Ihsahn - Das Seelenbrechen Review

Ihsahn 4

rating: 4.5

Ever since the news broke that Emperor would be reforming to play a string of European festival dates next year, notably including Wacken and Bloodstock 2014, countless fans of the black metal genre (and even more traditional metal fans, such was the bands legacy and impact) have been turning to their record collections to pour through the bands back catalogue in anticipation. As a result, the release of frontman Ihsahn's newest solo effort seems to have crept up extremely quietly - its unexpected arrival also partly down to the fact that his magnificent previous effort, Eremita, was only released last year. When full albums are released in such quick succession, there can sometimes be a question of how different they are going to be. Is the artist drawing from the same source of inspiration on both releases? Does a higher number of songs equate to a dilution of quality? Ihsahn has gone on record to state that this album was recorded in such a way as to deliberately place himself outside of his comfort zone. Several of the songs were improvised as they were recorded, with the musician going into the recording studio with just an idea of the kind of atmosphere he wanted to create with his instruments. The result of this is a dark, foreboding and sometimes downright disturbing collection of songs that are a far cry from his previous solo efforts. Gone are the more traditional progressive elements showcased on Eremita, replaced with sounds that are at times overbearing, dissonant, and ugly, whilst at the same time managing to retain a sense of haunting beauty, the kind of fatal attraction that draws you into the music whilst at the same time placing you on edge in fear of a stealthily approaching blow. The album opens with the malevolent, grandiose Hiber, which contains a rapid piano line akin to something out of an old school horror movie as the killer moves toward an unsuspecting villain. The guitar and drums in this song lock into a series of stabbing hits, which soon descend into large, descending walls of sound with a background of drum fills that resemble rocks crashing and breaking. Right from the outset it's clear to the listener what kind of atmosphere Ihsahn had in mind when he was coming up with the concept for this record - and it's a theme that remains throughout, represented in the droning bass notes in M, which sound almost like a fog horn cutting through the gloom. This song also contains some of Ihsahn's best lyrical work on the album, beginning with spoken word containing the menacingly uttered "Truth, lie. By how many cuts will you die?", confirming the malicious intent lurking in the mist. NaCl marks the return of Ihsahn's more progressive rock sound, at one point mirroring prog-metal titans Opeth's The Devil's Orchard off their latest effort Heritage. The fourth track on the album, Pulse, is the perhaps the biggest departure on the album, even from a man who is known for his experimentation. It begins with an almost electro-pop feel, with a bass line which sets the mood throughout the song without being overpowering. On this track, Ihsahn changes the focus of the song onto himself, a theme which continues on later tracks, asking himself "I don't know what I fear the most / What I am or what I'm not". This is perhaps the standout track on the album, being vastly different from the initial Ihsahn we were introduced to all those years ago on Emperor's In the Nightside Eclipse, but managing to be just as haunting. Regen contains the finest use of Ihsahn's harsh vocals on the album, which lend a gravitas to the track as opposed to the albums recurrent eerie cleans. This track also contains a section of majestic choral vocals which hark back to the atmospheric vibes showcased in Emperor's classic Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk. The album features another track that takes it's theme to the ultimate extreme; Tacit 2 is essentially just an amalgamation of distorted, tuneless guitars over wild drum fills, with Ihsahn drawing out more unearthly screams alongside them. In short, Tacit 2 is black metal reborn. Overall, the album does not seem to have much cohesion, and is often jarring when listened to all the way through, although while this can be disruptive for the listener, in a way it actually helps to foster the overall uncomfortable atmosphere that Ihsahn had intended to create.
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21. London. Into mostly Rock/Metal/Prog music. Big horror/fantasy/sci-fi fan. Massive Liverpool FC fan.

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