Review Summary: Soundscapes collide and instruments wail as Ihsahn shows what he is capable of, and what is lingering in the shadows
Perhaps more so than any other artist in his genre, ex-Emperor mastermind Ihsahn has crafted a solo career outside of his main act that is actually worth listening to. Granted, he has experienced his fair share of hiccups such as his sophomore effort angL
which focused far too much on the negative aspects of Ihsahn’s musical talents and not enough on his seemingly unending vision, but for the most part his venture into his own musical personality has been a great success. His music is firmly entrenched in the realm of progressive black metal, and progressive it is. It is nice to see that Eremita
capitalizes on the mass of musical information undoubtedly churning in Vegard Sverre Tveitan’s head, because when Ihsahn lets his creativity take control, great things happen. With a black metal genius such as him at the helm, it is no wonder that Emperor was so innovative for their time, and why his self-titled solo act continues to burn with a searing flame where others who took the cold, arduous journey of solo work fizzle out and die.
With performances by big-name musicians ranging from Jeff Loomis to Devin Townsend to Jörgen Munkeby of Shining (Norway’s Shining, that is) fame, one can imagine the veritable slew of sounds clashing together on Eremita
. While that may be an ill omen for folks of lesser compositional ability, Ihsahn works wonders with making the efforts seem absolutely fluid and natural. The fact that Einar Solberg provides guest cleans on “Arrival” is something that doesn’t stand out as odd when listening to the track – and that is exactly how guest appearances should be. Granted, there are times when it is Ihahn – not the guests – who make things awkward, such as the rather ridiculous chorus of “The Paranoid” or the sometimes silly lyrics, but at other times Eremita
shines like a star on the verge of a beautiful but deadly supernova. Heidi Tveitan – Ihsahn’s wife – breaks the mold with fantastic female cleans to close out the album on “Departure”, while Devin Townsend sounds out on “Introspection” – a song featuring a placid and haunting bridge alongside Townsend’s vocals that came entirely out of nowhere. There are no two songs that sound quite alike on Eremita
, and that is what makes the album so wonderful to listen to.
While the array of performances from artists of various genres gives the album its distinct and exotic flavor, Ihsahn himself seems to bit showing a bit of age. While his performance of the core instrumentation is spot-on, his vocals are quickly taking a nosedive, a fact that becomes quite apparent as soon as he opens his mouth. While Ihsahn has never really been the best black metal vocalist out there, his screams are becoming wearisome and hollow, taking away from the impact of the album’s very diverse and colorful atmosphere. Thankfully, the incorporation of influences from jazz, avant-garde, and progressive all help to mask the sheer rigidity and rather tiresome monotony of the black metal moments, which often lack the vibrancy of the album’s other offerings. Munkeby’s saxophone puts on a glorious display that simply works given the erratic nature of the album’s pacing and sound, while Tobias Ørnes Andersen’s drumming is a treat to listen to as he slams away a startling array of percussion styles with ease and fluidity – see “The Grave” for a dizzying display of both simultaneously.
The arrangements soar at times, with “The Eagle and the Snake” approaching epic levels of atmospheric building during the middle of its almost 9-minute running time, featuring everything from wild guitar solos to cooky saxophone playing to eerie clean vocals. The same goes for more or less the entire album, where absurdity and oddity rules supreme, but in a way that is quite appealing to a wide array of listeners. The album could be called Ihsahn’s most diverse to date, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best of his solo career thus far. Black metal – the genre that made him who he is today and what still seems to be a strong driving force of his musical endeavors – seems to be giving Ihsahn a bit of trouble. The album isn’t as heavy as it ought to be partly because Ihsahn’s screams are so tame and because the riffing backing it isn’t fully committed to sticking to any one course of action. It may even be right to say that Eremita
isn’t exploring its depths as much as it could. The album could be downright marvelous if it cuts out a bit of the eccentricities while still retaining its unpredictable nature, instead opting to develop its obvious multitude of influences with more care – but that is a task that is quite difficult to achieve, even for talents like Ihsahn.
Ihsahn, even with all of his experience, still has yet to really make a masterpiece outside of his work with Emperor. Eremita
has the makings of something excellent, especially given the quality of the guest performances and the sheer creative vision that Tveitan holds within himself. However, the biggest barrier to Ihsahn’s music is Ihsahn himself. The man seems awash with ideas that sometimes don’t exactly pan out as planned, and while those moments are clearly overshadowed by what he gets right, they still remain. That doesn’t stop Eremita
from being a truly great album, but it does keep you thinking after the album ended about what Ihsahn could do to improve the record. For the time being, though, Ihsahn remains a venerable figure within the metal scene, showing with each passing album that he has no intentions of slowing down or taking a break. There is so much that he wants to do with his music, and it seems that even after his work with Emperor, Peccatum, Zyklon-B, and his self-titled act, among others, he still has something new to reveal. That, really, is the sign of a truly great musician.