Ihsahn | Arktis
Label: Mnemosyne Productions /Spinefarm Records/Universal/Candlelight
Release Year: 2016
Genre: Progressive Avant Garde Black Metal
Ihsahn’s Arktis is a melodic dark playground for those who love to listen to progressive avant-garde ambient black metal. It is certainly one of those albums that comes along that totally changes every conventional notion on how we think about the musical elements I just mentioned. Arktis is a album that can not even be imprisoned within the walls of those respective genres due to its every changing nature between the individual tracks.
The more you listen the more noticeable his intentions are on Arktis. Ihsahn simply and deliberately refuses to be pigeonholed. His writing and intentions make Arktis a very interesting melodic journey for the listener. His songwriting and content has definitely matured since being a founder of one of black metal’s pioneers Emperor in the late 1980’s to early 1990’s. Much like his peers in Enslaved and even his once band mate in Tchort with Green Carnation, Ihsahn has incorporated ambient, avant-garde, progressive and even some fusion and jazz influences into his own modified form of extreme black metal. Arktis is a perfect example of all these influences coming together as we will now see when I break this down for you.
Disassembled starts with a thunderous bass section with a great old school hammond organ along with a heavy rhythm guitar. This is very soon followed up with a very rhythm guitar groove laden progression with a perfect black metal vocal. There is also some very melodic clean vocal sections that give the track a lot more depth than just a extreme vocal fest. Between the extreme black vocal sections and cleaner vocal sections it gives the track the appearance of a harmonic dialogue.
Mass Darkness has almost a djent backbone to it. There are definite intricate rhythmic trade offs in between the rhythm guitar and bass. On top of the greatly executed extreme vocals there are also so great clean backing vocals. The track is very up tempo within the rhythmic structure.
My Heart Is Of The North begins with a great drum intro followed by a beautiful hammond organ blended in with a great guitar passage. The extreme vocals are very melodic, The rhythm section of guitar/bass/drums melt well with the hammond organ. It is a Deep Purple style passage with a heavier metal sensibility. At the 2:57 mark the track takes a nice mellow melodic break with a cleaner vocal before exploding again at the 3:30 mark.
South Winds begins as a ambient intro with quiet whispering echo style vocals before taking a straight away direction towards a more avant – garde progression. The vocals and instrumental are subtle trading on and off. The rhythm section again appears as a more djent progression. Very tuned down and bleak yet smooth to the listener. About the 3:50 mark the instrumental portion takes on a light orchestral passage with the cleaner vocals dark ambient.
In The Vaul starts off as a straight up metal track. There is so great trade off melodies between the clean and extreme vocal. At times this track reminds me of early Opeth on Still Life with tracks like The Moor and Serenity Painted Death however in a more blackened metal ambient progression.
Until I Too Dissolve begins like a semi industrial track until the guitar kicks in and then takes it to another dimension. From there it is a straight away driving groove laden heavy metal track. There is some nice breaks before the clean vocals appear. This is one of the more melodic tracks both on the clean vocal and extreme black metal vocal parts. The clean vocals are like a light power/progressive vocal, strong and harmonic. The guitar solo is very intricate it its time measures and signatures making the progressions unpredictable.
Pressure is one of the more progressive metal tracks on the album. Both lyrically and instrumentally it deals with some of the darker material Ihsahn is more noted for. The instrumental portions are very intricate and the time signatures very dark yet ever changing. With all the progression changes the tracks still stays on point where you can follow it. The double blast beats of the drums are very black metal in their nature. Video to Pressure will be included at the end of this review.
Frail begins as a beautiful acoustic track. Suddenly it takes a weird path of various time signatures. The progressions sound very old school with the rhythmic section. The keyboards are a more rhythmic instrument than a stringed section instrument. The harmonies have a beautiful and dark nuance about them as well. The guitar solo bridges the first half to the second of the track perfectly.
Crooked Red Line is perhaps one of the most unusual tracks I ever heard on a extreme progressive black metal album of this nature. This track ventures more towards the jazz and fusion direction especially with the heavy appearance of a saxophone. It is progressive black metal fusion something that is barely heard in today’s extreme progressive metal scene. The saxophone takes the instrumental into another dimension and a welcomed one at that.
Celestial Violence has a heavy ambient atmospheric intro. Then the track explodes into a blackened progression with the extreme vocals. Soon it changes again in its time progression and the progressive passage takes on a cleaner vocal. This seems to be the main dynamic on the album where there is a extreme progression running side by side or playing off one another in a wicked time signature.
Til Tor Ulven (Soppelsolen) is basically a instrumentally avant-garde ambient track with the entire vocal portion being a spoken word section within another language. It is arranged perfectly as the final track allowing the listener to absorb what they just experienced.
Ihsahn really created a masterpiece on Arktis. He put on a clinic on how true progressive black metal should be written, recorded and produced. Arktis is a album that is one of those recordings where through word of mouth can introduce newer fans to Ihsahn and his body of work. I give Ihsahn’s Arktis a 4.5/5 .