Ihsahn’s Ámr is a sleek model of craftmanship from the formidable Vegard Tveitan, Norwegian founder of the black metal group Emperor. They were the genre-defining band whose influence still roars through black metal to this day. Ihsahn could have kicked up his hooves and retired, but he has continued to spread his fire over the course of seven solo albums with Ámr his latest.
Ámr is a smooth cruiser on the highway to hell and a plush ride around smoketown, but after the excellent 2016 model, Arktis., it seems to have its cruise control dialed in. Arktis was progressive, multi-hued and spiked with surprise. Ámr is an Airstream trailer towed behind the Arktis bus, two gleaming obsidian objects hurtling through the night, one with headlights on bright, the other with dim tail lights.
For you heavy death kids from the ’90s, the emperor growls his love for you in the opener “Lend Me the Eyes of The Millenia.” Most milllenials are into Cvrches and their father’s U2, not Opeth and Emperor in their naughtier days… perhaps not the eyes you need, as reality-impaired as they have become.
Black metal is the sound of a washing machine with a satanic spin cycle. It is a roar of a single sound that neither inspires nor hits an emotional center. It’s all dog barks through latex masks and drippy-eyed whitewash, yet, it is the fertile spawning waters of many of the best musical minds that metal produces. Ihsahn is a pioneer from those times when black metal was innovative and not an excuse to pander to a tiny fan-label in Lichtenstein.
Ihsahn also is a pioneer of the musical pivot away from the genre’s cliché and into a more progressive language. Ámr’s second track, “Arcana Imperii,” is oddly misplaced as it should’ve been the opener, still it is quality effort with difficulties that Frederik Akeeson of Opeth helps bend into an accessible welding of doom and dusky melody.
Ihsahn is quintessentially a solo act on most of his tracks, and the firm but upfront use of vocoder and harmonizer helps fill out his harmonies, in an eighties poptone manner. Eighties sounds proliferate with ARP-style keyboard lead lines especially in “Where You are Lost and I Belong” and in the overall airiness of the inorganic production. Ihsahn is centered, drill-bit focused and set on, as he says in his interviews, determined to be darker than his last effort.
With Ámr he succeeds in this effort as the album’s charcoal ambiance out-dims <em>Artkis</em>. “Twin Black Angels,” even with its continuation of the album’s ’80s aesthetic, is elaborate and impressive. For the doomsters who may be bumming over Ihsahn’s detachment from the black metal way, <em>Ámr</em>’s closing track “Wake” should cheer them down in the genre-correct manner.
(released May 4, 2018 on Candlelight Records)
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Watch Ihsahn – “Arcana Imperii” Video