Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

ihsahn pharos


EP Review: IHSAHN Pharos

Review 0
9/10 Reviewer

Earlier this year, black/progressive metal legend Ihsahn released the first of two 2020 EPs, Telemark. Designed as a relatively unpolished and violent ode to his homeland and musical influences, it was a great example of his harsher and more ruthless qualities (not to mention a fine follow-up to 2018’s Ámr LP). All the while, he suggested that its eventual counterpart—then without an official name or release date—would juxtapose the first collection with “more progressive, experimental, and mellow elements.” True to that promise, Pharos—another five-track sequence that ends with two cover songs—sees Ihsahn doubling down on his lighter, catchier, and more symphonic nature. Whether that makes it superior or inferior to Telemark depends on which side of his persona you prefer, but one thing’s for sure: it contains some of the most beautiful, luscious, and melodic material he’s ever done.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

In further explaining how the two EPs differ (in the official press release), Ihsahn surmises: “Where Telemark was all about the familiar and the close-to-home, Pharos take[s] a distant perspective and a more exploratory mindset.” Recorded mostly at his home studio—with additional drums from past contributor Tobias Solbakk and support from Leprous frontman Einar Solberg—it deals with “the societal shifts we have all faced.” (Obviously, with all that’s happened as a result of COVID-19, it’s even more relevant now than when it was recorded.) Considering how spiritual, introspective, and engrossing Ihsahn’s music tends to be, it’s no shock that he explores themes of existential quandary and cultural weaknesses with such serene clarity and allure here.

EP Review: IHSAHN Pharos

Ihsahn (courtesy of Candlelight/Spinefarm Records)

All three new songs are excellent. At first, starter “Losing Altitude” contrasts a distorted yet patient guitar with angelic vocal harmonies, clean guitar arpeggios, and plaintive piano chords. Once the percussion and heavier tones come in, it becomes totally absorbing, with the clearest past comparison being the moody hook of “Where You Are Lost and I Belong.” There are also a few electronic touches, as well as a perfectly suited use of strings, that make it more fleshed-out and exploratory. Afterward, “Spectre at the Feast” is even more tasteful and orchestral, with a purposefully “Bond-theme-esque cinematic pop sensibility” that’s suspenseful, cautionary, and pristine. Albeit brief, the near-closing guitar solo is awesome as well. As for the title track, it’s quite dynamic, mixing booming and ominous choral gravitas with jazzily subdued piano realizations. However unintentional, it evokes Ihsahn’s traditional aesthetic as much as it does Opeth’s stylistic transformation during the 2010s (especially on last year’s In Cauda Venenum).

As with the closing duo of Telemark—idiosyncratic renditions of Lenny Kravitz’s “Rock and Roll is Dead” and Iron Maiden’s “Wrathchild”—Ihsahn's reimaginings of “Roads” by Portishead and “Manhattan Skyline” by A-ha are wonderful. Interestingly, he was apprehensive about covering the former due to how much he loves the original (as well as how hard it is to sing); unsurprisingly, though, he completely nails it by staying faithful to their foundation while also incorporating fuller organic timbres. The same can be said for “Manhattan Skyline,” with Solberg’s bellows very much mirroring those of A-ha singer Morten Harket. Both pieces are flawless examples of how to make someone else’s song your own without straying too far from their original blueprints.

Pharos is an exceptional release. In terms of getting both fresh Ihsahn tracks and remade versions of other artists' classics, it completely satisfies and attests to how he's becoming increasingly special and capable as the years have passed. Sure, it’d be even better if it had more new content, but it’s hard to complain when the closing covers still feel so fitting. Like many artists, Ihsahn is often pigeonholed and stereotyped into only one style, and while he certainly excels as a black metal maestro, he’s always stretched himself far beyond those borders. Pharos is perhaps the most succinct yet powerful example of precisely that, and it’s an essential listening experience for anyone who loves densely impassioned and intense compositions.

Show Comments / Reactions

You May Also Like

Latest News

Plus releases from August Burns Red, Exploring Birdsong, Ihsahn, Keep of Kaleesin, Floor Jansen, Liturgy, Mork & Ov Sulfur.


"These are songs to cherish and treasure, and are some of Ihsahn's very best endeavors in a masterfully storied body of work."