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Ihsahn - └mr (Album Review)

Monday, 14 May 2018 Written by Alec Chillingworth

Ihsahn is a genius.

It’s a big, divisive word, but he’s proven it time and time again. From his contribution to, and eventual commandeering of, Norwegian black metal’s most important band, Emperor, right through his six solo albums since 2006, he’s found ways to innovate with every string, every key of each instrument he has picked up.

The bar he’s set is high, because with 2016’s ‘Arktis.’ he made everything better. Its direct choruses lent the accompanying riffs a sharper quality, while its more traditional structures gave the record an extra sense of urgency. But ‘Àmr’ clambers over it, settling at an even higher rung on the songwriting ladder.

This album is truly accessible. Yes, it sounds like black metal. It’s harsh. But even when opening with the discordant, blastbeat-heavy Lend Me The Eyes Of The Millennia, Ihsahn is still pulling from John Carpenter and the sort of synth-wave stuff that’s reared its head again thanks to Stranger Things.

Then, of course, it leaps into orchestration seamlessly. These are thick, weighty movements that could soundtrack a Peter Jackson film. Coupled with Ihsahn’s enunciated, chilling screams, it’s the most he ever throws back to his former band on ‘Àmr’.

As for the rest of the album…these are pop songs, aren’t they? Theatrical, evil pop songs with clean choruses that just happen to be performed by a black metal artist. Ihsahn has always known his way around a hook, but it’s the sheer weight of them that impresses here. Every single song is packing a riff (Marble Soul), a solo (Arcana Imperii), or a line that leaves spectators hanging on every syllable, every note.

‘Àmr’ also allows us to revel in the little things; to enjoy ourselves. There is a build on One Less Enemy where the keyboards ham it up Treehouse of Horror style before Ihsahn reaches the line: “A refugee of reason, in a world of disbelief.” It’s so cool. It’s so ridiculously bouncy that it doesn’t matter that it’s screamed – it’s still more of an earworm than 99% of songs shat out via nu metal.

And the chorus of Sámr, displacing those dirty, pulsating keys: “Waiting for the emptiness to cultivate the night.” It’s bleak, morose, but just fucking beautiful. It’s almost like an amped-up, blockbuster take on the works of his former backing band, Leprous.

But then you come to Twin Black Angels. This is Abba. The chorus is Abba. But it’s better than whatever Abba are coming out with later this year. It just is. Even the screamed bridge, squirming in near the end, doesn’t detract from the emotion, the craft, the genuine radio-friendliness of this song. It’s not going to be a hit. But it should be, because it’s the catchiest thing Ihsahn’s ever penned as a solo artist.

There’s genuinely no weak spot on ‘Àmr’. Every guitar solo is packed with purpose and drama. Every analogue synth brings extra warmth. Every single second of this album is essential. Emperor fans will love the underlying brutality, the grandiosity. Ihsahn fans will love the prog feel, the avant-garde evil that’s still tucked away. Everyone else should love it for what it is: a perfect rock album.  

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