Review Summary: Ihsahn progresses on the final entry in the trilogy of releases, but After isn't quite able to hit the mark.
Vegard Sverre Tveitan is a renowned figure in the underground metal scene. Having been a pivotal member of Emperor and aiding in family project Peccatum, one would expect the Norwegian composer to excel at anything he put his signature on. Well, for the most part, in comparison to his past projects, Ihsahn hasn’t exactly been able to hold the same level of quality throughout the project’s existence since 2005. The composer’s voice has noticeably aged since his days in Emperor, and the combination of genres that Vegard tried to combine throughout the course of angL
and The Adversary
wasn’t quite as smooth in practice as the performer had probably intended it to be.
is the next offering from the Norwegian composer and is the last album in a trilogy of releases that started with 2006's The Adversary
. From the onset, one will notice a difference in the tone and range of Vegard’s voice in comparison to his performance on 2008’s angL
. It is as if he has bulked up his shriek in practice or production to where it is not as grating on the ears. Whereas Vegard’s output on past solo offerings could be compared to one scratching their nails on a chalkboard, the composer sounds more refined and complete-sounding in his howling, while still being able keep a black metal feel for the album. Clean vocals also appear throughout After
once again, and they too have received a touch-up in quality.
Experiments with interludes and other genre influences caused listeners to compare Ihsahn’s prior albums to bands such as Opeth or even Mirrorthrone. If anything, After
is a progression into even more experimental waters. Saxophones dot much of the album--I kid you not--and some ambiance and atmospheric touches fill in things as well. While the sax inclusion was a little off-putting at first, it actually turns to work in practice. As examples, a beautiful saxophone solo follows a build-up in the ten-minute “Undercurrent”, and the instrument’s inclusion on the driving riffs of second track “A Grave Inversed” adds to the urgency of the track in a very positive, distinct way; what could have destroyed this album by being a comical inclusion actually causes Ihsahn to gain some distinction in the black metal genre.
Tempo changes follow from track to track on After
as well. Whether it’s the driving feel of the aforementioned “A Grave Inversed”, or the slowed-down musings that immediately follow on the title track, the Norwegian artist’s third solo offering is certainly a diverse listen throughout much of its playing time. Some tracks effortlessly flow from one to another--see the acoustic strings that conclude the title track and transition into the more energetic “Frozen Lakes On Mars”, or the ambiance that eases into the saxophone part that starts grand finale “On the shores”--while others just seem to hit a bump in the road--e.g., ”Austere” meanders for too long after the build-up in “Undercurrent”. However, “Heavens Black Sea” picks up where the "Austere" faulted and benefits from an excellent guitar solo that is supplemented with Vegard’s clean vocals midway through the song. “On The Shores” encompasses the general feel of After
; extreme tempo changes, saxophone solos, and black metal riffs complete and summarize the album with a reflective and almost
a progression for Ihsahn? In many ways it is: the album contains a stronger production than past offerings; Vegard’s vocals have improved; and the saxophone does a good job of aiding in the third offering’s area of distinction. That being said, in some places After
feels disjointed and incomplete. It seems Vegard is just now beginning to build on a new idea but can’t seem to finish it; as such, the album feels like a segue to something he may be trying to create in the future. It's like the Norwegian composer is edging closer to what he wants his ideal sound to be with After
, but he’s just not there yet. Is the album up to par with Emperor’s classic black metal offerings or Peccatum’s Lost In Reverie
? No, it's pretty obvious that it's not, but After
is a strong release that does show improvement and distinction for the Norwegian composer. Given the progression on this album, Ihsahn's next release will probably do some really wonderful things.