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Ihsahn: Eremita

Ihsahn's previous album After was easily his most realized work of his solo career, incorporating more complex arrangements, progressive ideas, denser sound manipulations, and inventive song structures into his craft. I was really curious to hear what direction he'd take on Eremita.

For those of you who have been turned off by the heavy use of saxophone on After, you need to know that Jorgen Munkeby of Shining is still part of Ihsahn's songwriting vision. He weaves into the compostions during pivotal moments, injecting the passages with avant-garde elements that bring to mind a weird marriage of Univers Zero and Ulver circa Perdition City. At times, the saxophone is employed to underscore the metallic thrust that dominates the mix while there's also plenty of space for solo saxophone lines resolving the themes. On the bonus track, the ballady "Recollection," for instance, we listen to Ihsahn singing over a slow-paced sax tune, which is quite a departure from his other material.

Eremita features a bigger list of guest musicians than prior albums. After having worked with Garm and Mikael Akerfeldt before, Ihsahn exchanges verses with the great Devin Townsend on "Introspection," a song informed by clean acoustic guitars in its intro and, thus, recalling Townsend's Ghost for a moment. It then adopts a jazz-inflicted solo before giving way to Ihsahn's classic shriek and an infectious run-out solo. Leprous vocalist Einar Solberg appears on the opening cut, the aptly titled "Arrival" and contrasts the harsher, blackened screams with his clean operatic tone while setting the tone of the album with reams of atonal passages, abrasive fretwork, and abrupt transitions. It climaxes when a doubled vocal track takes over at the finale: Ihsahn and Solberg sing simultaneously, one in his unique hellish tone and the other in his cleanest delivery ever. I don't think I've ever heard anything like this before.

Jeff Loomis supplies a shred-intensive neoclassical solo on "The Eagle and the Snake," but whether the solo actually contributes to the depth of the composition is debatable. Loomis is a fantastic player, but his solo on this tune kind of seems out of place, given this is one of the darkest and most atmospheric tracks on the album. It begins with a tortured low voice that will please fans of the vocals on the first Agalloch and Katatonia albums. The arrangement is suffocatingly dense and Ihsahn's own guitar work is beautifully grey. It is built around non-tonal guitar language and pushes the song into avant-garde territory before it is interrupted by a flurry of notes by Loomis. It eventually concludes with mosquito-like sax wailing and ends on a grandiose note.

Some of the clean vocal choices by Ihsahn may surprise his fan base. The beautifully crafted "Catharsis" is gloomy and evokes feelings of apathy due to the way the whole atmosphere is established, but as the almost pop-like clean vocals take over during the midsection, one cannot but help wonder what he was thinking. His guitar playing on this track is sublime, though, possibly his most moving. The imperfection actually adds to the power and helps convey the intended mood.

Fans of Emperor continue to look for moments that harken back to Ihsahn's glorious black metal days. Maybe the chanted vocal parts of "The Paranoid" which synthesizes oddly tuned guitars with strange-sounding synths or the blisteringly fast picked guitar run of "Something Out There" will restore their faith in Ihsahn blending the most wicked musical ideas with extreme metal sensibilities. I personally find his experimental side more appealing at this point. "The Grave" weaves epic riffs with blackened shrieks and slow, atonal sections filled with awesome percussive elements. The diabolical scream at the end will raise the hairs on your neck!

I think Tobias Andersen is a great drummer as evidenced on his performance on "Departure" (with vocals by Ihsahn's wife). His tone is full and powerful, arguably the best I've heard on an Ihsahn album. However, unlike Asgeir Mickelson and Lars K. Norberg who provided the drum and bass work on the previous work, the rhythm tandem on this album is less intricate. I think experimental albums like this benefit the most from a complex and intense rhythmic structure, and for that, Mickelson and Norberg are the ideal duo.

Jens Bogren's mix is immaculate. Ihsahn should continue working with him as long as he makes music.

Track Listing

  1. Arrival
  2. The Paranoid
  3. Introspection
  4. The Eagle and the Snake
  5. Catharsis
  6. Something Out There
  7. Grief
  8. The Grave
  9. Departure
  10. Recollection (Bonus)

Added: June 21st 2013
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Related Link: Ihsahn website
Hits: 3730
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Ihsahn: Eremita
Posted by Steven Reid, SoT Staff Writer on 2013-06-21 17:57:02
My Score:

A man of many projects, as the years have progressed one-time Emperor front man Ihsahn has increasingly focused on his solo career. His first two efforts under his own name further extending the extreme metal of his previous main band. However 2010's After was a game changer, introducing a strangely dark jazz fusion to the mix through the saxophone work of Jørgen Munkeby, who again features heavily on the fourth Ihsahn album Eremita. For some this move into deeply unsettling and at times deeply un-metal territory proved too much, with the focus on avant-garde darkly deep prog proving too left field for the more main-ex-stream metal minded. Others however saw the move as a breakthrough and also as a way of extending the progressive nature of the latter Emperor albums, while remaining in touch with his black metal routes. Those of the latter opinion will find much to engage them on Eremita, while anyone who lost faith with After, will have it thoroughly destroyed here. To the extent that some might call this album a masterpiece, while others will declare it a disaster. In the end, the truth lies somewhere in between, with this being an album that positively thrives through its lofty ambitions, while struggling under the weight of the sheer scope of what has been intended.

Basically now a core trio of Ihsahn on vocals, guitars, bass and keyboards, drummer Tobias Ømes Andersen and the aforementioned saxophonist Jorgen Munkeby, the threesome drive most of the nine songs on Eremita to their cacophonous, yet focused conclusions. Guests (as ever) do appear, with Devin Townsend (although you'd struggle to know it was him) adding a vocal contribution to the, in terms of this album, straight forward clash of extreme metal and clean passages of "Introspection", while Andersen's Leprous bandmate and long time Ihsahn collaborator Einar Solberg brings his distinctive voice to the album opening "Arrival". A song which broods threateningly as it builds from staccato riffing to full out aural assault. Ihsahn's wife Ihriel adds an ethereal vocal style to closer "Departure" and interestingly from the songs which feature guests, this is the only one to verge into the more avant-garde attack employed so keenly elsewhere. A slow steady build being thoroughly crushed by a gargantuan riff and wails and squeals of saxophone – the latter proving far more "extreme" than any down tuned riff, or tortured gargled vocal. The most obvious serving of this style of approach arrives through the snarlingly sharp taloned "The Eagle And The Snake" (featuring a guitar solo from Jeff Loomis) which, while employing some ultra heavy guitars and throat shredding vocals, actually hits hardest by meandering malevolently through mid paced beats and layered sax spits, the guitars taking an aggressive, yet decidedly back seat position. However "Catharsis" takes slow-steady-sax to the extreme, barely holding a structure together, making the smooth clean vocal sections harder hitting. Once the battle begins between the sax and an equally unruly guitar outburst, it is easy to see why longer term fans of Ihsahn may well feel marginalised to breaking point, no matter how well this style is presented. Although even for the more adventurous out there the clattering clamour of drums as the other instruments jostle for supremacy that makes up "Something Out There", may prove just a little too contrived to merit many repeat visits.

Ihsahn deserves to be commended for the sheer diversity and scope of what has, on the whole, been expertly delivered on Eremita. It may not all come off to the same spectacularly high standard, but in truth it is seldom short of compelling. Whether Ihsahn can take his fans on this long, winding musical road is another question. However I'd guess that for every follower he loses, a new one will be willing and ready to take their place, as this is very interesting stuff indeed.

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