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Live: Ihsahn In London

The former Emporer Ihsahn brings his face-melting prog metal to Camden.

A show that takes place less than 24 hours after the attacks at Le Bataclan doesn’t make for the most comfortable atmosphere. Instinctively, you do things you might not normally do.

Maybe you check the location of the fire exits. Perhaps you stand a little closer to them than you normally do. Maybe you look at other gig-goers a little differently. But if Ihsahn – a man not known for biting his tongue when it comes to some of the things done in the name of religion – is affected, he doesn’t let it show. “I won’t say much about this,” he says, “but I think we should send some thoughts to our friends in Paris.”

It’s the only mention of the previous evening’s atrocities, and otherwise it’s business as usual.

Except it isn’t. Hiber is the perfect opener, with a crunching, sinister riff that immediately sends the atmosphere somewhere off in the direction of Hades, but it collapses almost as quickly as it starts as a technical failure curtails the song, and any momentum.

Ihsahn’s death metal is adorned with prog sounds.

After apologies the band restart, but it’s not until the following Pulse that the recovery is complete, its simple, rather lovely piano motif completely at odds with the previous song’s thudding ferocity. The pendulum swings back the other way for Tacit 2, a juddering mess of rumbling noise and phlegm-ridden growls that serves as an intro for the altogether more shapely Tacit, taking the death metal template and adorning it with progressive sounds.

Frozen Lakes On Mars starts with twin guitars duelling, quickly races into a careening gallop, climaxes by slowing down to reveal the kind of sweetly melodic chorus Ghost would die for, then races off again. A Grave Inversed follows, whizzing along like a fiendish Flight Of The Bumblebee played at Benny Hill speed.

Everything veers recklessly in one direction and then another, and while the studio versions of these songs shift from one plateau to another in a way that embraces harmony and logic, such subtleties are lost when they’re reduced to bombast, funnelled through a live PA at head-splitting volume. However, this doesn’t mean they have any less impact.

There’s an Emperor medley that takes in An Elegy Of Icaros, a truly demented I Am The Black Wizards and a version of Thus Spake The Nightspirit that’s uplifting and epic. Best of all, new song My Heart Is Of The North has the type of classic, grungy riff that suggests the follow-up to 2013’s Das Seelenbrechen (due next year) might win over a few more hearts and minds. Afterwards, a demonic version of The Grave finishes the evening. No prisoners, no encores, no problem.

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 35 years in music industry, online for 22. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.