Album Review: Eremita by Ihsahn
Posted by RiffRaff
Having made quite a name for himself in the metal realm as a major contributor to the early Norwegian black metal scene with his highly influential, trail blazing band Emperor and the more experimental Peccatum, Vegard ‘Ihsahn‘ Tveitan is no stranger to making major waves in the metal realm. Just for his work alone with Emperor, the man is considered legend in some circles, but not being quite content or satisfied with his contribution to the world of music Ihsahn looked to raze new paths in what could be done in metal after his previous bands dissolved. Working off the experimentation groundwork laid by later Emperor records (of which Ihsahn had written by himself with little to no input from his band mates), 2006’s The Adversary saw the artist refining his own personal sounds and expressions really focusing on heavy ‘progressive metal’ elements. Each release after showed Vegard making leaps and bounds in his songwriting and performance with each album being a major improvement over the last. I had thought that Ihsahn had hit his apogee on 2010’s saxophone tinged masterpiece After and it would just be smooth sailing from there. Well, it looks like there is more than enough creative juice left in the still young pioneer. Eremita (Latin for ‘Hermit’) has Ihsahn pushing the musical envelope yet again while achieving even tighter and more diverse songwriting skills.
Not only reflecting on the music on the album which often maintains a feeling of solitude, the title Eremita also reflects on the narrative of the album. Being a concept record it tells the tale of a lone hermit who voluntarily isolates himself from the outside world in the forest. The songs deal with different reasons and philosophies why one would want to do such a thing exploring them from many different angles. Ending on an open note where the hermit in question has not made a solid decision to relinquish his isolation leaves the themes of the album quite open to explore, discover, and make your own conclusions on. Is isolation selfish, is it better for the spirit, is it extreme escapism, is it a negative thing or something positive for one to do. Leaving those who choose to delve into the concepts something to ponder on is a great mechanic and adds even more depth to an already deep record.
One of the big things that attracts me to Ihsahn’s music is his unique vocal style. Making leaps and bounds from his Emperor days, his voice takes on a very throaty sound when he reaches for the harsh screams and growls. This style adds much atmosphere and texture to his music and while never being too gruff or soft acts as a great middle ground for the rest of the music to work off of and show different contrasts. Of course he uses his voice as an instrument at times leaving that middle ground to deliver thundering growls or eerie rasps. His clean singing voice is used very often throughout the record and it does wonderful work in the atmosphere department as well as creating great vocal melodies. While there is little in common in the sound of the voices, a good comparison would be that he uses his voice much like Mikael Akerfeldt does in Opeth. It’s all about using it to flesh out the song and build atmosphere and emotion.
Pinpointing a certain style of music on Eremita (as well as Ihsahn’s other solo works) is a daunting task. Making a reprise from 2010’s After is Jorgen Munkeby (of Shining) on the saxophone. His sax work is used quite a bit and adds a nice jazz sound to the record always popping up at the perfect moments to give a song a punch right when it needs it. Songs like “The Paranoid” boast moments of speed metal tinged with elements of death metal and features a mad catchy chorus that almost could pass for radio play (I mean that in a good way ;) ). Lending his trademark vocals Devin Townsend adds much to the already excellent song “Introspection” as the tune floats through many seamless changes going from hard-hitting and driving to relaxing and serene.
Jeff Loomis also lends a hand to the album as his mad crazy awesome guitar skills are put to great use on the song “The Eagle and the Snake”. Not just there to have a sellable name on the record, like the other guests, he adds much more to the song tying the weave between the experimental jazzy sounds, pulsing prog metal riffs, and mellow sections together with his wiry solo towards the end of the song. The slow and brooding “Catharsis” works wonders by taking a start which revels in darkness and chaos and brings it out into the light with some great guitar soloing and catchy vocal hooks before slinking back into its cave.
Digging into symphonic black metal “Something Out There” resembles the most of Ihsahn’s roots. But unlike the chaotic nature of his earlier works there is structure and fluidity in the songs, and as well, dare I say it, glimmers of hopefulness. And digging even deeper into his roots “The Grave” is a blackened doom-fest of the greatest order. The excellent saxophone playing adds a deep and haunting aura while seemingly random drum beats play out in the background giving a feeling of how one might feel falling into deep insanity.
Every moment of this record is brimming with great music, memorable moments, excellent songwriting, and lots of introspection on Ihsahn’s part. Each song is wildly unique and while being rich in complexity they are all easily listenable allowing you to tackle the album from several states of mind. While there are some elements of black metal onEremita, it seems that Ihsahn has put away a future in the dark music in lieu of cementing himself as one of the strongest progressive metal/rock composers around today along with visionaries like Steven Wilson, Mikael Akerfeldt, and Devin Townsend. This record comes highly recommended to all fans of progressive music and metal (especially fans of Opeth and Devin Townsend’s millions of bands). It’s a satisfying listen that grows and grows with each spin with enough substance for you to chew on for a long time.