Ihsahn – Das seelenbrechen (Candlelight)

A challenging work presented in accessible portions for the delectation of those who like to be musically challenged
Release Date: 
21 Oct 2013 (All day)

Ihsahn. If you don’t know who this guy is, then let me firstly castigate you for your lamentable lack of metal lore, before using this as an excuse for a quick look at his achievements thus far.

The obvious starting point is Emperor, co-founded by Ihsahn (vocals/guitar, but also skilled with keyboards and bass) in 1991, a band that went on to write some seriously influential black metal albums. Featuring epic, evolving song structures, ambient keyboard sounds, and raspy, spewed vocals, their 1994 debut, In the Nightside Eclipse, is a truly definitive black metal album. But Emperor (and Ihsahn) were never one to rest on their laurels, and the band continued to evolve and progress across the course of their four-album career, ending in 2001 with Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire & Demise, a work entirely written by Ihsahn. Notable for its sense of stretching into fresh creative spaces, gone is the tremolo-driven, traditional black metal and in its place an evolutionary type of progressive extreme metal.

This evolution continued with Peccatum, formed by Ihsahn and his wife Ihriel, and Ihriel’s brother, Lord PZ. Peccatum were on the far end of the progressive spectrum, an avante garde band influenced by everything from black metal to classical and industrial music.

With this sort of background, it’s entirely unsurprising that Das seelenbrechen, Isahn’s fifth solo album, should continue this theme of artistic expansion and creative reach. And it is certainly a diverse work; much more a collection of individual songs than Ihsahn’s previous, more cohesive albums Eremita or After.

There’s a lot of highlights and a lot to love here: Regen features a plaintive piano-led introduction that segues into soaring guitar solos, bombastic orchestral hits and operatic vocals; NaCl centres on a staccato guitar riff so catchy that it could fight one of those classic Opeth riffs for the ‘catchiest riff’ prize; Pulse is an elegant ballad driven by a simple, repeated melodic line; Tacit 2 devolves into an almost free jazz buzz of drums and soaring guitar solos, the guitars overlaid with vocals, while Tacit takes on the themes of its predecessor in a more restrained fashion and exposes the order behind the chaos; M features a wonderfully sultry, smokey blues guitar section, a very Pink Floyd moment that snakes out of an ambient section with softly spoken words and odd sound effects.

It’s this sort of diversity and exploration that explains why Das seelenbrechen is such a pleasure to listen to. While the album is a conscious departure from the sax-saturated prog of Eremita (and, I have to admit, I really miss the sax), it’s a challenging but rewarding work presented in accessible portions for the delectation of those who like to be musically challenged.