Review Summary: Oh, just another stunning release from metal's most versatile frontman.
Now overtaking the time-frame between conception and disbandment of his black metal band, Emperor, Ihsahn’s solo group have risen from the embers of Emperor to form a band that can blend elegancy and bleakness like no other. Though everyone is swayed towards albums like ”In The Nightside Eclipse” whenever they hear Ihsahn’s name, to understand his true temperament would be more effective listening to the span his solo act.
Beginning with integrating classical music with black metal then advancing further to more progressive realms, his belief of individualism and personal growth only strengthened his attitude towards the variation of musical styles that he incorporates into these records. 2013’s “Das Seelenbrechen” seemed like the final stage of evolution. It was an utterly bizarre (yet satisfying) composition which mainly orbited around atmosphere rather than melodies like all of his past work. Now that Ihsahn can see the scope of his experiments, his sixth album “Arktis.” sounds like a concoction of all his past ideas united as one vision.
That vision is to transport us to realms of discomfort. This is a place where conditions are totally unpredictable and arrive unexpectedly. ‘South Winds’ exemplifies this erratic mood unlike any other on the album. There’s electronica, hissing vocals and groovy metal but the multitude of genres displayed in this song are so fantastically contradictory to one another that it shouldn’t work, yet strangely, the dynamism between each transition just seems right. The feeling of discomfort that “Arkis.” portrays doesn’t just come from is unpredictability though. ‘In The Vaults’ takes us to cold northern scenes where delicate melodies and tender lyrics are the only companion in this vast soundscape.
If you can say that Ihsahn has ‘a typical sound’, then “Arktis.” does continue to practice it yet each song still holds its own personal identity. Riff driven songs that make his music so catchy include ‘Disassembled’, a gambolling “My Heart Is Of The North”-which strangely sounds like Ghost, the rock n roll infested ‘Until I Too Dissolve’ and the relentless ‘Pressure’ which ends up exploding in on itself in a storm of uncontained wrath.
Ihsahn’s traditional rasps also resonate around the expertly executed instrumental elements which are only increased by the guest appearances that feature on “Arktis.” Ihsahn and Einar Solberg (Leprous) alternate between desperation and anguish in the emotionally captivating ‘Celestial Violence’ and Matt Heafy (Trivium) lends his lungs in the chorus to the schizophrenic ‘Mass Darkness’ that consequently creates one of the biggest vocal hooks on the album. Although not singing, Jørgen Munkeby (Shining [NOR]) makes a luxurious saxophone entrance to ‘Crooked Red Line’ that melts the ice from your still heart when the notes are coupled with Ihsahn’s clean vocals.
Ihsahn has offered us a well produced album that is a creative work of art when absorbed fully but since there are no filler songs on “Arktis.”, you could easily pick out specific tracks which are wild, sensitive or just damn catchy on their own.