|Review: Ihsahn - After|
Label: Candlelight Records
Year released: 2010
Review online: February 6, 2010
Reviewed by: Adam Kohrman
Ihsahn recently said in an interview that he finds it frustrating that people think that he made the best music of his life at 17 years old. I can understand his frustration, because his solo work is simply outstanding. People who think his classic Emperor albums are superior fall into three camps: A) black metal purists, B) fans afraid of experimentation, or C) people who haven't even heard his solo work. All of them need to sit down and let his solo work wash over them, then hopefully they'll see the light. Or maybe they're too stubborn and obdurate. Whatever the case, the simple fact is that Ihsahn is currently at his creative acme. His new album, After, is the best album he's ever performed on, creating a diverse mix of influences ranging from black metal to jazz.
Describing this music is difficult, as there isn't really a benchmark for comparison. Borrowing from extreme prog groups like Opeth and Cynic, Ihsahn's album is layered with songs that have multiple parts, yet flow seamlessly. His clean vocals have improved considerably, sounding like a more evocative Mikael Akerfeldt. At the same time, though, Ihsahn's unmistakable raspy groan is all over this record, providing a rough-edged counterpoint to his more melodic and soothing passages. The riffs on After are unconventional and creative, creating an atmosphere of controlled chaos amidst Ihsahn's proud nihilistic philosophy. After is also laden with Ihsahn's trademark symphonic influences, providing the hardened Emperor fans with a least bit of his older sounds. Incorporating all of these sounds into one cohesive work, Ihsahn has created a record that altogether culminates in an early album of the year candidate.
What is most impressive about this album is its jazz influences. Throughout the album, a sumptuous saxophone smoothly pierces through the music, creating an overpowering and sublime mood. The Coltrane-esque sounds reverberate through select songs on the album, but frankly, they should be on every song. They dominate, creating some of the most powerful ambiances heard on an extreme metal album in years. Tracks like "Austere" and the magnificent closer "On the Shores" shine as the sax combines grief, solemnity, and even spirituality. Its unyielding somberness produces vivid emotions, forceful and divine.
Of course, some fans want Ihsahn to sound like In the Nightside Eclipse, but they'll have to deal with the fact that he doesn't have those plans. They'll have to deal with it. Ihsahn is better than ever.
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