Ihsahn – Eremita

Ihsahn – Eremita – 4.5/5

This album is, if nothing else, certainly not lacking in it's ability to make you think; the atmospheres, shifting styles and influences, but I'm not just thinking about the music but also to what kind of madman came up with it all. He's always been an artist I've respected, first coming up with the idea of symphonic black metal, progressing the band to the point I expect the rest of them went 'woah, isn't that a bit much?' So he left and formed Peccatum, only to find that they found himself a bit difficult to handle as well. Bitter and twisted, his idea's once more rejected for being too 'unconventional' – bah – he abandoned other musicians and shut himself off like an evil Dr. Frankenstein, hunched over his musical laboratory, butchering musical parts and sowing them together, cackling in delight as he brings life to his very own musical monster. My impression of his musical creation process probably isn't helped by the fact that “Eremita” translates to Hermit.*

If there was an important point to make about this album, it'd probably be not to expect it to sound like Ihsahn's previous work. He may have roots in black metal but here the only remnants of his origins that remain are the signature vocal lines, making sure that even the most harrowing of lines are spoken with perfect diction, and even then he seems to prefer to sing cleanly more often than not. This is not black metal in the slightest; rather he seems to combine a unique form of Progressive Metal – and often not a particularly extreme form of it either – with the occasional Dark Ambient flourishes, Orchestral compositions and Jazz, thanks largely to the inclusion of Jørgen Munkeby, Shining's (the Norwegian one) very own saxophonist. It's like he slammed every “Sigh” album into one amorphous blob.

He called this his most ambitious work to date, and it's honestly not difficult to see why. More than the sheer number of guest musicians – Devin Townsend features in a track, the vocalist for Leprous helps open the album and Loomis contributes a solo – but it's how they're worked, despite their different styles, in a manner that feels like nothing short of assistance to get the right tone for the track at hand. Their influence is felt but it's not a dominative one; it doesn't feel like it's out of place, and no doubt the fact that no two tracks sound alike is a helping factor in that. But more than that, the real star of the piece is in the hands of Munkeby's saxophone, adding so much more to the tone of the track when he is featured and – when coupled with the drumming frenzy of Tobias Ørnes Andersen (Leprous) – ends up delivering such a twisted and demonic performance (think Lustmord playing Free Jazz) that it's hard not to be impressed. Everything is done to further the atmosphere, to progressively explore the concept in question.

There is a strange story being told here, but more than anything it feels closer to a psychological study; “the 5 stages of loss and grief,” except here is more akin to the ten stages of bashing your head against a white padded wall whilst wearing a straight jacket; the descent into madness in all it's variety; the melancholic acceptance of how screwed you are, the furious 'tearing down of the walls' sense of anger and aggression, the demented cries for help as you struggle to overcome the plague that has dropped you in a position where you can see no hope and it's all you can do to slump on the floor and laugh in wonder of how your situation could possibly get worse, and the overcoming – or at least acceptance – of said condition. That I can't quite make sense of it all doesn't mean that it's inherently nonsensical or even vague, just that I have yet to fully penetrate it's depths, and given the subject matter that might well be intentional. There's something undeniably going on; there's an energy and emotion that exudes out of his melodies, Ihsahn's vocals displaying a sense of pain and anguish unparalleled in modern times; frustrated cries as he attempts to get his point across to a listener struggling to comprehend.

And there is little question in my mind just about every listener will struggle to comprehend, you won't understand much more than the vaguest outlines at first. At least a half dozen spins in and only now are certain sections finally starting to make sense in the context of the album as a whole; the cyclical and repetitive chorus in “The Paranoid,” making you want to scream in anger at it right up until you realise he's probably just provoked the exact reaction he wanted from you, or the jarring transition to female vocals in “Departure” taking it's time to finally click, transforming from confusing to me taking a step back having finally understood it's purpose. Whereas in the past much of his work has been fairly accessible, this is anything but; it's a slow grower and one that only gets better with time, as I form a stronger link with what I perceive is going on, but despite my own interpretation it remains cryptic enough that the finer details are really up to interpretation. A dozen people could come up with a dozen different scenario's linked only by this maddening descent, and that's part of the album's beauty.

Highlights: Arrival, The Eagle and the Snake, The Grave

*Note: This might not be factually accurate so much as a the fiction my mind has made to fill in the blanks. In case anyone thinks this is literally true, it's not.