"The most ambitious and extravagant album of his career." Ihsahn's self-titled new album is a triumph for one of metal's greatest visionaries

Ihsahn's latest offering may just feature the best work of his career

(Image: © Andy Ford)

You can trust Louder Our experienced team has worked for some of the biggest brands in music. From testing headphones to reviewing albums, our experts aim to create reviews you can trust. Find out more about how we review.

When Ihsahn released his lavish, shelf-threatening box set, The Hyperborean Collection, in 2021, it was a very clear and purposeful clearing of the decks. From Emperor’s four classic albums to solo triumphs like After and Àmr, the Norwegian has achieved more than most and could easily have slacked off for a bit, satisfied with a job well done. Instead, he’s made the most ambitious and extravagant album of his career.

A concept piece devoted to some hazily defined hero’s epic journey, Ihsahn is a game of two distinct halves. The first presents an astonishing splurge of new songs: still firmly within the Norwegian’s self-created wheelhouse of artful, restless black metal, but with full and florid orchestral elements throughout. Ihsahn has been mixing strings with metallic bombast for more than 30 years, but never with quite this much unabashed ingenuity and flair. Here, metal band and orchestra are woven seamlessly together, each surge of violins or brass adding colour, definition and extra muscle to these intricate songs’ wayward momentum.

And what songs they are. The Promethean Spark and Pilgrimage To Oblivion are as vicious and volatile as anything in Ihsahn’s past, but with more twists, turns and cinematic sumptuousness than ever before; Twice Born is three-and-a-half minutes of evolved black metal prog perfection; Hubris And Blue Devils is a crazed riot of ideas, from jagged, Twilight Zone-style guitar motifs and blistering blastbeats to unsettling oases of warped circus music. Closing epic At The Heart Of All Things Broken is staggeringly beautiful and crushing in equal measure, and may be the finest thing Ihsahn has ever written.

The album’s second half comprises the same 11 songs, arranged solely for the orchestra, and with elegantly immersive results. In its opulent entirety, Ihsahn represents a proud and confident raising of the stakes for one of metal’s greatest visionaries.

Ihsahn is out this Friday, February 16, via Candlelight/Mnemosyne Productions

Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.