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Ihsahn - Pharos CD (album) cover

PHAROS

Ihsahn

 

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

3.18 | 12 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

lukretio
3 stars Pharos is the second of two EPs released by Ihsahn this year. Here Ihsahn delves deeper into the more atmospheric and melodic elements of his music. Clean vocals, minimally distorted guitars, synths and electronic beats dominate the album, which however does not dispense with occasional bursts of rawness in some of the tracks. With lyrics in English and a sound that feels modern and poppy, this is deliberately a very different beast than the other EP Ihsahn released this year, Telemark. However, despite the lighter musical approach, the atmosphere remains dark and somber, at times even doomish ? bringing to mind the recent works of bands like Leprous (whose singer, Einar Solberg, guests on one track here) and Ulver.

In keeping with the structure of its companion EP, Pharos also features a mixture of originals (three songs) and covers (two songs), for a total of nearly 25 minutes. The three originals offer a slightly more experimental version of the sound that Ihsahn has previously delivered on tracks such as "Sámr" and "Twin Black Angels" from his previous album Ámr. It's deceptively easy-listening music, where the light, spacious arrangements and clean melodic vocal lines are contrasted with dissonant guitar arpeggios, ominous sound effects, dark choral vocals, and unexpected bursts of chugging distorted guitars. The vocals are melodious but retain a dark, cold undertone and the melodies, while poppy, are never too catchy. The result is music that is easy on the ear, but surprisingly difficult to assimilate and relate to. It's only with repeated listens that I came to appreciate the full depth of the arrangements and the beauty of songs like the title-track "Pharos" and "Losing Altitude". The title-track is easily the highest point of the EP, featuring a mesmerizing contrast between the sweet, melodious waltz of the pre-chorus and the dark, ominous choral vocals of the chorus. I was less impressed with the other original song, "Spectre at the Feast", that feels somewhat more run-of-the-mill to me.

The two covers are the true surprise of the EP, though. On Telemark, the covers disappointed me, feeling awkward and out of place. On Pharos, they are simply spot-on. Portishead's "Roads" has exactly the same dark, subdued atmosphere that permeates on the three original songs of the EP. Musically, the song rests on a dark, distorted guitar arpeggio, treated and delayed to create a hauntingly beautiful, hypnotic effect. Ihsahn's slightly strained falsetto vocals might catch off-guard at first, but it beautifully conveys the fragility of the lyrics. The other cover, "Manhattan Skyline", is a song by Norwegian synth-pop band A-ha. Ihsahn's arrangement does not stray too far from the original (extravagant synth sounds included), although it provides more punch and drama on the explosive chorus. In this song, however, the scene is stolen by Einar Solberg's magnificent vocals, starting sweet and mellifluous in the verse to swell dramatically in the chorus.

Overall, Pharos is a satisfying EP that offers five diverse but consistently high-quality songs, and achieves what it promised to deliver: push the boundaries of the more melodic, progressive and experimental elements of Ihsahn's music. As in the case of its companion EP Telemark, the push is however not too hard, and Pharos does not fall in radically different territories relative to Ihsahn's previous output. What is remarkable, though, is how Ihsahn managed to create grim atmospheres using a musical palette that is largely comprised of poppy, light-colored tones, showcasing once more his outstanding talents for composing beautifully dark and dramatic music.

(Originally written for The Metal Observer)

lukretio | 3/5 |

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