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Ihsahn - Ihsahn review


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Band: Ihsahn
Album: Ihsahn
Style: Extreme progressive metal
Release date: February 2024

Disc I [Metal Edition]
01. Cervus Venator
02. The Promethean Spark
03. Pilgrimage To Oblivion
04. Twice Born
05. A Taste Of The Ambrosia
06. Anima Extraneae
07. Blood Trails To Love
08. Hubris And Blue Devils
09. The Distance Between Us
10. At The Heart Of All Things Broken
11. Sonata Profana

Disc II [Orchestral Edition]
01. Cervus Venator [orchestral version]
02. The Promethean Spark [orchestral version]
03. Pilgrimage To Oblivion [orchestral version]
04. Twice Born [orchestral version]
05. A Taste Of The Ambrosia [orchestral version]
06. Anima Extraneae [orchestral version]
07. Blood Trails To Love [orchestral version]
08. Hubris And Blue Devils [orchestral version]
09. The Distance Between Us [orchestral version]
10. At The Heart Of All Things Broken [orchestral version]
11. Sonata Profana [orchestral version]

The show is about to begin, so I take my seat in the concert hall. As the band walks on stage to get ready, the floodgates open. A stream of musicians holding various instruments enter from backstage and begin to fill the orchestra pit in front of the stage.

Ihsahn is known for doing pretty much what the hell he wants with his brand of progressive black metal, but I must confess I haven't been all that invested in his music up until this point. So, what better way to get invested than to check out his newest, self-titled album?

Ihsahn starts out with a short snippet of what sounds like pure cinematic music, with the orchestra playing a dramatic soundtrack that might fit into a Star Wars movie (or something, I don't know movies well enough to say). It then leads into a hard rocking, chuggy, riff supporting a blend of harsh and clean vocals as the orchestra takes a back seat to provide a background of pizzicato strings and sweeping symphonics. Halfway through the song, a Hammond organ brings some 70s flair to the soundscape. It's a good enough start, however…

On “Pilgrimage To Oblivion”, which goes more black metal on us with blast beats and all that you'd expect, it's hard to tell what Ihsahn wants to do here. It's intense enough, with staccato strings providing something of a horror symphony in the background, but the songwriting and dynamics feel a bit off, and somewhat aimless. Fortunately, “Twice Born” comes along with a fun circus bounce that moves through its various moments with great confidence that shows what this blend of progressive black metal and orchestra can do when it's executed really well.

After a sort-of progressive pseudo-ballad that escalated into something very dramatic and different and an instrumental interlude, we come to the perhaps strangest yet best song on the album. “Blood Trails To Love” is one hell of a cool song. With the orchestra and guitar playing in tandem a repeated lick that brings to mind the ineffable drama of King Crimson more than anything else (not to mention the “Red”-sounding break towards the middle), and a clean-sung, somewhat cheesy but very catchy and effective chorus, the dynamics fit perfectly and the orchestra and band play in excellent symbiosis.

The rest of the album follows the same trend as the first half, with sometimes very well-working sections and sometimes the feeling of aimlessness that sadly hinders the album from becoming really great. It needs probably not be mentioned that the performances are all around flawless, and the production is stellar, masterfully combining the metal and orchestral elements into a powerful whole, but the songwriting feels a bit off just a few times too many to be excused.

All in all, Ihsahn is a respectable attempt to combine progressive black metal and symphony, but perhaps there was a bit too much compromise between the two, making both elements a bit lacking as a result. Or perhaps it's just a matter of what my expectations were; the orchestra is mostly there for dramatic effect except in the instrumental interludes, and in a similar way the guitars and even vocals also come off as being there mostly for dramatic effect rather than as an integral part of a composition. Many great moments save the album from mediocrity, however, and it is good, sometimes even very good, and probably a bit better than I'm making it sound here. It's just that the pitfalls on it are a bit too glaring not to mention, but when it works, it really works.

Rating breakdown
Performance: 9
Songwriting: 6
Originality: 8
Production: 9

Written on 22.02.2024 by 100% objective opinions.


Comments: 3   Visited by: 184 users
22.02.2024 - 12:47
I appreciate how in-depth your review is, great job.

Ihsahn is one of the most ambitious, groundbreaking and innovative musicians in all metal. Every time he releases a new album, I'm very excited to hear what he's come up with this time. However, on an emotional level, his music rarely moves me. My brain holds him in high regard, but my heart insists on remaining indifferent.
22.02.2024 - 12:51
Written by Daniell on 22.02.2024 at 12:47

My brain holds him in high regard, but my heart insists on remaining indifferent.

This sums up my feelings about this album very well too.
22.02.2024 - 13:55
Rating: 7

I agree with pretty much everything you said here. Great write and like another commenter pointed very in depth. Always appreciate how detailed your reviews are even if you don’t like the album or give a high rating. I was slightly warmer on this release but not much, most of the positive feelings I have towards the album are toward the masterclass musicianship but ultimately I think most of the songs aren’t actually that great or memorable in the end. I thought I would like the orchestral version more but they weren’t really what I was hoping for either.

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