Ihsahn - After (2010)



Mind-blowing. Eccentric. Genius. All of these things describe Ihsahn, former vocalist and guitarist for Emperor, one of the preeminent black metal bands in the world. Now on his own, he has a bonafide "album of the year" candidate in this, his third solo record.

The album was Ihsahn's first experimenting with 8 string guitars, which he described as being "both challenging and inspiring." The hard work seems to have paid off in the material included, a collection of some of the most varied, eclectic songs you can find in metal today.

Unlike the two albums before, "After" is a much more polished effort. It still contains all of the high speed, punishing double kicks, black metal screeching vocals and blistering guitar work that you have come to appreciate. All of those things are used as a disclaimer on the albums opening track, "The Barren Lands." But what makes them stand out is the use of well placed, clean vocals. Ihsahn has created a wonderful contrast here.

"A Grave Inversed" may sound like the standard black metal screamfest at first. But there is something odd. Do you hear it? It starts off as an accent, but soon the saxophone solo blindsides you. I am sure John Coltrane and Charlie Parker never envisioned their craft being developed into this. But, surprisingly, it not only fits, but flourishes. The presence of the saxophone is welcomed. It could be the next evolution of metal.

A melodic turn approaches, with Ihsahn showing off his vocal diversity on the title track, "After." Don't worry, the double bass and layered guitars are still here. "Frozen Lakes On Mars" is a well written metaphor, comparing blue eyes to the lakes on the now dry red planet, both lifeless and empty. Ihsahn continues to tear down the assumptions of what black metal is about.

The true fusion of jazz and metal is found in "Undercurrent," which places the saxophone at the lead of the band, and lets the entire track build around it. A smooth bassline ties it all together in a perfect musical marriage. Things slow down considerably for "Austere," an atmospheric, bass driven outing. Mainly an instrumental, it allows for Ihsahn's musical prowess to be heard, join by his friends, drummer Asgeir Mickelson and bassist Lars K. Norberg, both of the band Spiral Architect.

"Heavens Black Sea," aptly named, brings the darker side back. Intertwined guitar work, all performed by Ihsahn, joined with sporadic double bass, provides the platform to jump from screams to singing, and back again. It clears the way for the epic closer, "On The Shores," which at times breaks down into an jazz improv, before slamming back to black metal glory. The entire album, summarized in one all-over-the-place jam session.

Black metal musicians are often dismissed as satanists, with black and white face paint. Double bass, distorted guitars, screams. Ihsahn is proof that there is so much more to be had. When you see where he has been, what he has done in the past, what would you expect? Would you have believed that this album ends with a saxophone solo?

9/10

Official Site - http://www.ihsahn.com/
Myspace - http://www.myspace.com/ihsahnmusic