Ihsahn – Àmr album review

Former Emperor visionary Ihsahn returns with a new set of keys on Àmr

Ihsahn Amr album cover
Àmr

1. Lend Me The Eyes Of Millennia
2. Arcana Imperii
3. Sámr
4. One Less Enemy
5. Where You Are Lost And I Belong
6. In Rites Of Passage
7. Marble Soul
8. Twin Black Angels
9. Wake
10. Alone

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Emperor's legend continues to be celebrated on the occasional festival stage, a sincere nod by their visionary creator to the band’s legacy, gratefully received by their adoring horde. Meanwhile, Ihsahn has been charting a path of increasing distance from his symphonic black metal roots since he brought about the band’s creative demise in 2001. The fact that his reason for the split was a feeling that the definitions of what the band could be were too limiting for his creative aspirations is somewhat ironic; in 2018, the year he releases his seventh solo record, Àmr, the definition of what black metal is and can be has evolved greatly, attributable in no small part to the fearless expressionism and defiance of classification of artists such as himself. Synth is quite the thing these days, with myriad synthwave artists composing dance music with a metal aesthetic, and plenty of metal artists returning the compliment. We’ve already witnessed another highly influential voice in black metal embrace the genre wholeheartedly in recent times, with Ulver’s The Assassination Of Julius Caesar reaping great acclaim in 2017.

From the pulsating opening electronic alarm of Lend Me The Eyes Of Millenia, Àmr seems destined to do the same, albeit with synth as a prevalent, but not dominant, colour in this particular record’s palette, each of his solo outings having chosen a different influence to explore, almost as if he’s keeping things interesting for himself, never mind the rest of us. Percussive fervency and one of the most memorable extreme vocals in metal history soon take the fore, forming a breathtaking whirlwind grandiose in its ire that effectively introduces new influences while reassuring that old staples have gone nowhere. Second track Arcana Imperii combines devastatingly blunt stabs of guitar with darkwave dynamism, Ihsahn duetting with himself, layering extremity with melody in a uniquely uplifting manner, Opeth guitarist Fredrik Åkesson providing a scintillating solo. Where You Are Lost And I Belong is a sparse affair, plaintive guitar and strings building to a seething close at the record’s midpoint. In Rites Of Passage trades colourful synth with a disarmingly bouncy riff, before complicating it in atypical Ihsahn fashion with a jarringly complex drum pattern and a vocal that cuts to the core. Twin Black Angels is his ballad, if such a thing is possible: a delicate, heartfelt soliloquy with an empowering chorus capped off by yet another hair-raisingly epic solo at just the right moment. Wake hails past triumphs with a backbone of withering blasts and irascible venom, still finding space for yet more towering chorus hooks, solos, synth and theremin.

Ihsahn is one of the few artists fortunate enough to have had two successful periods in their career, and that is entirely down to his ceaselessly evolving vision and creativity – a phenomenon in a scene often laden with legions of imitators and very few innovators. Like its predecessor, Arktis., Àmr effortlessly strikes a balance between accessibility and extremity, melody and pitch-black fury, incorporating influences from genres far and wide and coalescing them into a new form singular only to their creator – the definitive hallmark of a legendary artist.