Norway’s Ihsahn (or Vegard Sverre Tveitan if we're being formal) has continued to produce some of the most exciting and progressive music since his days as a member of the influential Emperor. Gradually turning from the black metal aspect of his career, Ihsahn has taken his skills as a songwriter and instantly recognisable vocalist to an entirely different and powerful new level. Eremita is his fourth solo album and it pushes the extremity of After (2010) into new realms whilst retaining that signature throaty vocal and incredibly singular guitar sound. Full symphonic keys make an appearance, an instrument Ihsahn first introduced into the early days of Emperor giving them an atmosphere not yet heard in the cold harsh landscape of Norwegian black metal.
This willingness to experiment and work outside of what’s expected gives Ihsahn a deliciously avant-garde edge, particularly with saxophone duties being once again handled by Jørgen Munkeby of Norwegian black-jazz madmen Shining. The instrument gives rich and warm tones to “The Eagle and the Snake,” a slow-burning affair that let’s Ihsahn’s clean vocal prowess coil around the bursts of sound from the saxophone and the mighty lead guitar lines from ex-Nevermore member Jeff Loomis. He drafts in Devin Townsend on vocals for “Introspection,” a match made in progressive heaven (if such a thing should exist) and the two counter each other with a delightful spirit. Ihsahn chooses his collaborators with extreme care, each artist bringing a depth and tone to the record. Long-time associates Leprous (the band actually play live with Ihsahn to create the full band experience) are found adding touches of vocal - “Arrival” – and drums - Tobias Ørnes Andersen lends his dexterity to the entire album and Heidi S.Tveitan (Star of Ash) adds delicate vocals to the closing stages of "Departure."
Opener “Arrival” explodes with a frantic energy, the driving beat pushing the layers of keys and guitar and gorgeously sweet voice of Einar Solberg to the fore. Each element and instrument is given the room and space to take flight and seep into the dynamic structure of the album which flows with a beauty and fiery intensity. “Catharsis” is as cold as anything Ihsahn has done with Emperor, the subtly minimal tone wrapping you in its darkness whilst that mournful sax infuses the track with a deeply melancholic tone. Enchanting melody is never far away, and “Something Out There” holds a wonderful clean section that is calling out for anthemic status along with “The Eagle and the Snake.” Employing a sombre and almost sinister tone for the instrumental “Grief,” Eremita takes on the dimension of sadness in one fell swoop before falling into the dark recesses of “The Grave” and album closer “Departure;” a nice touch for a track name considering the title of the first song on the record, bookending Eremita with a narrative quaility.
Eremita surges with a majestic essence and the evolution of Ihsahn as an artist is intriguing to see. His first three solo records were evidently part of a trilogy but it wasn’t until the release of After in 2010 that Ihsahn appeared to find his groove as a performer and songwriter. With Eremita Ihsahn seems to have finally left behind the black metal tag of lore and has begun to forge a path as a truly progressive and extreme metal entity.