Ámr by IhsahnRelease date: May 4, 2018
Label: Candlelight/Spinefarm Records
With a career spanning nearly thirty years, no one would begrudge Emperor frontman Ihsahn some time to himself. Yet, with his reunited black metal day job preparing for a string of live shows, the prolific Norwegian is busier than ever, somehow finding time to record his seventh solo album. Structurally, Ámr follows on from 2016’s Arktis, and has to go down as the most accessible record he has ever written. A far cry from the eclectic splurge of Das Seelenbrechen or the saxophone soloing of Eremita, Ámr eschews any extraneous trappings – often even downplaying his own black metal history – in favour of 80s-tinged electronica and some of the catchiest hooks of Ihsahn’s career.
When opener ‘Lend Me the Eyes of Millennia’ begins, it’s easy to think you have put on the wrong album. Opening with an electronic sounding keyboard rhythm, the track initially sounds nothing at all like an Ihsahn song, but eventually builds upon itself into a track that wouldn’t seem out of place on a later Emperor record. This is as good as it gets for black metal fans however, with lead single ‘Arcana Imperii’ setting the tone for the rest of the album – built around a catchy riff that bounces alongside Ihsahn’s trademark growls, the song eventually erupts into a catchy chorus that sticks around like a starving puppy. This is very much the bread and butter sound of the album – if Arktis was Ihsahn’s first attempt at making an accessible, catchy mainstream metal album, Ámr is him getting it right. Even the album’s centrepiece track, the melancholic and haunting ‘Where You Are Lost and I Belong’ is closer to an 80s arena ballad than previous work, while ‘Twin Black Angels’ for the most part wouldn’t sound out of place on a modern indie rock record.
Ámr obviously an album that has been heavily inspired by the 80s sounds, with much of the album drenched in synth sounds. It feels deliberately mid paced, with only the album bookends (‘Lend Me…and closer ‘Wake’) allowing drummer Tobias Ørnes Andersen to really show his chops. The former is the only track which does not feature clean vocals as well, which is perhaps hinting at Ihsahn moving away from his black metal past – indeed for much of the album his harsh vocals are not present at all. The album feels close to former collaborators Leprous’ recent output, as well as an attempt to emulate Devin Townsend’s successful transformation towards metal accessibility. Sometimes this approach backfires – ‘In Rites of Passage’ is crying out for a speedy lick, but barely gets out of second gear.
Those hoping that Ihsahn’s return to duty with Emperor would be reflected in his solo output, prepare for disappointment. This album is, if anything a deliberate shift away from that band’s black metal sound, as well as a shift away from the eccentricities of his earlier solo work. It is clearly a follow up to Arktis, but where that album largely missed the mark – being bogged down in average songs and guest musicians (aside from a solo by Opeth’s Fredrik Akesson there are none here) – Ámr is largely a triumph. Perhaps it could have done with being let off the leash occasionally, but for the most part the electronica and 80s influences meld well with Ihsahn’s cold, threatening stylings to create a fine slab of catchy metal.