Daniel Cece

Hot Off the Press: Ihsahn - "Ihsahn"

Music Scene Media
Feb 16, 2024
5 min read

Whenever an artist announces a self-titled release, it generally means one of three things: They have either run out of other creative ideas or concepts to base their album around, they did so primarily as a marketing ploy to generate more buzz around their name (especially to new audiences), or because the artist considers the self-referential work to be the most accurate reflection of themselves – the magnum opus of their collection which best represents who they are as a creator/thinker/person. In the case of Ihsahn, it is apparent that his latest work is an assembly of authenticity, unapologetic passion, and risky experimentalism, resulting in a creation that could only result from a combination of these. It doesn't take more than one listen-through to gather that there was no agenda with this record – Ihsahn simply let the music ring true to itself and speak for itself. Regardless of genre or sound, that concept is something that deserves admiration and respect. There is no formula, no template, and no blueprint behind Ihsahn, allowing the finished product to serve as a form of a blended musical autobiography backed by the utmost creative freedom and artistic integrity. This serves as the album's greatest strength, but can also be seen as its greatest weakness.

I always attempt to avoid comparing artists, especially artists who genuinely intend to create and maintain a distinguished, personalized sound that gives their name a kind of weight rarely found in the industry. It is so indescribably rare that I find artists whose creations transcend what I've come to expect from modern songwriting, given how much music is either created to be profitable, appeal to a certain type of audience (usually going hand-in-hand with being profitable), or simply lacks the boundary-breaking elements required to truly make it unique and original. Many modern artists struggle to not only define their sound distinctly but do so sustainably without being corrupted by outside forces, instead prioritizing their art first in every way at all costs due to their indisputable love for the craft. Pieces that stem from untainted & intrinsic inspiration arranged by musicians who are experts in their field and possess the compositional prowess necessary to properly bring their visions to life are often set apart in the manner they are conveyed – these are often controversial for a number of reasons, even if respected. The prime example of this that comes to mind first is the legendary Devin Townsend, someone whose very essence is poured into his music. This is not said in an effort to compare sections of their albums or songs sonically as that would be a simplistic and reductionist misuse of words. Instead, I am hoping that listeners will go into their first (or next) dive into Ihsahn discovering exactly how it radiates a similar peculiarity to Townsend's work, not necessarily in song structure or musicality, but in the way that both are manifestations of boundless expressive freedom unbeholden to anything outside of what makes each artist fulfilled to write and play. They know all of the rules and aren't afraid to break them, allowing them to unlock new compositional dimensions, giving their music a borderline inexplicable "larger-than-life" kind of aura derived from pure authenticity.

While this core concept is something that these two (among other legendary greats) have in common in terms of their gifted paradigms, Ihsahn weaves a distinguished web throughout its runtime in ways that are proprietary to him and him alone. No stranger to unexpected twists and turns, Ihashn confidently assumes the helm of its own ship, guiding you through otherwise uncharted waters rife with unexpected detours that are as intriguing as they are unfamiliar. Much like how a passage requires multiple traverses to feel familiar, each navigation through the personal journey of Ihsahn and its corresponding meanderings helps make more and more sense of the "why" behind Ihsahn's writing choices. While I do believe the best albums often require subsequent listens to fully digest, appreciate, and/or comprehend, there is a certain cohesiveness needed to have an album feel like a complete, continuous work rather than simply a compilation of tracks under the same overarching name. The blending of ingredients from different genres/sub-genres, influences, inspirations, and experiences (likely across the span of his life) make it so no two songs on the album sound the same, which I would (and have) portrayed as a positive. It is a colossal task to condense such a tall order into a single album. Ihsahn demonstrates his skills and progressive mindset by successfully incorporating all of this into each song but struggles to maintain a continuity or coherent progression across the span of the album as a whole. Each song has roughly the same value on its own as it does in the context of the rest of the album, which may have been Ihsahn's intent, and there is certainly an argument for each song being "various chapters of his life", or something of that nature. While full-album continuity isn't necessary to ensure a great listening experience, I would argue that it is the missing piece to make this a 10/10 record for me, personally.

For those just now discovering Ihsahn, otherwise known as Vegard Sverre Tvetian, he is one of the founders of the highly influential and acclaimed (or infamous, depending on who you ask) Norwegian Black Metal band, Emperor, as well as its main creative driving force. Despite this self-titled solo album transcending the confines of traditional sub-genres (and even entire genres) consistently throughout, Tvetian's signature vocal timbre gives sections a distinct black metal overtone that would be absent otherwise. This clashes with much of the instrumentation and overall dynamic of the record, oftentimes resulting in rather unorthodox dichotomies seen by only the more progressive bands in this genre – whatever this genre is (Progressive Symphonic Melodic...Avant-Garde...Experimental...Black Metal?). I've hardly mentioned how progressive this album actually is, not just in how it bends genre norms and provides an abundance of variety, but in how it's difficult to describe musically in a way that would be relatable or familiar. Ihsahn seems to have intended to create a sub-genre of his own with this opus, or perhaps threw caution to the wind and said, "genres be damned". His heart and soul were at the nucleus of this release, something that truly defines this album far and above any other musically descriptive terminology. The orchestral elements were composed in a way that is noteworthy aside from every other element within the album, as there are two versions of Ihsahn released simultaneously. Not only do these symphonic elements serve as a robust foundation for the standard release, but are also excellent standalone tracks by themselves, presenting Ihsahn in a completely different, rather innovative light. This alone serves as a symbol for the level of detail and involvement that Ihsahn invested in this work of art. I am led to believe that every piece of this intricate puzzle was done with the same meticulousness. A musician of this magnitude scrupulously constructing his crowning achievement intended to be a demonstration of the very essence of himself is bound to be worth our time, and that's something I can personally guarantee.

Overall Rating: 9/10

FFO: Devin Townsend, Between the Buried and Me, Emperor, Pain of Salvation, Katatonia, Leprous, Persefone, Enslaved, The Ocean, Opeth

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