Confession time, part one. Ihsahn has been one of those artists that I have found much easier to admire than love. Whilst that admiration has been sincere and deeply held from his time in Black Metal pioneers Emperor I know that I won’t be winning any cred points by stating that his art is not always at the top of my go-to lists. I like him, but I don’t always love him.
Confession, time part two. Whilst I am not going to unearth weary clichés about aging like a fine wine as he has got older, it is still fair to say that I do prefer his solo output (this is now his seventh album) to those Emperor records. I realise that this is akin to Black Metal heresy (if that doesn’t sound like a total oxymoron) but bear with me. Since his first solo outing, The Adversary (all Candlelight), Ihsahn’s art has relentlessly explored and pushed our collective understanding of what rock’s darkest heart was possible of, with a combination of righteous ferocity and brooding intensity in equal measure. The solo records have greater depth, texture and, to these ears anyway, emotional resonance.
It is deeply pleasing to report that Amr is another brilliant and beguiling record. Ihsahn’s levels of creativity have continued in fecund abundance from his last opus, the still strangely under-valued .arktis. Here, his songwriting prowess has benefited from understanding the art of editing and his composition ability is as assured and multi-layered as any time in his stellar career.
Anyone familiar with Ihsahn’s work is likely to find a lot here that they can get very excited about. Although stylistically there is no enormous leap forward, there is a pleasing balance between outbreaks of intense, blistering percussion and dark, emotional, aural passages. Some of it could even (whisper if you dare) be played on the radio, such is its inclusiveness and warmth. Ihsahn has spoken of the influence of composers like John Carpenter and his ilk on the creative process that gave life to this album and the use of dark synths bring additional (and very pleasing) strings to Ihsahn’s bow.
Opening track ‘Lend Me The Eyes of the Millennia’ is the sound of normal Ihsahn service being resumed: it’s six minutes of unease; all rasping vocals, guitar loops, and growling menace. This is dark, unnerving and unsettling music and all the better for its clever structuring and vicious delivery. The art of great music is about what you leave out as much as it is about what you add. The inclusion of Opeth’s Fredrick Åkesson is very welcome: his guitar work on ‘Arcana Imperii’ is exemplary; elsewhere it is the absence of artifice and conceit that makes the straightforward melodies of ‘Samr’ so welcome and inviting.
Confession time, part three: you know, you are allowed to change your mind about artists, even in the course of an album review. Amr is thrilling, emotional and compelling. My admiration might be flowering to late-blooming love, after all. We are lucky to have him.