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Ihsahn - Telemark CD (album) cover



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3 stars The first of the two EPs to come out this year, Telemark focuses on the more extreme, 'black' side of Ihsahn's music. The EP's title references the region of Norway where Ihsahn grew up: if that's not a hint to the 'back-to-the-origins' theme of the album, then I don't know what is. Truth be told, however, the music on Telemark is not dramatically different from the type of extreme, 'blackened' metal Ihsahn has accustomed us to with his previous solo full-lengths, with perhaps a tad more folk/epic black metal feel to it and, most notably, lyrics in Norwegian.

The EP is comprised of five songs, totaling nearly 25 minutes. Three songs are new original tracks, while the remaining two are covers (Iron Maiden's 'Wrathchild' and Lenny Kravitz's 'Rock and Roll is Dead'). The three original songs occupy a similar musical territory: fast, icy guitar riffs and abrasive growl vocals form the backbone of the music, that is dark, epic and dramatic. The modern synth/electronic experiments of 'mr are nowhere to be found, and are replaced instead by subtle blackened folk influences that channel the epic vibe of bands like Borknagar or Vintersorg. J'rgen Munkeby of avant-garde metal band Shining guests on the album as saxophone player, providing a stark but beautiful contrast to the gritty guitar and vocal sound. This unusual combination pushes the album in progressive directions, and I cannot help but think that this might just be how King Crimson would have sounded if they had grown up in 1990s Norway.

Among the original tracks, 'Nord' is my favorite, hitting the perfect spot between epic black metal harshness and dark melodic melancholy. Munkeby's harmonic work is sensational, providing a warm but ominous atmosphere that is beautifully complemented by Ihsahn's dramatic and passionate growls. The addition of clean background vocals on the pre-chorus adds a touch of Norwegian epic folk, perfectly channeling the theme of the song. 'Stridig' is more ferocious, with the folk influences toned down in favor of a more modern sound, while the tables are turned on the title-track 'Telemark', which opens with a folksy guitar pattern that will keep surfacing throughout the 7.30 minutes of the song. This is perhaps the most experimental track of the EP, although, personally, I find its structure too convoluted and repetitive, and I feel that the song delays for far too long the delivery of its emotional payload.

The weakest part of the EP, however, are the two covers, which are both eminently skippable, in my opinion. The blackened rock interpretation of Lenny Kravitz's 'Rock and Roll is Dead' feels awkward and never manages to find the right resonance. The excessive repetitiveness of its insipid chorus, inherited from the original, does the rest to make this the most forgettable moment of the EP. The cover of 'Wrathchild' is better, although it never quite manages to shift into gear and move out of the shadow of the original, despite the atypical use of growl vocals and sax harmonies.

Overall, Telemark is a pleasant, if somewhat uneven, exploration of the 'blackest' side of Ihsahn's musical personality. It offers two great tracks ('Stridig', 'Nord'), combined with an ambitious but somewhat hit-and-miss progressive black metal mini-epic ('Telemark') and two mediocre covers. Fans who were expecting a proper return to Ihsahn's black metal roots (i.e. a return to Emperor's sound) will be disappointed, since Telemark treads similar musical territories as Ihsahn's previous solo full-lengths. Nevertheless, the injection of elusive folk/black metal influences and the prominent use of the saxophone help push the music into subtle new directions, infusing it with a strong progressive feel and showing once again that Ihsahn's creativity is truly boundless, even when he expresses it within the monochrome aesthetics of black metal.

(Originally written for The Metal Observer)

Report this review (#2453876)
Posted Monday, October 5, 2020 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
Honorary Reviewer
3 stars Ihsahn surely needs no introduction, and here he takes a slightly different track with the first of two five-track EPs inspired by and dedicated to his home county of Telemark. "Having released full-length records nearly every second year since I was 16, I felt it might be time to try something else," he explains. "Also, I wanted to approach what I do in a way that felt natural but also to try to adapt it to the way that music is now performed and experienced. I have seven solo albums out now, so the first EP is like a small recap, in a way. I did touch on some of the same thematics with 'Arktis' but this time it's closer to home, both musically and, dare I say, culturally."

He took two songs as a base, Lenny Kravitz's "Rock & Roll Is Dead" and Iron Maiden's "Wrathchild", and then wrote three numbers which had the same sort of sonic approach and attitude, and then recorded the two covers as well giving us the five numbers on the EP. Here he is showing the depth and breadth of black metal, mixing it with folk when the time is right, but always with the intensity and power we have all come to expect and love over the years. Personally I would have preferred it if he hadn't included the two covers, and left it to our imagination, as "Rock and Roll is Dead" sounds somewhat strange, and "Wrathchild" is rather limp with the guitars just not in your face enough ? and take it from me this is not a song which needs horns (brass as opposed to devil's). But these two are at the end of the EP, so when playing this I just leave them off. It's a real shame as the other three show that the master of black metal is still at the top of his game with his own music. It will be interesting to see what the next EP is like.

Report this review (#2582786)
Posted Saturday, July 31, 2021 | Review Permalink

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