Ihsahn, chief composer and frontman of the legendary Norwegian black metal band Emperor, gives us his latest opus. This took some three years in the making. Embracing sounds and influences from far beyond the world of black metal for some years now, Ihsahn seemingly always leaves you guessing what he's going to create next. This self-titled record is not unique in this sense as we find our favorite Telemark native son yet-again breaking new ground, while still holding true to his earlier roots.
Ihsahn being Ihsahn, we get a record that challenges the listener. This self-titled release is not really black metal, it's also not really prog. Instead, we have something that takes elements of both, but then gives us a really hefty helping of the orchestral. What Ihsahn does is brilliantly blend elements of different genres in a manner that few could actually achieve. Multiple layers and textures that are sweepingly beautiful yet, at the same time, viciously aggressive. Ihsahn's distinct vocal, meshed with the elegance of the strings, is a profound juxtaposition that will grab you and make you feel both exhilerated and unsettled. This is ever-so-apparent in the track "Pilgrimage to Oblivion." The song (and video) may make you feel uneasy, however, you remain entranced by the composition.
Tracks like "Twice Born" are angry and broodingly dark. While some of his more recent work might have made you think he has, perhaps, mellowed just a bit as he's now in the midst of middle-age, songs like this one demonstrate that his interest in dark affect and provocation are still alive and well. "Twice Born" is a short cut with a lot to say in a short frame to say it. There's no excess here nor on the rest of the record. If anything, I expected longer compositions that might have been more in line with what we find in the world of symphonic black metal. But Ihsahn shakes off any need for excess and gets right to the core of what he wants the listener to hear.
The majestic "At the Heart of All Things Broken" is a powerful composition that features everything you probably already love about Ihsahn. We get Ihsahn's signature "dirty" vocals, along with Einar Solberg's clean signing as well. At over nine minutes, this almost sounds like something out of movie.
The production one the record is incredible as is the mix. The concept itself is also rather novel, with essentially two separate releases in one. As he tells us, "I approached the writing with the intent to present the material in its full-blown metal expression, but also to arrange the orchestral parts in such a way that they would work independently. Somehow an attempt to write a soundtrack within the structures of the full production, allowing me to explore different, and sometimes contrasting, variations of essentially the same music."
The result is that there is a main story that is presented in the "full" metal version of the record, while there is a second story (just orchestral) the runs both concurrent the main story and as a stand alone distinct entity.
Overall, this is another solid LP from Ihsahn, though I must admit, I was hoping for some more music that focused more prominently on the integration of horns, which he did so well on songs like 2019's "Stridig." Nonetheless, Ihsahn fans will certainly be more than satisfied with these songs.