Review: Ihsahn – IHSAHN

Band: Ihshan
Album: IHSAHN
Country: Norway
Genre: Black Metal, progressive extreme metal
Label: Candlelight Records
Release Date: February 16th 2024

When a band releases a self-titled album decades into their career, it’s usually a red flag that they are running out of ideas. A self-titled album should be a personal statement about the artists and demonstrate the full array of their skills. I fail to see how IHSAHN achieves that.

Introduction:

Black metal legend Ihsahn is back with a self-titled album filled with symphonic metal with black metal touches. Don’t expect Ihsahn to get back to a classic Emperor sound here though: most of the songs consist of alternative metal riffing with orchestral backing and Ihsahn’s shrieky vocals, which somehow feel very out of place within the album’s soundscape. It wouldn’t really be fair to judge this as a black metal album, as even though there are traces of black metal in the melodies and vocal style, the album is closer to prog or alternative metal. I will try to assess it free of bias within that context.

The album:

Tracklist:

  1. Cervus Venator
  2. The Promethean Spark
  3. Pilgrimage to Oblivion
  4. Twice Born
  5. A Taste of the Ambrosia
  6. Anima Extraneae
  7. Blood Trails to Love
  8. Hubris and Blue Devils
  9. The Distance Between Us
  10. At the Heart of All Things Broken
  11. Sonata Profana

Unfortunately, this doesn’t make for a strong symphonic or prog album either. Starting from the overall sound of this thing, it’s notable how sterile and flat everything sounds, from the drums to the guitar tone. The orchestral elements try to add a sense of grandiosity to the songs, but the synthesizers that they are played with have no authenticity to their sound and the end result is melodramatic at best. The intro track is case in point, sounding like a Disney movie soundtrack.

There’s no doubt that everything here is performed by a skilled musician. Every note is played clearly and precisely, with only the vocals being weak in terms of performance. I’ve never been a big fan of Ihsahn’s harsh vocal style, but here it sounds extra dry and impassionate, like he is straining his vocal cords too hard. While the instrumentals don’t lack in precision, there is no energy or soul behind the playing. As an example, Hubris and Blue Devils begins with instrumental noodling à la Robert Fripp, only without the personality of Fripp’s guitar playing. This is easily one of the proggier cuts, but for prog metal everything here sounds so… safe. There are no compositional risks taken here. Really this album doesn’t offer anything that I haven’t heard executed better on a Dream Theater or Nightwish album.

The album’s highpoints to me are the more atmospheric cuts that don’t try to force metal riffs and orchestral instrumentals together. The penultimate track, At the Heart of All Things Broken, actually does achieve some level of emotional payoff with its nine-minute run time. While not super original, the song at least feels like it’s going somewhere with the chugging guitars and orchestral build-up. A Taste of the Ambrosia on the other hand has nice, doomy double guitar action and strong melodies, even if the orchestral meddling in the middle goes nowhere in my opinion.

Conclusion:

When a project releases a self-titled album decades into their career, it’s usually a red flag that they are running out of ideas. A self-titled album should, in my view, be a personal statement about the artists and demonstrate the full array of their skills. I fail to see how IHSAHN achieves that. For fans of symphonic metal there will be a couple gorgeous instrumental sections, and for the rest a few fun riffs, but overall IHSAHN shows a seasoned musician comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, in their selected lane of music. There’s not enough energy for metal, and not enough wonder for prog.

Score: 5/10

BMZ Score 5 – Average: The album is neither exceptional nor terrible. It may have a mix of good and mediocre tracks, but it doesn’t stand out in any significant way.

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Support Ihshan here: https://ihsahnihsahnalbum.bandcamp.com/album/ihsahn

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