IHSAHN — Àmr (review)

IHSAHN — Àmr album cover Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
Always the trailblazer, IHSAHN may not be at the helm of Emperor or the multitude of side projects that propelled him throughout the 90s any longer but after launching his solo career with 2006’s “The Adversary,” he has shown no sign of ending his ceaseless creative run of albums that takes a little of what came before and mixes in new elements of surprise. ÀMR (an Old Norse word for both “black” and “loathsome”) is IHSAHN’s seventh album and finds him in top form with his now usual roster of heavy progressive metal riffs that harken back to his black metal days as well as the artier side of his Peccatum experience.

While increasing the dosages of experimentalism and avant-garde with every subsequent album starting with his debut, IHSAHN hit a brick wall with 2013’s “Seelenbrechen” which found many tracks escape the confines of metal altogether and conspired to create dark and sinister dark ambient tracks with some of the sickest vocal performances outside of extreme metal. The followup “Arktis” found IHSAHN streamlining his overall sound where he cranked what i would dare call progressive pop infused metal tracks with strong characteristics of his avant-garde progressiveness but tamed a bit with more accessible hooks and conventional songwriting structures.

While never one to jump too far too fast IHSAHN played his cards rather smoothly and added just enough of the easy-to-digest elements that made “Arktis” a much more accessible album than “Seelenbrechen.” ÀMR pretty much continues the trend with a near identical formula that incorporates the near identical ration of elements on “Arktis.” Firstly are the heavier progressive tracks (“Lend Me The Eyes Of Millenia,” “One Less Enemy,” “Arcana Imperii,” “Wake”) that contain the harshest elements of his extreme metal sounds such as the raspy black metal vocals and balls-to-the-wall guitar bombast on steroids with incessant time signature attacks that unapologetically wreak havoc on unsuspecting stereo systems.

In addition are several mid-paced tracks (“Sámr,” “Where You Are Lost And I Belong,” “Twin Black Angels”) that showcase IHSAHN’s mellow and tender side where he displays a much more accomplished range of clean vocals and the tracks rely almost exclusively on melodic hooks with heavier guitar elements only added to generate some heft. Could he even be seeking the next alternative metal hit of some sort? These are the tracks that find IHSAHN deviating the most from his relentless pursuit of everything extreme and experimental that has pretty much dominated his approach up to “Arktis,” which flirted with some of these metal oriented progressive pop tracks but ÀMR makes no false pretenses that these aspects of IHSAHN’s song styles are here to stay.

There are also a couple of tracks (“In Rites Of Passage,” “Marble Soul”) that fit somewhere in between the two extremes presented above. These two tracks implement both styles and alternate between the two with mellow clean vocals styles for the slower segments and the raspy vocals for the heavier driving parts. These tracks (as well as others) mix it up with electronic segments which is another aspect of ÀMR that seems to be developing more on each album, that is the use of retro prog sounding keyboard parts. While restrained as not to go all Opeth on us, the trend is unmistakable as slowly but surely IHSAHN is dedicating at least a segment of his music to turning more progressive rock than metal but these tracks are cleverly sandwiched by the heavy hitters as to avoid a complete derailment in the fanbase’s fickle tastes.

ÀMR was the first IHSAHN album not to completely blow me away upon first listen. Instead i felt like this was an “Arktis II” of sort but this guy’s music is intricate and has an uncanny capacity to grow on me fairly quickly and even though this is probably by far the most accessible of anything he has done in his career with sing-along vocal segments and irresistible pop laden hooks coming out of the woodworks, IHSAHN has a brilliant way of keeping a layer of extremity that makes it so unusual even though the hooks are so utterly seductive. Is this a sign of even more commercial directions being pursued? Well, we’ll have to wait and see but at this point these developments aren’t detrimental to the album’s continuity. Once again IHSAHN has crafted a very well designed slice of progressive metal even if it’s not deviating significantly from what came before. Very much the enjoyable musical endeavor.
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