Ihsahn - Pharos (EP)
Candlelight Records
Art/Pop Rock
5 songs (24:30)
Release year: 2020
Ihsahn, Candlelight Records
Reviewed by Goat

Following on from earlier this year when Telemark showcased a set of songs influenced by Ihsahn's black metal past, the second EP in his series for 2020 has been trailed as the light to its predecessor's darkness. Which will raise eyebrows, not least amongst those fellow necronauts who found Telemark a flawed listen - possibly the first time ever a release containing a Lenny Kravitz cover has been described as 'dark'! And indeed, Pharos will endear itself to few even before you get to its Portishead and, erm, A-Ha covers! Telemark, faulty as it was, at least belonged solely to the extreme metal world. Pharos in comparison seems to be attempting to break out beyond that constraint, which few would resent Ihsahn for trying at this point in his career? Yet it's a hard pill to swallow for metal fans; this must be the first release ever from him that entirely lacks harsh vocals, that relegates the electric guitar mostly to the background. Hell, even the artsy saxophone is gone!

What we're left with is some kind of adult easy listening for metal fans. Opener Losing Altitude is all about melodic guitar and layered clean singing from ol' Vegard Sverre Tveitan with a vaguely ominous atmosphere - it's not entirely without riffs, but the guitars are clearly not meant to be the highlight of what you're hearing. This is especially true once you realise how dominant the vocal hooks are meant to be atop the backing mix, dominated by synthesized orchestra, which takes more of a lead on the following, catchier Spectre at the Feast with Tobias Øymo Solbakk's (admittedly superb) drumming. It's all fairly pleasant; the title track's atmospheric rise and fall works best overall and has the most effective use of guitars and orchestra, layered smoothly and effective alongside Ihsahn's gentler vocals - it's also the most experimental piece present thanks to the lengthy ambient sections at start and end.

As for the covers, Roads is entirely a straightforward Portishead cover, all soft palette and falsetto, not especially imaginative or memorable. The source band are great, of course, although the most accurate/funniest way your reviewer has ever heard Portishead described is as Massive Attack for self-harmers! That A-Ha's Manhattan Skyline sort of works here is entirely due to guest vocalist Einar Solberg (of Leprous and Ihsahn-brother-in-law fame) who puts his heart and soul into belting out the lyrics and who probably could find much success in Eurovision-esque pop on his showing here. He's a fantastic singer, a large part of what makes Leprous so good, even that very underrated most recent album from them, and may the gods bless him for sticking around in the metal scene. (It's always something of a slight shock when the likes of Einar and, say, Pain of Salvation's Daniel Gildenlöw don't go off and have hugely successful mainstream careers!)

As a whole, Pharos is entirely unmemorable. Which is fine if you regard this as not some major new release from an artist expected to sell millions, just an EP from a man who is as interested as the rest of us in exploring his musical influences and ambitions. Yet given how past releases from Ihsahn were both experimental and genuinely interesting to listen to, you can hardly praise him for Pharos in itself, a disappointing set of songs all in all. Not, of course, disappointing just because Ihsahn has chosen to explore his softer side - we're grown-ass adults, we can take it! - but because the results are so unspectacular. And spectacular is his usual quality... let's hope he regains those heights on future releases.

Killing Songs :
Pharos, Manhattan Skyline
Goat quoted no quote
Other albums by Ihsahn that we have reviewed:
Ihsahn - Telemark (EP) reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Ihsahn - Amr reviewed by Goat and quoted 80 / 100
Ihsahn - Arktis. reviewed by Goat and quoted 80 / 100
Ihsahn - Das Seelenbrechen reviewed by Goat and quoted 76 / 100
Ihsahn - Eremita reviewed by Charles and quoted 90 / 100
To see all 8 reviews click here
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