Ihsahn - After (Candlelight/Earsplit)

Being the third solo record of former Emperor mainman Ihsahn, After is the most ambitious and experimental effort.

The name Ihsahn should be familiar to metal fans as most know him as the vocalist/main songwriter from the legendary Norwegian black metal band Emperor. Since Emperor has been laid to rest, Ihsahn has concentrated on a solo career that is more in the vain of a progressive/experimental side, while mixing in some of the elements Emperor was known for. To date he has released two solo albums - The Adversary and angL and the third release After is similar to those but also embraces more elements that are outside the box.

After is somewhat of a journey travelling down a winding musical road at one moment, it can be insane black metal, then at the next turn it can be ambient and laid-back. The opener The Barren Lands opens with a beautiful lush-like picked guitar passage which segues into a heavy, dominant rhythm piece with Ihsahn delivering some vocals in his own and unique way. It contrasts perfectly with the music; then he changes gears into a haunting clean vocal passage which sends chills down the spine.

As mentioned, After divides itself between a black metal side and a progressive/atmospheric side. The black metal side is well represented in A Grave Inversed and Heavens Black Sea, whereas the progressive side is more apparent in the title track After, Austere and Frozen Lakes On Mars - the haunting organ lines in Austere sound beautifully evil.

But the centrepieces are the two 10-minute-long tracks in Undercurrent and On The Shores. They both respectively combine all the elements achieved within the other tracks into two seperate pieces with a level of grandeur that really has to be heard to be fully understood.

Performance-wise, it seems that there was meticulous detail instilled within the performance and execution of the music, and it shows. Everything sits together perfectly within the mix (courtesy of producer Jens Bogren - Opeth, Katatonia, Universum) without individually dominating. The same rhythm section has been utilised from the angL sessions in Spiral Architect members bassist Lars Norberg and drummer Asgeir Mickelson, who are the perfect musical backbone to Ihsahn's compositions, keeping the low end running smoothly and precisely.

There is also a special guest contributor on saxophone: Jorgen Munkeby, who adds a fresh element such as spiralling away with an amazing solo in A Grave Inversed and adds textures to Undercurrent, Heavens Black Sea and On The Shores.

When it comes to the main man himself, Ihsahn has stepped up his game, the guitar rhythms sound tighter and heavier due to the inclusion of eight-string guitars, the lead passages sound tight and fluid. His vocals, when in black metal, are reminiscent of vintage Emperor, and his clean vocals contrast well in comparison.

The only thing that could detract a listener is that there is can be too much of certain elements at times. For example, there could be too much black metal for the progressive fans, and too many progressive elements for the pure black metal fans. But for a listener with varied tastes and an open ear, After will provide much musical enjoyment and exploration warranting more listens. This could truly be the stand out record of his solo career, time will tell.

Ihsahn's After is out in late January on Candlelight/Earsplit.