2018’s Ámr was undoubtedly one of Ihsahn’s best albums yet, solidifying further why the ex-Emperor frontman is among the most distinguished, bold, and extensive artists of his kind. It’s no wonder, then, why so many of us—myself included—anticipated his follow-up Telemark EP so heavily. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t disappoint at all, feeling very much like a continuation of where he left off while also showcasing how well he can adapt the music of others to suit his style. Sure, an entire collection of brand-new songs would’ve been ideal, but everything that’s here is essential nonetheless.
Telemark is the first of two planned five-track sequences dedicated to his homeland. Whereas its successor, whose title and release date haven’t been revealed, will feature “more progressive, experimental, and mellow elements,” this one embodies a stripped-down and harsher vibe. In the official press release, Ihsahn clarifies:
Having released full-length records nearly every second year since I was 16, I felt it might be time to try something else. . . . I have seven solo albums out now, so the first EP is like a small recap, in a way. I did touch on some of the same thematics with Arktis but this time it’s closer to home, both musically and, dare I say, culturally. . . . I decided early on that I wanted this to be very purely related to black metal aesthetics. I wanted to distill the basic, bare bones black metal influences of my musical roots, given the overall concept, writing something for and from Telemark. I decided to do Norwegian lyrics for the first time, too. It feels very much closer to home in many ways.
True to its intent, the EP instantly exposes its guttural grounding via starter “Stridig.” According to Ihsahn, it “describes a certain aspect of the Norwegian attitude” regarding “skepticism towards outside interference.” Right away, its eerie staccato guitar notes, violent riffs, pouncing percussion, foreboding growls, and occasional horns capture the heart of both that sentiment and Ihsahn’s broader aesthetic. It’s almost entirely heavy, yet several vivacious textures and changeups—including a soft midway break—keep the momentum and intrigue going. For the most part, “Nord” and the title track uphold that essence, but with slightly more accessible and warm approaches (such as backing harmonies, killer guitar solos, and more frequent respites from the viciousness). Together, they provide roughly eighteen classic minutes of eclectic Ihsahn aggression.
As for the two closing covers—Lenny Kravitz’s “Rock and Roll is Dead” and Iron Maiden’s “Wrathchild”—they feel right at home next to those three originals. That said, they’re also almost identical to the official versions, so if you want significantly more devilish and embellished—yet remarkably authentic—takes, you’ll love them. (Of course, if you’re looking for more innovative interpretations, you may be disappointed.)
Without a doubt, Telemark is an essential addition to Ihsahn’s catalog, as it does a great job of simultaneously picking up where Ámr ended, paying faithful homage to a couple of his older inspirations, and trying out at least one new technique (Norwegian lyrics). It certainly doesn’t push Ihsahn into significantly new territory, but it absolutely delivers what fans want and what he’s best at. As such, there’s little doubt that the aforementioned second EP will be amazing, too.