Considering his legacy as both frontman to arguably one of black metal’s finest groups and a solo explorer of extreme progressive metal, it would seem nowadays that Ihsahn hasn’t got anything left to prove. In his solo career alone, he has displayed time and again that his constant noodlings with styles which often contradict and clash with extreme metal (in this case classical, ambient, electronica and jazz amongst many others) actually work superbly to his advantage. With 2015’s Arktis however, Ihsahn proved that he could write straightforward, accessible songs whilst still maintaining that je ne sais quoi which made albums such as After such a milestone.
With this year’s Àmr however, there is evidently a growing threat that his new-found liking for straightforward songwriting may have already gone too far into its own void. From the get-go, opener “Lend Me the Eyes of Millenia” explores a daring and majestic voyage into electronica influences, and for a minute or two it would seem as if Ihsahn had never continued from the similar musical stylings of Das Seelenbrechen. In this case, familiar territory is re-entered as “In Rites of Passage” and “Twin Black Angels” take the elaborate usage of synthesisers to new extremes, almost flooding the entirety of both of these songs. Even in album previews “Arcana Imperii” and “Where You are Lost and I Belong”, this sense of simplistic musicianship actually works in Ihsahn’s favour, much in the same way that Arktis was able to maintain its accessibility and reach potentially wider audiences.
However, for all the confidence and boldness found in this fairly new musical direction, what is left out is quite clear: the emotional turmoil a listener can get from listening to Ihsahn’s past material, compared to the severe lack thereof in most of Àmr. It isn’t strikingly obvious for those who aren’t familiar with Ihsahn’s past material: Indeed, listening to “Sámr” bears strong resemblance to debut album The Adversary for all its clinical classicism and orchestral bravado. And in a similarly successful manner, closer “Wake” echoes the most epic, adventurous moments of After, with or without the foreboding jazz elements. Yet listening to the album as a whole unfortunately demonstrates a lack of emotional impact, as if Ihsahn himself eschewed the bombast and instead focussed on delivering riffs/basslines which created music for thought. Excellent enough for budding musicians who love experimental metal of course, but what about those who sought and found solace in After, or for some who even matched their darkest hour to the deep melancholy of Eremita? In Àmr, there’s less of this matter to be found, and in its place is Ihsahn’s attempt at staying musically relevant, but focussing far too much on that aspect and leaving out the essence of certain songs which made listeners feel something, rather than merely listen to it.
In all honesty, this aforementioned flaw is only clear to those who have listened to all of Ihsahn’s solo work before the release of Àmr. To those who haven’t had an introduction, Àmr is a real treat, still maintaining the successful exploration of different-and often conflicting-styles to Ihsahn’s unique brand of extreme metal. But with so much emotional impact made with the rest of his discography, it’s hard not to get the impression that this time around, Ihsahn was leaving something essential out of the mix.
Released: 4th May, 2018
1. Lend Me the Eyes of Millennia
2. Arcana Imperii
4. One Less Enemy
5. Where You are Lost and I Belong
6. In Rites of Passage
7. Marble Soul
8. Twin Black Angels
Official bandpage: https://www.facebook.com/ihsahnmusic