Ihsahn // Eremita
Rating: 2.5/5.0 — A hermit never gets constructive criticism.
Label: Candlelight Records
Websites: ihsahn.com | facebook.com/ihsahnmusic
Release Dates: EU: 2012.06.18 | US: 06.19.2012
In the days since Emperor‘s demise, Ihsahn has kicked a lot of ass. But After was a controversial record without a doubt. While I gave it my thumbs up at the time and I still enjoy it, I feel like it hasn’t aged well—with the saxophone performance being my biggest complaint. Sure, jazz and metal have histories of solo players who push the boundaries of what is “acceptable,” but the saxophone performances get pretty taxing after a while to these Angry Metal Ears. So for me, the thing that I’m looking for from a new Ihsahn record is that it lives up to the songwriting and groove-oriented riffing from The Adversary and especially angL which is one of my favorite records of the last 10 years. As you can guess, then, I approached Eremita (Latin for “hermit” and the root of the English word “eremite” if you weren’t aware) nervously.
Only to be blown out of the fucking water by the first track. With Leprous singer Einar Solberg in tow, “Arrival,” starts out with just the kind of groovy riff I expect from Ihsahn. The chorus melody is fantastic and Solberg’s performance is perfect for this track as he layers and offsets Ihsahn’s own easily recognizable croaks. This moves smoothly into the track “Paranoid,” which starts out with Emperor-era blasts with keyboards bolstering the trem-picked riff, and gives off the sense of the blackened core that still must exist within Ihsahn. The song peaks with a fantastic chorus that really just hits home with Ihsahn doing the cleans himself. What follows, however, is a lot more morose and shaky than the first two tracks. “Introspection,” “The Eagle and the Snake,” and “Catharsis” all are way less riffy and a lot more akin to “Austere” or “Undercurrent” from After. But instead of being beautiful and interesting, they’re instead minimalistic and slow, causing slight anxiety and boredom at times. The saxophone in “The Eagle and the Snake” is used in a super cool way, but that’s like the one highlight from those three tracks for me.
“Something out There” again is reminiscent of Emperor in its riffing style and keyboard backups, but again with Ihsahn’s trademark vocal style and chorus melodies that really no one could ever imitate. The track also has the best guitar solo on the album, bar none—this may be the track Jeff Loomis guests on. However, the album moves southwards again after that short highlight, with the dreaded saxophone o’ doom making its reappearance on the doomy, brooding “The Grave.” Like the earlier tracks, “The Grave” drags along, with riffs and combinations of notes that seem almost random, are certainly very abstract and just get plain long at 8 minutes. Any hope for a hook or the things that Ihsahn is so proficient at starts to die after a while, leaving this listener ready for some moss gazing. And while “Departure,” the closing track of the album, offers up some heavy riffing, it feels a bit more like “generic death metal riffing” than the kind of groove-laden hooks that we’re used to. What saves “Departure” from itself for me is amazing guitar solo and clean vocal parts in the middle and a couple of great riffs thereafter.
Ultimately, Eremita is abstract. And it’s weird. I see the curve of the writing and the story arc in it and I appreciate what it is. But I don’t know that I want to listen to this album, because I don’t find it to be particularly gripping. While there are indeed moments of despair, insight and sort of anxiety inducing “riffs” and passages here that are perfect for the mood and get what they’re supposed to get across—making the listener feel slightly uneasy and bored isn’t really that much of a success in my book. Seldom do the things that made angL and The Adversary addictive and mandatory records for me show up, and that’s really on about 3 tracks. And even compared to After which I like less, I find myself far more generally glazed and distracted while listening to Eremita. So while I respect Ihsahn more than pretty much anyone in the scene for his riffing and song-writing, this album doesn’t do it for me. There will be those who love this album, I can’t tell you which camp you’ll be in, if you dig minimalism and more abstract music that borders on amelodic, you’ll probably love it. But even die-hard fans of After might be thrown off a bit by Ihsahn’s approach here.