FFO: The Blackened Poppy Prog Metal Album You Didn't Know You Needed
Ihsahn, like Devin Townsend, strives to never make the same album twice. Whether it was with Emperor or his continuing solo work, every album has it's own distinct sound. With his 6th album, Arktis, the direction has gone in a way that no one would expect, yet, is oddly expected. How does this make sense in the slightest? Let me explain...
The album starts with Disassembled. Right off the bat it comes with a very proggy feel to it, much like the band, Leprous. This is expected as said band was Ihsahn's backing band until the band was big enough to be able to branch out on their own. Although they haven't fully left him behind as Leprous singer, Einar Solberg contribute his clean vocals to the song. As for the song itself, it ranges from proggy to very poppy to Ihsahn's recognizable blackened screams. A lovechild between Leprous and Shining (NOR) with Ihsahn curating the creation. Mass Darkness is next and it again goes into uncharted territory, very catchy modern metal. No doubt Ihsahn has this in mind when he asked Trivium's Matt Heafy to contribute his clean vocals to this song. It really feels like Trivium wrote an Emperor song yet could not take away their poppy and catchy elements to make it tr00. My Heart Is Of The North again feels like a track that would have been written by Shining (NOR). Such an oddly catchy and glorious track. While there is a little bit of electronic moments, they are pushed in the background for the jazzy and modern-ish black metal mix. South Winds brings in the most polarizing song on the album. It is 2000s dance keyboard driven. It is much like a dark rave mix that you would hear in a black metal BDSM club. The chorus brings it back into more of a traditional Ihsahn sound with a proggy driven chorus. Such an odd mix that works. In The Vaults is technically a ballad. It really has a big 80s metal vibe that got mixed with 2000s prog metal. Until I Too Dissolve again brings the 80s vibe in a big way. It honestly feels like a riff that The Scorpions would write. While, of course, there is Ihsahn's signature screams in moments, it is heavily a cock rock song, but an excellent cock rock song and one of the best tracks of the album. Pressure starts right off the bat with a Frank Zappa style opening riff that leads to some insane drumming by former Leprous drummer and Ihsahn and Shining (NOR) drummer, Tobias Andersen. Right about the half way mark of the song features the only Symphonic Black Metal moment of the entire album and it rips you apart! The song ends on a more sludgy feel before giving way to the next song, Frail. Starting off with an acoustic passage, it leads into a dark carnival/vaudeville style piano, circus style drumming, and 80s science fiction keyboards. For fans of bands like Stolen Babies and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, this is 100% up your alley. Crooked Red Line features Shining (NOR) mastermind Jorgen Munksby on saxophone (his 3rd time appearing on an Ihsahn album). The song is very reminiscent of the title track of the 2010 album, After. Very mild and eerie. It gives a 1930's US Noire feeling. Roughly half way through the song, it becomes slow, doomy, and filled with Munksby's distinct saxophone stylings before leading back into the Noire scene. Celestrial Violence is the last track on the standard edition of the album. It once again features vocals from Einar Solberg. The song starts with acoustic guitar buried in the background with piano before you get bombarded with a wall of blackened prog. If there was to say there was any traditional song you could expect from Ihsahn, this would be the one, but take that with a HUGE grain of salt. If you enjoyed what was done on the albums After and Eremita, this will be much more up your alley, but keep in mind, it very much fits in the style of this album. If you are fortunate enough to get the limited edition version of the album, you get an additional track, Til For Ulven. This is a 9 minute song that features Norwegian spoken word poetry and horror style piano that is in tribute to Norwegian poet, Til Ulven. The song begins to pick up about 3/4ths of the way through where Ihsahn goes into is black metal vocals and distorted guitar then it fades away. I won't pretend to understand the Norwegian language, so I don't know if this is one of Ulven's poems, or just in tribute to him. Either way, considering Ulven committed suicide in 1995, the music behind it perfectly fits the title.
This album is the Blackened Poppy Prog Metal album you didn't know you needed...until now! This reaches on so many different boarders of what one thought was possible. Black Metal, Avant-garde, Prog, Jazz, Pop, Rave; it's all there and it all makes sense. While you could not possibly comprehend the entire album in one sitting, upon repeated listens, you see how everything melds together and exactly what Ihsahn was going for with Arktis. Without question it will polarize many fans, but if you have enjoyed most of, if not all of what what Ihsahn has done in his solo career, Arktis proves to everyone that this is the next logical step in his career. And with being a little more accessible, maybe this will lead to a US tour? We can only hope so!
Ihsahn- Arktis available April 8th through Candlelight Records
That Drummer Guy: Radio DJ, Interviewer, Reviewer, overall...an OK guy.