Ihsahn – “Àmr” (Candlelight/Spinefarm)
While being forever renowned as the guitarist / vocalist of Emperor, it may not be quite as obvious that Ihsahn has now spent more years as a solo artist – and released almost twice as many albums as he did fronting one of Norway’s most famous black metal bands! “Àmr” is his 7th solo record and pretty much continues in the fine, diverse style as its 2 year predecessor “Arktis” with its rich blend of black metal, dark electronica and avant garde progressive rock. Very much in line with the cover of a fur draped, leather armchair adorned with skulls and candles in the background, this is music for the mature (black) metaller seeking higher pleasures than kicking over gravestones and setting fire to churches. It’s based on black metal going from a musical level to that of a state of mind, and as such “Àmr” truly embodies Ihsahn’s philosophy of doing as he wills, something he started back in the Emperor days by pushing out the envelop even then. So don’t be expecting anything formulaic although equally, the 10 tracks are not abstract, but all are, without a shadow of doubt, sophisticated. From mixing black metal drawls to clean soulful singing to djent riffs and Floydian ambient harmonies along with double bass beats, “Àmr” employs different soundscapes to give plenty of variety to the songs, resulting in shifting atmospheres from uplifting melodic moments to heightened drama and otherworldly menace – not to mention everything in between! From the intensity of ‘Wake’ with its black drawls, clanging melodies and intense drumming evolving progressively as illuminating lead work and harmonies morph increasingly along with dark ambience to ‘One Less Enemy’ with its mid paced double bass drumming and heavy djent riffs graced by cruelly captivating melodies and spacey synths, you know you’re in for one helluva mind bend from the dark master himself. And just to set the record straight comes the 11 minute ‘Alone’, as inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s poetry with its haunting piano and subtle background orchestrals soon joined by smashing drums and Ihsahn’s black drawls to create a moody, brooding piece that goes right into your soul and whisks you off into and through a storm. Very much composed in a 70s vein when an album was designed to be listened to from start to finish rather than being picked at, “Àmr” is yet another highlight in career of one never afraid to be different.