Ihsahn // After
Rating: 3.5/5.0 —Very good, but not as compelling as angL
Label: Candlelight
Websites: ihsahn.com | myspace.com/ihsahnmusic
Release Dates: EU 25.01.2010 | US: 01.26.2010

Easily one of the most anticipated records of 2010 for me has been Ihsahn‘s new offering. While I was a passing Emperor fan, really just a fan of In the Nightside Eclipse and Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk-era, I was taken by Ihsahn‘s solo stuff. The Adversary felt fresh, progressive enough, a step away from the later Emperor material of which I wasn’t a fan, and it captured the sonic styles and textures that he was never quite allowed to explore while in Emperor. The record didn’t stick with me as I had hoped, while I listened to it occasionally it didn’t hold a steadfast position in my discography. On the other hand, angL blew me away. Probably the finest record of 2008, angL has maintained a steady place in the rotation and is a record that I’ve showed to dozens of people. Perfectly produced, perfectly composed and smartly written, angL contained everything that I wanted out of a new progressive metal record. So, of course, when I heard that Ihsahn would be releasing a new record in 2010, I became justifiably excited.

After, the third album in Ihsahn‘s initial trilogy, has once again separated itself from the pack and from Ihsahn‘s earlier work, something that the man seems compelled to do with every release. The first album composed primarily for his new 8 string guitars, After possesses a more organic sound than the earlier two albums. While the style hasn’t changed dramatically, if you’ve heard the first two albums, you certainly would recognize it as Ihsahn, the composition feels less tightly contained and controlled. The addition of saxophone to certain tracks also offers a more natural dimension to the music, similar to that of the excellent Solefald, and the saxophone is also relatively unconstrained, unpredictable and has the sound of being highly improvised.

That Ihsahn is a fantastic writer is undisputed, but how well this record plays with you probably depends on your personal tastes. The first half of After plays very similarly to his earlier material; black metal influenced progressive metal with excellent riffing, smart transitions and some acoustic parts. This culminates with track “Frozen Lakes on Mars,” which might be the best on the album, before continuing into the second part of the album. The track “Undercurrent” marks the halfway point (trackwise, as it’s track 5) and where this album started to transform to a slower, more progressive album. The riffing and writing loses some of its crispness on the second half of this album, particularly on “Undercurrent” and “Austere” which are both quite slow—and, instead relies on atmosphere, texture and feel. By the time one makes it to “Heaven’s Black Shore,” after the 16 minutes of down time, the record seems to have lost a little bit of its punch. The last two tracks are great, though again a little bit more plodding than the earlier material and the whole album comes to a major epic close that is worth the wait.  How this will play definitely depends on what you like about the earlier Ihsahn material, I think. If you’re a fan of more atmospheric black metal, bands like Shining, Solefald, or even something like Wardruna (or from a totally different angle, if you’re a big fan of 70s prog and neo-prog like Opeth, Porcupine Tree, etc.) you’ll probably appreciate these things musically. If you’re more of a fan of the technical, fast, groovy, structured Ihsahn stuff, well, then this might take some time to grow on you if it ever grows at all.

There is always a danger in re-inventing your sound, and while this record is good, it just doesn’t live up to standard of what I was expecting after angL. That said, I would still recommend this album to others because it’s still heads and shoulders above a lot of the stuff that’s being released today. The musical performances are amazing: the rhythm section (Asgeir Mickelson & Lars Noberg from Spiral Architect) is tight and tremendously talented. The saxophonist (from the Norwegian Shining) offers a stellar performance and production and mix is also tight, clean and clear without feeling sterile. Musically, the record is still epic and compelling for the most part and it shows just how multi-dimensional Ihsahn is as a writer and performer. The question for fans is, of course, what comes after After?

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  • In my opinion, this is Ihsahn’s strongest composition in his solo career, since Prometheus is an Emperor release though it was practically on Ihsahn’s hands regarding its creation. I love his previous two albums, but I prefer The Adversary in terms of the overall aspect of the album, even though if I had to choose one song from those two I would always pick Unhealer (bless Mikael).

    The thing with After is that the sound is no longer weak and there are actual risks regarding composition and singing. The guitars sound fat, perfectly defined as Ihsahn’s style has always been, and the structure of the songs is more prog-oriented than ever. My only problem here is with the drums: not to criticize Mr. Mickelson (his playing is outstanding as ever), but the sound; usually Ihsahn’s drum tracks are way too sequenced and they lack naturality, and this album presents that problem again, less prominent, but it’s still present. Anyway, this is easily compensated by his improving with the clean voices and the crescent brutality of his growls.

    The sax adds such life to the mix that I couldn’t have imagined a better collaboration, and musically I’m overwhelmed by the elegance of the arrangements and the wise use of the trademark riffing plus the epic parts. Oh, and there’s a hammond too, and we all know that a hammond makes EVERYTHING better.

    I usually agree with you, but this time I’d give this album 5/5 :P. You can’t always agree with everyone, but I’m glad you dig this album anyway.

    Greetings!

    • Seriously dude, you wanna write reviews for me? :P

      I totally respect your opinion and see where you’re coming from, and I knew that I would have some disagreement from fans given that the reaction on some of the boards I frequent has been very positive. It seems like people who liked The Adversary better than angL are more likely to like this record better.

      • Arrr, is there a good loot? :P

        Haha, I’m a big fan of progressive and avant-garde metal, so After may be Ihsahn’s perfect album for me to date, that’s all.

        • The loot is, of course, free music. ;) And actually right now I’m doing fine on my own, but if I get flooded I could probably set something up. I’m just greedy—I don’t want to give away any of the good records. :P I just think it’s cool that you are opinionated but not dickish and you know WHY you like something.

          • Well, I’ve been doing reviews on my own for almost three years now. You can check my website (it’s in Spanish), it’s a personal blog where I review albums, gigs and everything I like, with the limitation of not receiving any promotional media. I do it for personal pleasure only, and if I don’t like something it’s very unlikely I’ll talk about it. That’s the liberty of not being attached in any way with a band or label, and that’s something I value more than anything.

            I could give you a hand if you need it, but I don’t know how prepared I would be to review something in English and, most important, I don’t know if I want to review something that doesn’t move to talk about it. I’ve done it a couple times and I simply didn’t enjoy it. Anyway, whenever you want you’re welcome to talk to me and it will be my pleasure to help :D.

  • Ihsahn is great. I like his solo compositions more than classic Emperor songs… After has all predispositions to became “album of the year in metal”. Dark, hard and romantic.

    If you know polish ;-) you can read my review:
    http://arktyka.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/ihsahn-after/

  • Devilthorn

    Although I somewhat enjoy this album, I have to question what in the world Ihsahn was thinking with that saxophone. It is one of the most idiotic things I have ever heard, and completely grinds the album to a halt as soon as it starts screeching. “The Adversary” was great, “AngL” was a little less great, and “After is the worst of the three so far. (Technically, Emperor’s last release, “Prometheus” could be considered an Ihsahn solo project that Emperor members just happened to play on, since they didn’t have any input in the music. It obviously shows where Ihsahn was going with his future works, as it is very similar to these 3 solo albums. It is also a better album than “AngL” and “After”) Ihsahn is still head and shoulders above 99% of all other metal artists. He just needs to quit with the saxophones, seriously. Yes, the sax sounds unconstrained and highly improvised, but to me, it also sounds like some random person who has never played sax before just picked on up and started blaring random notes. It’s a complete chaotic mess that detracts from otherwise perfect songs. The saxless songs get a 4 out of 5 from me. The songs with sax get a 1 out of 5.

  • Barry Neilson

    I fucking love this album, definately one of my favourites of 2010. I personally think that each Ihsahn album is better than the last! I can understand where you’re coming from with the second half being a little slower, but that doesn’t bother me when the songs are of the quality that these are. Although, a quick question…would you think differently if the songs were placed in a different order?

    I was also lucky enough to see Ihsahn at Hellfest this year, where he completely blew me away! (with backing band Leprous, who are also fantastic!).
    Can’t wait to hear what Ihsahn does next.