Ihsahn - ArktisIhsahn is always in motion. Following a storied career in one of the premier black metal bands of all time, he’s released five full-length albums. Nearly all of those records have been critically acclaimed, but only one has been critically acclaimed by me. While I enjoyed The Adversary, Ihsahn‘s post-Emperor zenith was angL. Starting with After, however, Ihsahn started to lose me. What made his earlier material so good—riffs, riffs, more riffs, and slick composition (also riffs)—began to be replaced by increasingly abstract compositions. And when songs like “Scarab” started getting replaced with tracks like “M,” I stopped enjoying new Ihsahn albums. Yet Arktis. marks the next phase for Ihsahn, having finally left the Nihilists behind him.1

Arktis. is both visually and audibly distinct from its predecessors. “Disassembled,” “Mass Darkness” and “My Heart Is of the North” start the album off and work well to demonstrate this difference. All three tracks lead with their riffs. “Disassembled” kicks the album off with hooky riff reminiscent of angL, but the sound is distinct with its bassier tone and guitars defined more by fuzz than overdrive. “Mass Darkness,” kicks off with an epic harmonized guitar lead and powers out bass heavy thrash with a gripping chorus that makes the listener want to take the suggestion to “give in to darkness!” “My Heart of the North” shows off ’70s Hammond-drenched prog feel and some deep shred, showing off Ihsahn’s chops and with a classic metal feel.

But despite the riffing and thrashy undertones with which it leads, Arktis. is a record that that will be remembered for its progressive edge. While the riffs are all here, there’s also a sense of the late ’90s/early ’00s Norwegian scene’s steps away from black metal. While “South Winds” and “Frail” break out electronica—the former with a Mortiis feel, while the latter evokes ’80s prog—”Crooked Red Line” reminds me of a metalfied Perdition City, with Shining‘s Jørgen Munkeby giving it that noir feel. The album’s crunchy production frames the progressive feel of Arktis. perfectly. It’s warm and fat, and hearkens back to the ’80s more than anything Ihsahn has done since The Adversary. “Until I Too Dissolve” starts with a riff that belonged on rock radio circa 1986, while “Disassembled” features a chorus that wouldn’t be out of place if it were sung by Bruce Dickinson.

Ihsahn

But while these throwbacks are fun, I think Arktis. is at its best when it’s being fragile and moody. “My Heart Is of the North” features a clean lull before the organ soaked close to the song that stands out. Einar Solberg from Leprous makes a guest appearance on “Disassembled” and “Celestial Violence,” and both of these songs shine with his excellent performances. Similarly, “Frail” starts out with supple acoustics, but the height of the softer material, though, is “In the Vaults,” which features heart-wrenching vocal melodies and lyrics. Thinking of the long dark of Norwegian winters, these moments feel appropriate; a yin to the yang that is the synth-drenched blasts of “Pressure” or the throbbing screams of the second half of “Celestial Violence.”

Arktis. is filled with interesting songs which oscillate between morose and jagged, but there’s always something interesting going on. True to form,  Arktis. is an album that seems to have been constructed as a whole. The record flows well, and its 48 minute run-time is perfect, ending with one of the album’s best tracks in “Celestial Violence,” a song which drops the curtain with a solemn and dramatic flare.2 This latest incarnation of Ihsahn‘s sound draws on a lot of different influences and melds them together into something dynamic and engaging. All of these different impressions feel artistically appropriate for an album named after the far north; lands which are quite extreme and varied. While some might long for something more hooky and metal, Arktis. is a record that I’ll be coming back to for its progressive vision.


Rating: Very Good!
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kb/s mp3
Label: Candlelight Records | Spinefarm
Websites: ihsahn.com | facebook.com/ihsahnmusic
Out Worldwide: April 8th, 2016

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Praise Zarathustra!
  2. I initially thought that the bonus track “Till Tor Ulven (Søppelsolen)” was part of the official release, which markedly changed my opinion of the album. In my initial review I wrote: “Of all the low moments, this concluding track is the worst. The record label did not include any explanation as to what this song is or what this old man is saying—though he clearly does say “angst” during the part when the background sounds start getting noisier. I’m sure it’s very deep and fascinating, but no context means that it’s hard to appreciate. “Till Tor Ulven” is tough to enjoy—and intentionally so, I suspect. At 9:13, and entirely in Norwegian, this spoken word track is a reminder that Ihsahn is always in motion.” Though, that doesn’t always mean you have to like it.

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  • André Snyde Lopes

    I know you soured on Ihsahn a few albums back so I’m glad you’re back on the wagon with this one. I really really (I mean really) like his first four albums so this is an easy sell for me.

    Btw, are you going to do a YMIO for The Adversary? It becomes 10 years old in no less than 2 days.

    • I think we’ve put the kibosh on YMIO for 10 years.

      • Pimpolho

        Aw, shucks. I was really expecting a Agalloch one. But no problem, i can forgive you guys, as long as Candlemass gets remembered. (Like you owe me anything).

      • robpal

        I second the question, less than a week ago it was 20th anniversary of “Crimson”!

  • AndySynn

    I also really liked this album, but I disagree with:

    “Arktis. is both visually and audibly distinct from its predecessors.”

    For me it feels like both Eremita and Das Seelenbrechen (particularly the latter) were something of a diversion from the main thrust/direction of his solo work, and that Arktis. is a return to the “right” path. Heck, he even went back to the “A” naming convention!

    • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

      Good catch with the A thing! Hopefully it was a subtle statement of intent from him.

    • I think this is semantic. Its direct predecessors are very distinct both audibly and visually from this album. While you may be right that they were a diversion from the usual course, I hardly think that justifies pretending they don’t exist.

      • AndySynn

        At NO point do I pretend that they don’t exist. I really don’t see where you’re pulling that from. And it’s far from a semantic point. Ihsahn himself is on record as stating that both albums, and particularly the more “improvised” DS are at a purposeful tangent to his established solo works, whereas Arktis. seems very clearly like a return to that path after cleansing his palette with some more experimental ideas and compositions.

        Both visually and sonically it seems like a natural creative step on from After to me. Much as After was a step on from Angl, and Angl a step on from The Adversary. It’s different, obviously. But then they’ve all been different from each other, while still maintaining a clear creative through-line.

        • Sure, I guess you can see it that way. But I don’t think that what I’m saying is wrong. It _does_ differentiate itself from its predecessors. I don’t see it so much as a step from After, either. Though I should probably give that record a listen again before I make that statement. And I saw After is quite a break from angL actually.

          • AndySynn

            I always think that what you’re saying is wrong.

            And yes, you should relisten to “After”. It is the best. In fact I am going to shamelessly jump on the bandwagon and say that it’s up there amongst my absolute favourite albums.

          • I will therefore, predictably, think it’s crap.

          • AndySynn

            That is usually how things work.

  • Diego Molero

    There isn’t really any negative writing on this review so I was expecting a score a little higher, so what stop this to be a “Great!” album?

    • Very good sounds like a very good album.
      If AMG will return to this for its progressive aspects alone, whilst not feeling that its metallic hooks are made of titanium, that might explain why its not GREAT.
      But than again, I should let AMG elaborate on this instead of me speculating.

    • AlphaBetaFoxface

      It’s possible the album does nothing wrong. It’s also possible the album does very little at an incredible level.

    • I find the electronic stuff to be uninspired. While the songs where it’s used both feature really interesting stuff and they work with the album flow, I think it’s pretty banal. Worse yet, Ihsahn insists on screaming during them. So rather than creating a gothy synth vibe from the 80s, it’s just kinda banal. It doesn’t sink the album, but I’m not sure that gives room for a Great score instead.

      • bob

        Why isn’t this in the review? Don’t hold back, this is why I come here!

      • Sean Sky

        I know this is a year old but I’m finally just getting around to listening to Arktis. (my only previous experience was with angL (which I think is a brilliant, nearly perfect album) and I have to say I disagree about the electronic tracks. Does South Winds feel a bit out of place on this record? Yes. Yet the weird gothic / industrial / electronic vibe is awesome for me as this very strange and unexpected moment on the record. It definitely works for me. I’ll also add that I’m a fan of much electronic music, and gothic is great if done well (horrendous if done badly).

  • Cockypock Aioli

    I like what I’ve heard so far. It sounds like a return to the sound of After, which I enjoyed overall so hey I’ll take it.

  • Bart the Repairman

    Your review launched my anticipation into stratosphere, AMG. I would place “After” in my personal top 10 metal albums overall (yes, I love it THAT MUCH), and I feel that vibe in already revealed tracks from “Arktis”. While reading this, I was probably looking like a little girl which was told that a new pony is waiting for her in front of the house.

    • Blueberry Balls

      Heres that pony, baby.

      • Bart the Repairman

        Shiiieeeet, I should watch for my words…

        • Dr. A.N. Grier

          Oh goddammit…

    • I need to go back and listen to After. I gave it a high score but had reservations and have not been back to it nearly at all.

      • Bart the Repairman

        I envy you this ‚fresh’ approach. Some part of magic is lost after dozens of listening sessions, when you know every note and can play your favourite album in your head from start to finish. I mean, it’s getting hard to listen ACTIVELY. Among others, I have it with „After”. Currently I try to restrain myself and take a long break from „Demon”, hoping that it will bring back those massive goosebumps I had with first 15 or 20 spins.

  • Thatguy

    Great review AMG. While I appreciated the artistry of Das Seelenbrechen I don’t return to it often. Your review and the embedded track give me great hope for Arktis.

  • Jm from nj

    Funny. I thought “After” was the pinnacle. Catchy, but experimental all the same. He lost me on the last 2 though.

    • Diabolus_in_Muzaka

      I’m with you there. After was brilliant. The two that came after had good moments, but the “abstract” stuff on them sounded arbitrary. Glad it seems to be out of his system.

    • Feytalist

      Word. After is my personal favourite as well. Great balance between the two extremes, nice use of the sax, and some gorgeous standout tracks without losing cohesion. Great stuff.

  • Julien Robitaille

    I’m feeling some early Soilwork vibe from the embedded track. Or maybe I need to check my ears…

    • Kronos

      No I got that too.

  • Luke_22

    His past couple of efforts have been mixed but I’ve otherwise really enjoyed the bulk of his solo work. Glsd to hear he’s brought the riffs back, the preview tracks sounded very solid.

  • Blueberry Balls

    You *had* to have seen this one coming…

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Can´t tell where the beard ends and the scarf begins…

    • Kryopsis

      There is no scarf, it’s just a *really* long beard!

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        Good… I thought he could end up hiring Vattnet Viskar as his touring band.

  • Zadion

    Oh man I’m so relieved to see this get a good review. After the clusterfuck of chaos that made up the final 2/3 of “Das Seelenbrechen” I was worried we lost Ihsahn for good.

  • Martijn Brugman

    Outside, daffodils are present in abundance, fresh leaves growing on trees everywhere, people are gathering outside of bars and the fairer half of them even show some skin. Now Ihsahn commands us to give in to the darkness. Sheez, this guy must really detest spring.

    • Feytalist

      Hah! Finally a win for the Southern Hemisphere! It’s raining here right now. So, I’d say it’s perfect timing, yeah.

      • [not a Dr]

        … it’s -15 C in this part of the Northern Hemisphere, and we’re not even close to Norway’s latitude.

    • Kryopsis

      It’s not like he wrote and recorded the entire album during the last two weeks, is it? :)

    • [not a Dr]

      Maybe he’s on the night shift?

  • Feytalist

    This makes me happy. I love angL and especially after, and if this album even has a glimmer of that brilliance, then I’m in.

    I checked out the sample before, and it did seem as if Ihsahn’s genius was back on the right track. Awesome.

  • One More Thing

    Really unfamiliar with Ihsahn’s prior material but also really digging that embedded track.

  • Martin Knap

    Good to see that shows his intellectual creed with the Nietzsche allusion. That opens the question: what about the transfiguration of all metal values?

  • mtlman1990

    Im excited to listen to this. The Adversary is one of my favorite albums of all time. I like experimentation, but I miss how amazing the compositions were in his older works.

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Weird enough that while I consider Ihsahn’s work with Emperor nothing short of genius, I have never bothered to check out his solo work. Listening to the embedded track, I guess It’s something that I should correct inmediately.

  • cathedralavenue

    Welp, “Celestial Violence” is worth the price of admission alone. Einar is a genius.

  • madhare

    The “Give In” bit in the end sounds oddly like Helloween in the early 2000s.

  • Worldeater

    Every now and then I listen to Prometheus but I somehow missed Ihsahn and his solo career. After checking out some tracks of After and angL I must admit I am pleasantly surprised and will give Arktis a closer look.

  • Sigh, I’m ready to be in the minority on this one. (But I liked Das Seelenbrechen, so, too late?) I love the spirit which imbues this album: the very fitting explorer, for one, but also Ihsahn’s intention to subvert the typical song-to-song consistency of your average metal album. However, it has to work. And often here, it doesn’t, resulting in what I find to be a very jarring patchwork (see “Frail”). Moreover, the riffs across the entire album generally aren’t memorable, and there is even cringe-worthy stuff, e.g., the open to “South Winds” (which also feels very patchwork to me).

    Still, it’s Ihsahn, so there are winners like “In the Vaults”, and “Celestial Violence” absolutely lands on my “Best of Ihsahn” mixtape (up there with “Undercurrent”.) But I hope I don’t look back and say, “with Arktis, however, Ihsahn started to lose me.”

    • I think that material appeals to certain people, but I don’t like it much at all. I agree that the electronica here is spotty, but I think the album flows really well.

  • Tor Iver Wilhelmsen

    Here in his home country of Norway, the album ends with a tribute composition to a Norwegian poet (Tor Ulven); I guess listening to a long poem in Norwegian with music behind it would not be too interesting for an international audience. :)

  • Kees van Laarhoven

    The album that digged Ihsahn in my personal favorite artists