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5 stars Great riffs, dark and beautiful melodies, eerie atmosphere, what more is there to ask? I've had Ihsahn on my radar for quite some time, even back in 2006 when I was just getting into metal (via DT), but knowing he came from that infamous Norwegian early 90's black metal scene, his music didn't call to me, so I never got around to listen to any of his solo work.

Recently, having acquired some more "extreme metal" tastes (such as Opeth, Meshuggah, Death, Mastodon, Cynic, Leprous), I decided to give his music a little go. First I listened to his early solo work, but those few songs I heard where just enough for me; so I moved to Das Seelenbrechen and was pleasantly surprised by the complexity and the emotion of his songs. Didn't listen to the whole thing though, in fear that black metal style tunes would come up and "ruin it" for me. Einar Solberg's presence on this record and Ihsahn's collaborations with Leprous is what ultimately brought me to "Arktis".

I never really liked black metal per se, but some of it's elements present in other genres of metal (little blast beats here and there in prog metal for instance; growls) seem to be appealing. That's what makes Arktis such a good album, it doesn't rely on some formula to work on so many levels; each song is unique. There's brilliant musicianship throughout the eleven tracks, but the thing that got me was, the context. This "unsettling" feeling I got when I finished listening to it, brought me the sensation of actually being in the north, aimlessly walking on the ice and snow. The bitter cold, the whiteness... Progressive doesn't mean technical, and though "Arktis" is no stranger to technical prowess, it certainly does not need it to be as compelling as it is.

2016 is getting a lot better now! This is a solid five star album, any prog fan should give it a go.

Report this review (#1561241)
Posted Wednesday, May 11, 2016 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "Arktis." is the 6th full-length studio album by Norwegian progressive extreme metal artist Ihsahn. The album was released through Candlelight Records in March 2016. Itīs the successor to "Das Seelenbrechen" from 2013. Ihsahn is of course known for his time with groundbreaking Norwegian black metal act Emperor, but his solo career is by now also quite prolific. On "Arktis." Ihsahn handles vocals, bass, guitars, and keyboards, while the drums are played by session drummer Tobias Ørnes Andersen (Shining). Andersenīs bandmate from Shining, Jørgen Munkeby, also makes a guest appearance on saxophone on the track "Crooked Red Line". Matt Heafy (Trivium) and Einar Solberg (Leprous) make a couple of guest vocal appearances. This is still predominantly a solo effort by Ihsahn though, but thatīs how itīs been since day one of his solo career.

The material on "Arktis." can overall be described as progressive extreme metal, but itīs always hard to give an adequate description of Ihsahnīs music, because he is so eclectic. The music features loads of progressive rock influences, but also thrash, death, black, and traditional heavy metal influences, as well as some nods toward avant garde and electronic music. It may sound like it could be a messy style mishmash, but Ihsahn is a more skilled composer and performer than most, and he is able to combine his many influences into a well sounding whole.

The material on the 10 track, 48:07 minutes long album are diverse in style and if you think you know what youīre in for after listening to the two opening tracks "Disassembled" and "Mass Darkness", youīre in for a surprise. Ihsahn continues to twist and turn conventions throughout the album, but no track seems out of place or disrupts the flow of the album, and thatīs regardless of tracks like "Until I Too Dissolve", "Crooked Red Line", and "Celestial Violence", sticking out quite a bit. The latter is a brilliant and incredibly beautiful epic track, which closes the album, while the saxophone on "Crooked Red Line" makes that track stand out. "Until I Too Dissolve" stands out too as it features a a strong traditional heavy metal riff, which brings Van Halen to mind.

"Arktis." is very well produced. The sound production is clear, powerful, and detailed. Itīs a production which brings out the best in the layered and and intricate musical compositions. The musicianship is as always on an incredibly high level. Ihsahn is not only a strong vocalist who can sing both extreme metal vocals and clean vocals with conviction and passion, but also a skilled instrumentalist, who handles all instruments with seamless ease. The guest musicians also bring a lot to the album, to further enhance the listening experience.

Upon conclusion "Arktis." is another high quality release by Ihsahn, where he once more shows the world his musical genius. Fans of progressive extreme metal featuring strong melodic choruses, epic atmospheres, a restrained experimental approach (in other words not overtly avant garde in nature, although still occasionally experimental) and a generally adventurous and diverse approach to songwriting should find a lot to enjoy here. I always recommend fans of Opeth to listen to Ihsahn if they donīt already known him, but in truth Opeth is only a reference because they have a similar progressive songwriting approach and a similar extreme metal meets strong melodic sensibilities way of creating music, because Ihsahnīs music is generally quite an unique listen. A 4 - 4.5 star (85%) rating is deserved.

Report this review (#1709819)
Posted Monday, April 10, 2017 | Review Permalink
4 stars Ihsahn, the master of Norwegian black and avant-guard metal himself, crafted hismost broadly accessible album of his career with 2016's Arktis. While still centering around down tuned riffs and Ihsahn's signature punishing vocals, the album comfortably incorporates elements of classic prog and electronica thereby creating an engaging album that truly defies any expectations listeners may have had of Ihsahn until this point. And yet, despite the prevalence of catchy vocal hooks and groovy riffs, Ihsahn's propensity for experimentation still manages to find its place as the record's run time progresses.

It is worth making mention the album cover as well. Its difficult to not immediately feel the cold and resistance that the black clad figure must be feeling in the image. And yet you also sense that the character is ploughing along willingly and embracing the cold for what it is. I'm no lyrics expert but I would venture to say that this image fits well into the existentialism in Ihsahn's music. Life is dark and punishing but the will can overcome it.

Report this review (#2287378)
Posted Saturday, December 14, 2019 | Review Permalink

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