Ihsahn – Telemark
Norwegian black metal legend Ihsahn is back with the first of two five-track EPs inspired by and dedicated to his home county of Telemark. Despite having several solo albums under his belt, Ihsahn keeps delving into new musical territories and exploring the vastness it has to offer, like those daring explorers of old throughout the cold regions of Norwegian land. Perhaps that’s something that Norwegians naturally carry in their genes, now that I think of it.
The first EP is comprised of three original tracks sung in Norwegian and two covers. This work is a trip back to the origins of Ihsahn’s music as very little clean vocals are featured here, so it will be mainly enjoyed by those who prefer the heavier side of progressive/metal music, especially when it comes to the vocals. But I’m not saying that as a bad thing, and who knows, maybe the boldest will go beyond the vocal aspect and will like it as well.
It opens with ‘Stridig’, which was the first single and was released in December of last year. The aesthetics, the sound of what the new material would be, was instantly spoon-fed to us. The first seconds of the song begin with a guitar strum and drums which gradually start building, and then, the incomparable style and rawness of Ihsahn’s vocals come to play. The rhythm has a beat that hooks you up from the very beginning. Suddenly past the 2-minute mark, you can hear guitar parts that have an 80’s/old school Rock & Roll vibe to it. And around the middle of the song there’s no way you can you overlook those saxophone parts played by the fantastic Jørgen Munkeby (Shining), joined by a soft guitar solo and the bass notes. Then, the mesmerizing melody of the intro of the song goes slow again, just like in the beginning, and explodes… those haunting screams of “Evig, Stridig!” at the very end will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck.
Ihsahn – Stridig (click here if the video does not play)
The second single, ‘Nord’ goes next and the first seconds have that distinguishable “black metal” sound because of the guitar melody. If it weren’t for the fact that the sax comes early on, it would feel as if we were listening to ‘new’ and perfected Emperor material. The soft clean “ahhh” vocals in the backing choruses throughout the song are also a reminder of that, and somehow these work harmoniously with the raw singing. Right before the climax of the song, some typical Norwegian folk elements are reflected in the beautiful guitar work, and then a solo adds more of that rock and roll feeling. It’s important to note the drum work of Tobias Ørnes Andersen (Aiming For Enrike, ex-Shining, ex-Leprous) as it sounds clean yet powerful, adding some double bass drumming to accentuate the parts, and a subtle beat at the end.
Ihsahn – Nord (click here if the video does not play)
The third track, ‘Telemark’ is the one the album is named after and we can definitely see why. It’s also the longest on the EP. The first 2 minutes are purely instrumental: folk elements created with the electric guitar that mix in perfectly with the more traditional metal instruments (bass, drums), and the jazzy sax parts that now feel like a trademark in Ihsahn’s music. When the vocals join, the song transforms once again, but it still goes slow, until an explosion of blast beats appear. Like a rampaging storm, it goes adding the heaviness of the vocals, drums, guitars, bass and saxophone. But then the calm finally comes through in the end.
And now it’s time for the unexpected part of Ihsahn’s work: the covers originally done by Lenny Kravitz and Iron Maiden. One wouldn’t naturally expect that a “black metal” musician would even consider doing a Lenny Kravitz song since his music is aimed more towards a rock/pop audience. But here’s where Ihsahn stands out and shows that he has been influenced by more than just one music genre during his career. For ‘Rock And Roll Is Dead’ he kept the essence of the song, doing raw singing for the majority of the track, the clean vocals only for the choruses. Saxophone parts? You got them! It does feel like a cover, but at the same time he added his personal touch to it.
And finally, the last track of the album, ‘Wratchchild’. Good choice of song and band to cover: Iron Maiden, one of the pillars in metal music. Although Ihsahn’s singing gives it that distinction, it does not sound “black metal” at all. This cover was faithful to the original version, except for the vocals like mentioned, and the sax parts. I personally prefer his take on the Lenny Kravitz song, but that is just because we have to admit that Maiden is more predictable to cover.
For those who are familiar with Ihsahn’s earlier works, you might feel a certain similarity between this album and “Arktis.”, and even with “Eremita”, but I would dare to say that “Telemark” goes deeper, as it’s more connected to his personal roots as both a musician and a Norwegian artist. Whether you’ve been following Ihsahn’s career during his years with Emperor, or you’re new to his solo stuff, “Telemark” feels like a combination of both eras but leaving space for new creations.
- Rock and Roll is Dead (Lenny Kravitz Cover)
- Wratchild (Iron Maiden Cover)