As a founding member of Norwegian black metal band Emperor, guitarist/vocalist Ihsahn found himself mired more in the evil imagery that genre personified than the actual creative vision he sought to embrace. Whereas his Emperor bandmates saw prison time for church burnings during the 1990s, Ihsahn, seemingly the “enlightened rogue,” retreated into his music with a variety of dark metal projects like stints in Thou Shalt Suffer and Peccatum, eventually releasing his solo debut, “The Adversary,” in 2006. The guitarist’s output since then has been increasingly prolific and turn-on-a-dime progressive; his latest, “Das Seelenbrechen,” being the most hauntingly chaotic head-rush in his extensive catalog.
It’s easy to view Ihsahn as sort of a black metal Trent Reznor – a tortured soul with a knack for musical reinvention and evolving awakenings. Lyrically, “Das Seelenbrechen” is filled with the unearthly delight that longtime fans will appreciate, like vivid images of, “Upon the edge of winter’s chasm, the seeds of evil flowers grow,” in the album’s growling opener “Hiber.” There are also, amid pin-drop classical piano strains, the suggestions of self-doubt within “Regen,” like, “I wrap myself around the neck, as if to keep myself from disappearing into the flock.” Pair this cold anxiety with bipolar blasts of some of most frightening medieval Carmina Burana-esque chants and impulsive metal power chording this side of a sweat-inducing nightmare and you have Ihsahn’s recipe for a brilliantly vital take on the often caricatured black metal spectacle.
Ihsahn’s sense of nonconformist metal adventure persists on tracks like “Pulse,” with his whispered vocals surrounding the lightly programmed ambiance, almost passable as Euro-pop. “Tacit” is fever-dream metal purge, with grimacing vocals and blast beats complete with Ihsahn’s anything-but riff in “E” guitar noise – he’s truly a unique player. By the time we arrive at tracks like “See,” with a disturbing machine-like staccato effect and Ihsahn’s grievous cry of “head under water,” it’s clear that this is the work of a black metal artisan, not simply an attention-grabbing subculture miscreant.
The musician best representing a newfound liberalism in black metal, Ihsahn seemingly sees his recordings as a cathartic blank canvas on which he can unleash his innermost emotional turmoil; in turn, he’s expanding an all-too-stifling breed.
Ihsahn ‘Das Seelenbrechen’ Rating: W W W W