For all the disdain shown by some elements towards black and death metal, these genres have produced some fine, progressively titled acts (Opeth, anyone?). The dismissal of Ihsahn as merely another clichéd growler would be both superficial and crass, as his development away from his original band Emperor has shown an experimental leaning that’s impossible to write off.
Solo albums After and Eremita contained a compositional flair that further moved him from his roots, but it’s with Das Seelenbrechen that Ihsahn has produced a cohesive, seismic album. For all the initial versatility and dexterity, there’s a vast swathe of progressive metal acts that are merely content to repeat past triumphs ad nauseum. The fast fretwork may be there, but the music lacks soul, innovation and the aspiration to evolve. That’s not the case with the material collated on this explosive and inspired album.
Yes, there are sporadic growling vocals and there are occasional grinding remnants of his death metal past, but these are shrewdly positioned into the flow, never becoming overbearing or formulaic. Tacit and Tacit 2 move through belligerent, shattering metal into an atmospheric string and brass segment before reaching a clattering finale. It’s this winning and daring mixing of styles that makes the album such persuasive listening.
Regen begins with the graceful melody of a soothing piano before transforming into an intense and oppressively heavy melody reminiscent of the soundtrack to The Omen. NaCl is equally diverse, consisting of crafted, complex melodies with the addition of unexpected harmony vocals giving the track a novel twist. Midway through, the material becomes even more experimental. The two and a half minutes of Rec have the aura of musical psychosis, with syncopated rhythms and ambient soundscapes combining to produce a wonderfully unsettling sound.
M is similarly ambitious, adding a frankly creepy word association spoken section before a wheeling guitar solo drives the track in an unexpected direction. Sub Alter and See are similarly cinematic, floating between feedback and spacious ambience and cohering around a haunting vocal.
If you’re one of those who believes that prog metal is gradually declining into unwitting and clueless self parody, then this album demonstrates what can be achieved. Das Seelenbrechen is a challenging and outstanding listen that genuinely stretches the genre. Emperor may well be re-forming to revisit their death metal past, but attention really should be focused on the visionary solo work of their former member.