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I'm hardly an enormous fan of Ihsahn. I am not a fan of Emperor at all, but Ihsahn's solo album angL may be one of the best albums I own. Naturally, I went into After hoping for a similar triumph. Well, similar this is not. Instead, it seems Ihsahn was compelled to launch into a more progressive and even avant-garde approach with the inclusion of the saxophone as a driving force of the music.
Therein is my biggest complaint with this album: the saxophone performance. I have no problem with a sax in my metal - I absolutely adore Sigh's recent release, In Somniphobia, which also includes a lot of sax. The problem with After is that the saxophone use either sounds disjointed, jarring, and improvised (such as in "A Grave Inversed"), or the saxophone segments seem "tacked on," rather than flowing seamlessly with the music ("Heaven's Black Sea," "On the Shores"). "Undercurrent" manages a successful sax performance; it's smooth, atmospheric and borderline emotional, then bursts with a fit of classic Ihsahn rage. It, however, is the exception rather than the rule.
Beyond the disappointing saxophone segments, I feel the songwriting to After has taken a step down compared to that of angL. From the first half of the album emerges a few powerful pieces with entertaining riffing and particularly notable bass work. That said, even these highlights - "Frozen Lakes on Mars," title track "After," and aforementioned "A Grave Inversed" (the sax does give it an interesting flair, despite sounding unbelievably disjointed and improvised) - don't quite reach the bottom rungs of angL ("Monolith"), much less its peak ("Unhealer"). Songs are more "progressive" this time around, almost reminding me of Opeth - the problem is that Ihsahn is not capable of pulling off the plodding progressiveness of Opeth in the same way. Rather, the music has taken a turn for the minimalistic, and this is where my real problem with the album's structure comes in. "Austere" is just short of boring, while "Heaven's Black Sea" isn't all that much better. I'd say "plodding" is a good word to describe most of the album - the second half, in particular, drifts along and lacks any sort of punch. Still, the album is, overall, less abrasive this time; the only real benefit to this is Ihsahn's clean vocals making a more frequent appearance (which is the only thing I'd change about angL).
Overall, this really just isn't what I want out of an Ihsahn album. Ihsahn is a tremendous songwriter, and I do not want to dispute that. After does have its moments of excellence. Still, angL is a glorious piece of work, and the elements that made angL a success in my book have been, more-or-less, eschewed. Though the first half of After keeps in touch with some of those elements, it never reaches the same echelon. A disappointment from all angles.
After, the third and so-called conclusion of Ihsahn’s “A” series. After is the most progressive of the series, featuring longer song arrangements (4-10 minutes), prog influenced keyboards/organs and saxophones.
One thing that stands out right off the bat is the guitar tone. The guitar tone is cleaner than both The Adversary and Angl. It’s not too distracting, nor does it affect the quality of the music. Another stand out is that After’s mellow moments are much more defined. Songs such as the self-titled track and Austere both feature a much more confident clean vocal delivery by Ihsahn, which was foreshadowed on Angl. Again, along with Angl, these moments aren’t top 40 material or even pop metal (Trivium of Killswitch Engage) but rather add a melancholic vibe to the album. Songs such as The Barren Lands and Frozen Lakes on Mars features catchy vocals hooks, which manage not to overpower the songs (like metalcore bands often do).
Like Angl, bassist Lars Norberg really adds dimension with his lead bass work. Songs such as Austere feature experimental fretless bass (with a wah pedal I believe), which adds a nice flavor to Ihsahn’s already colourful canvas. Saxophonist Jorgen Munkeby, also adds nice melody, especially on the frantic track, A Grave Inversed.
Unlike both The Adversary and Angl, After uses a significant amount of proggy organ (yes some Emperor like synths still make an appearance). The use of the organ may seem a bit of a game changer for some fans but feels more like the next logical step in Ihsahn’s musical journey. Like all keyboard arrangements, Ihsahn uses discretion when performing them. They always manage to be at the right place at the right time.
Unlike Angl, After has a few minor cons. First, Munkeby’s saxophone sometimes feels out of place. These moments aren’t that significant but for instance the closing track On the Shores does feature some awkward notes. As a metalhead, I’m not too familiar with saxophones but certain sections of On the Shores sound sloppy.
The second minor flaw is Ihsahn’s use of 8 string guitars. This is more of a personal viewpoint, but like Meshuggah’s Obzen and Fear Factory’s Mechanize, some tracks on After sound hollow. For instance a lot of the palm muting sections have this hollow sound. However, unlike Meshuggah and Fear Factory, Ihsahn doesn’t rely on too much palm muting!
After is a significant change for Ihsahn. Sometimes when metal bands venture off into progressive territory they become stale and self-indulged such as Orphaned Land’s Orwarrior (released around the same time). Yes, Ihsahn still needs to fix a few minor problems but After’s overall picture is clear and leaves the listen excited for what will proceed it (perhaps a “B” series???)
For me, it's easier to sum up what's wrong with an album than what perfect with one. Great albums exist as if a part of nature, like elemental monuments, waiting to be realized. Poor albums are music realized with blinders on, and reveling the faults like filling a hole in the ground with your critique.
After, Ihsahn's third solo album, is one of those earth elementals, a fucking great album; great in how it makes the saxophone seem like a completely natural instrument for a metal album. That's because the focus of this album is on the songwriting, and not random experimentation.
Vocals range from clean and melodic(Ihsahn has a very expressive pure singing voice) to terrifying screeching. The riffs, much chunkier this time, compared to the tremulous black metal technique of previous albums, are quality, somewhat simplified (that is, catchier), but very textured.
What's breathtaking is when the saxophone is used when a guitar riff is expected, or lead melody line. I've heard this album described as jazz metal/fusion, but I don't think that's true. It's streamlined prog metal, and the sparingly used sax simply adds another texture to the music.
Keyboards are also used, perhaps even more sparingly, and is tasteful. The somewhat slick production values are a plus, as no instrument is ever lost in the mix. Is a stark contrast to sheets of white noise employed by Ihsahn's former band, Emperor.
The song that sums up the albums approach best is the second song, "A Grave Inversed". It starts out as familiar, frantic black metal fare, but the unexpected sax line thirty seconds in knocks you on your ass, and it's wild, uncharted territory for there on out.
The mature lyrics are not explicit in expressing turmoil, evoking more a quiet horror, letting the music express the more violent emotions. Take this line from one of the quieter moments on the album, from the 10 minute epic "Undercurrent":
Like glass until it breaks
Like glass until it breaks"
And take this line from the amazing song "Frozen lake On Mars", opening riff expressing the wonder of exploration, and reads like more traditional metal fare, but coming to a more existential and melancholic conclusion:
"blue eyes like frozen lakes on mars, made fury
that there once was life inside
blue eyes like frozen lakes on mars,
the cold remains the fires died"
After is my favorite album from 2010. Highly recommended.
Best known as the frontman for the legendary black metal band Emperor, Ihsahn's solo work takes quite a different approach than anything we might have heard from his former flagship band. As can be readily heard on his third studio album 'After', the man now takes equal sound from progressive music as he does with black metal, and the end result is an inventive brand of black metal that far outweighs his earlier work in terms of complexity and diversity, but equal in feeling and atmosphere. While not holding as much of a personal significance as his second solo album 'Angl' does, 'After' shows the man developing his progressive metal sound to incorporate more experimental and unpredictable elements, resulting in an excellent album altogether.
With 'Angl', I was greeted with intelligent performance, some technical riffs and proggy elements, but the focus was always around the songwriting and the thought put into it. With 'After' now, the songwriting is fleshed out into a more epic scope, allowing for such longer compositions as 'Undercurrent' and the closer 'On The Shores' to take their place on the album. With greater room for experimentation, Ihsahn lets the songs build on their own time, and the end result is usually very effective musically. However, it does feel as if the songwriting has taken a bit of a toll here when compared to 'Angl'. Despite added complexity to the arrangements and more involved pieces of music, it does make me miss the to-the- point and tight experience the second album had to offer. That being said however, 'After' features some points that could easily surpass almost anything 'Angl' had to offer.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference here when compared to Ihsahn's earlier work is the incorporation of heavy jazz elements, primarily the common use of a tenor saxophone, played brilliantly by Jorgen Munkeby. Although this is certainly a progressive black metal record by and large, it is the saxophone that drives the music quite often, becoming most noticeable with the most frenetic song 'A Grave Inversed', and on a solemn theme that is repeated throughout much of the latter half of the album. On top of the overt jazz influence in the use of saxophone, there is also a fretless bass used that gives Ihsahn's sound an added depth of class to it, proving that he is not an artist that is simply talented in, or limited to the genre of metal.
The production and performance here are both the best Ihsahn has ever done, which only adds to the intensity of the music. Were it not for a few still great, but less interesting moments on the album such as 'Frozen Lakes On Mars' or the greater part of 'Heaven's Black Sea', Ihsahn would have a real masterpiece on his hands.
Ihsahn's latest effort, After is a make or break affair for the long term die hard fan. While this album has gotten heavier with lots of heavy palm muting and crushing tone, it has gotten more experiemntal as well, with lots of saxophone playing included in the songs. Ihsahn introduces the utilisation of an 8-string guitar for the recording of this album, making the overall sound of the album even heavier than before.
The opener, The Barren Lands start off with what sounds like a riff taken off the previous albums, reminding listeners where Ihsahn left off in the first 2 instalments of this trilogy, also showcasing his influences. There are even Dream Theater moments in the song between the 2 and 3 minute mark!. A Grave Inversed is a good example of Ihsahn showing his ecleptic side of his musical ingenuity. Mixing heavy guitarring with erratic saxophones playing in the background, coupled with the furious drumming, it can either make a listener be attracted or be perplexed by the weird contrasting sounds. Note the last few minutes where the saxophone commands the listener's attention with lots of saxophone (shall I say, riffing?) parts. Weird? This is but the beginning.
The title track gives the listener a break at the beginning of the song, with the signature sound that Ihsahn has created for himself in previous albums, Adversary and angL, with a heavy atmosphere which gives way to the heaviness that is so prominent on this album halfway through the song. The soothing chorus with Ihsahn's clean vocals with the keyboards towards the end of the song then slows to an acoustic ending to a track that displays what Ihsahn's music is all about. Frozen Lake on Mars is perhaps one of the more straightforward and heavier numbers, all the while keeping the erratic time signature.
Undercurrent, the 2nd longest track on the album clocking in at 10 minutes. Starting off with an acoustic passage with clean vocals and a nice bass line in the background, it displays Ihsahn's appreciation for progressive rock and his influences. At around the 3:00 mark, a foreboding riff in the background breaks the calm that has been set by the introduction before breaking into a full-fledged saxophone solo at the 4:15 mark, which heightens the tension in the music before breaking into the next track, Austere. Just as you think that Austere is going to be a filler track with its soft melodies, soft instrumentation and clean vocals, Ihsahn once again throws listeners a curveball by again including a 70s prog influenced/Per Wiberg-sounding (don’t ask me why him, it just sounds like something that he does!) keyboard solo in the middle of the track followed some clean guitar playing, an apt introduction to the next track indeed. The technical show-off continues throughout the next track, Heaven's Black Sea, with extended guitar and saxophone solos.
The final track, which is the other epic on this album, starts off with a riff taken from the previous opus on the album, Undercurrent. The saxophone really shines on this track, more often than not taking the role of the lead instrument all the way to the end of the track. The track ends with the same riff that started off the track, only slower and more melancholic, marking the end of a trilogy that started with 2006's Adversary.
Fans of Ihsahn's work in Emperor and black metal be prepared to be disappointed. This album is a heavily progressive metal influenced work and there is barely, if any, black metal influences present besides Ihsahn's trademark shrieking. This album shows Ihsahn's ability to mix his various influences into one big melting pot and come up with something that showcases his influences yet not be a clone of them. My only gripes are the shortage of guitar solos on the album, and at times the buildup to the climax can take too long, which could get slightly boring.
Originally written for Heavy Metal Tribune (http://heavymetaltribune.blogspot.com/)
Ihsahn, the main man behind the renowned and almost revered black metal band Emperor, is back with his 3rd full length album, After. His previous work aNgl was very Opeth-like, with lots and lots of acoustic interludes, soothing fretless bass work and very well sung clean vocals. After is almost nothing like aNgl, as this album forgoes most of the softer acoustic moments (though they are still here, the first 3 minutes of Undercurrent is almost entirely acoustic) in favor of an extreme jazz metal kind of atmosphere, with several uses of saxophone and frequent jazzy and almost bluesy guitar work.
The first thing I noticed was how much better the album sounded production-wise; it has a much heavier and beefier sound to it that aNgl was sorely lacking, particularly in the drumming department. The guitar is good and heavy and has a thick lead tone that sounds fantastic during rhythm and solos alike. Something I didn't like was how the bass was pushed a little more into the background on After; it makes some appearances but its frequency has been toned down and regulated to mostly providing a low end to the music. The saxophone sounds rough and raw and fits the overall sound of the album perfectly, but it itself tends to sound out of place on some of the faster tracks. On slower songs like On the Shores, the raging sax solos fit in perfectly with the doomy jazz-esque metal, providing a real film-noir atmosphere; but on other songs like A Grave Inversed it simply whines through a stream of fast notes that don't really sound that good.
Ihsahns vocals have only gotten better; full, thick screeches and calming clean vocals intertwine their way throughout the album, complimenting and contrasting each other throughout.
Overall this is a good effort from Ihsahn; not the best I've ever heard but a solid album nonetheless. The mixing of experimental saxophone, jazzy guitars and extreme metal guitars and drums make for an interesting listen, and I highly recommend this to fans of dark jazz, avant-garde and heavy metal.
In a word, I love Ihsahn, and as of yet he has never done me wrong. Yes, I even liked Prometheus. Before you write me off as a fan boy, at least listen to me on this: After is an original and excellent progressive album. Progressive music is very hard to nail down right. There is a fine line between pretentious and awe-inspiring, epic and long-winded, intelligent and idiotic. Now in these more current times, bands believe they have a formula for good prog metal. So everything is starting to get dull. It seems like Ihsahn went up to these guys and said 'FUCK YOU! I MAKE METAL MY WAY!"
This is definitely prog metal. But this album doesn't follow any previous formula. It is really original, from Ihsahns sweet eight-string riffing, to the well used saxophone. His past two works are very good, but it seems like his style has evolved further into a style that is unique and outstanding. His guitars are smoother, the bass isn't there much (one issue I have), the drums have no real flaws, and it all comes together well.
The atmosphere and production is even original. It's dark, but not bleak. It sounds calm and beautiful, while keeping a foreboding tone. It has some very dense parts that are reminiscent of Prometheus, and there are parts so soft you almost drift off to sleep. There is a good mix of fast and slow, dark and light; it makes it very easy to listen to all the way through, a quality I love in an album, sadly hard to find.
Now the tracks all have a place on the album, and the album is best listened to as a cohesive whole, but there are some tracks that simply get more play time. The Barren Lands is awesome from the tender opening to the sudden ending. Frozen Lakes On Mars has the best chorus on the album, and the two ten minute songs are both great. Austere and A Grave Inversed are the weakest tracks, and Heaven's Black Sea and After are like intermediate tracks.
The main attraction is Ihsahn's vocals. The harsh vocals are as good as they always have been, but his clean vocals are really top notch. There so soothing and soft, it contrasts nicely to his usual style. One of the main things that have really grown from his past works to this album.
Ihsahn has been one of my long time favorite metal artists, and he is continuing to break ground and develop a style that can only be described as Ihsahn. And for that reason:
After gets a 94, or 5 out of 5.
First off, let me say that Emperor is one of my favorite black metal acts of this and last generation of black metal; as well as Ihsahn being my favorite black metal vocalist after Sakis Tolis. Next let me say that his progressive stuff is much better then anything that Emperor did.
Now that I have that off my chest, let me say that After is nearly one of the best albums that I've ever heard. I listened to the full thing about 6 times through when I first got it, which I never got bored the entire time. It's an amazing album throughout. The thing I noticed most that stuck out the entire time was the fact that he incorporated a Saxophone through about 90% of the album. The only song I noticed that didn't have it was the title track, After. Still, the sax was so progressive that it put Opeth and Porcupine Tree to shame. It added a Coltrane Jazz feel to a lot of his stuff. I liked this feel a lot. It gave it a more depressive feel to most songs Especially the first track, "The Barren Lands", which the name suggests that it'll be depressing.
The other thing I liked is that his growl seemed more focused, and less sounding like it was a forced black metal screech. It seems that Ihsahn has grown up a lot in his music, which is a good thing. The Drums were great, having extreme beats that showed that the progression was not lost; even in the drums, which is usually the weak point in his albums. The guitar showed many progressive jazz chords, as well as jazz and blues oriented scales and leads. My favorite lead was that on (once again) the title track, After. The whole fucking song was amazing as hell, and it's hard not to like it.
The high point of the album starts at track 3 (After) and floats all the way through track 7 (Heaven's Black Sea). Most of the album is highly slow, so that shows a new side of his music. Even when having a fast beat, he somehow shows a somber melody and pace. I really like the new sound, especially the progression. It's amazing when you read the lyrics as well, especially when you say that his last album was good, but nothing super amazing. This album shows a new era in his music career that (hopefully) will change for the rest of his time making music.
All in all, the highlights of the album were the songs After, Undercurrent and Heaven's Black Sea. These songs were all virtually slow, but still having a great beat. All I can say is that it's a great album, so get it. Fans of Opeth, Emperor, Immortal and Coltrane will all love this. It's like combining the progression of Opeth with Emperor's intensity, Immortal's screams and drums and Coltrane's Jazz. My god, it's an amazing mix. Get it now.
Keeping up so far with his two-year-between-albums schedule, Ihsahn releases upon a suspecting audience his new effort, simply titled "After". Does this album offer a radical change in sound and form? Is this a revolutionary piece of music, ready to change the face of metal as we know it? Well, not quite, it pretty much follows the lines of its predecessors, but knowing Ihsahn, that is not by any means a bad thing.
The first two things that come to mind while listening to this album are: The music overall represents a slight step away from the typical late-Emperor sound of the previous two albums, which is a good thing, not because I dislike Emperor (I fucking love it), but because I am always in favour of variation. And second, Ihsahn's voice, perhaps as a result of aging (ok so he's not old, but we're more than a decade and a half away from In The Nightside[...]), his growls have improved in a way that makes them feel less forced (something that has always kind of bummed me), and come off as more natural. His clean singing is better than ever, softer perhaps, and less epic, but it suits the music well, which feels more relaxed and flowing. The drums, which have been quite ticky and mechanical on previous albums, sound much better, too.
That said, there's more than that to this album, and experimentation is still the main course of action for this norwegian veteran of extreme music. Right on track two we're introduced to a long-winded section of something that sounds like a saxophone, playing in a style not unlike that present on free jazz, all entwined on a ravaging and fast-paced parade of technical and fluent metal. The surprising but not unwelcome use of the wah-wah pedal is a nice touch which makes a few appearances and further injects a rockish feeling to Ihsahn's trademark of already rockin' solos.
Several sections of the album seem to hint an evolution towards (or perhaps an influence from) melodic death metal in the vein of mid-era Arch Enemy, but said evolution is never obvious. Perhaps it's just my own impression. Perhaps the fact that blastbeats are as scarce as ever and most of the album develops on a mid-fast-to-mid pace might help fuel these delusions. Another quite important detail the listener will notice is that keyboards, which have always been quite a big deal on Emperor and Ihsahn's previous albums, what with them being the main responsible for the epic feel of said band/artist are also quite scarce, limited mainly to background FX in some parts of some songs. That's actually kind of a big deal.
As hinted on the previous paragraph, there's a lot more slow and acoustic sections than on previous efforts, and despite the previously mentioned keyboard diet, atmosphere is at its best. This becomes obvious on the two ten minute epics, "Undercurrent" and "On The Shores", the first one being quite chuggy, with a long acoustic-guitar-centered intro, and the second starting off with a very doomy intro which holds most of the keyboard work on the album, these tracks might as well be a resume of the whole album, with heaviness and softness alternating almost regularly, clean vocals and growls taking turns to the spotlight, romantic and not overtly technical solos with much pedal work, and the return of the sax, these songs (almost) have it all.
But as far as radical changes go, that's pretty much about it. The bulk of the album is basically same good ol' Ihsahn, progressive, technical at times, rockish at times, extreme at times, but as one might notice by this description, very well balanced. And certainly unclassifiable at times. I wouldn't call this his best effort ever, but it sure as hell is in the top three.
The not-so long awaited new Ihsahn album is here and I was nearly soiling my pants in anticipation for it to arrive in the mail. After listening to the Adversary about ten million times how could I not be exited? Well, it ended up being a decent album, but I had hoped for more. Don't worry though, it is still a great release. I guess my expectations were too high.
We know that Ihsahn is always trying to break barriers with each of his releases, and the album lives up to what foresight was given of it. It is definitely more rock influenced. Actually, the harsh vocals and second track are just about the only factors that make this a metal album. There are a lot (and I mean A LOT) more clean vocals than harsh vocals, in contrast to his previous releases. Ihsahn has definitely stepped forward into a new phase of his musical journey.
The one thing that stands out the most of this album is the shift in songwriting style. Those who listened to the previous solo albums would know that Ihsahn's songs were fast paced in shifting from idea to idea. Riffs would come and go and songs would shift from heavy to soft. However, we see a new style with the new album. After includes songs that are more focused on stretched out themes. Each song is able to maintain a mood or theme that extends through the whole song, rather than jumping around. The songs are also a lot more emotional as opposed to energetic. I think Ihsahn must have had some rough experiences in his life recently, because this album is a lot more depressing than previous releases. In fact, the atmosphere is more like Peccatum than it is like Emperor.
Now I know you all want to hear about the saxophone so I will cut right to it. The saxophone definitely reflects Ihsahn's will to try new things. I will say that it sounds mediocre. Why so? Well, it sounds absolutely amazing in songs like Undercurrent and On the Shores, yet it sounds annoying and poorly mixed in A Grave Inversed. So with these two contrasts, it earns an average rating. I think the saxophone does better with more moody sounding songs, like the first two I mentioned. The saxophone sounds better when it is trying to send a message, which it seems to do then Yet the song A Grave Inversed is the opposite. In this song the saxophone sounds wacky, out of rhythm, and out of tune. It is quite avante garde really. So all in all, enjoy it when it is playing slow and moody and watch out for when it sound fast and wacky. And also, the mix is decent, but the saxophone could use a little more volume.
OK, so back on track. the production of the album is excellent, no complaints there. The flow of song to song is great, The structure pf song to song seems to flow well. In fact, I notice a pattern here. The album seems to flow like a mirror image. The first track is mid paced and moody, and so are the middle tracks and last track. The second track and second last tracks are faster and more vicious sounding, and the third and third last tracks combine mood with aggression. I believe Ihsahn structured it like this on purpose, a little hint of creativity there.
My only major complaint with the album is the lack of awesome guitar solos. The solos in the Adversary and Angl were stunning, but this album has little to no guitar solos. I don't know if this was done on purpose or if Ihsahn just got lazy.
This is a fun listen, with it you will feel more emotion put into the music than with Ihsahn's previous solo work. The songs are more focused on mood rather than energy. It seems to have less contrast, which I know is what he was aiming for with previous albums.
If you don't feel like listening to this album (which if so you shouldn't be reading this review) at least check out the song Undercurrent. That track is amazing and gives a great representation of what this album is all about.