoyable. There are rich melodies, sections of abrasive darkness, catchy grooves, and a slurry of other sonic qualities that put this album above and beyond what Ihsahn has achieved in the past. Regardless of what you call it, the music on Eremita is an exceptional step forward for this Norwegian metaller, and will surely be regaled as one of the stand out albums of the year.

Ihsahn – Eremita gets…

5/5

– EC

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