Ihsahn - After
Candlelight
Progressive Metal
8 songs (53:01)
Release year: 2010
Ihsahn, Candlelight
Reviewed by Goat

Where Samoth and Trym seem to have pretty much faded from the Extreme Metal landscape, their imperial ex-bandmate is going from strength to strength. His solo output is easily equal to if not better than the triumphs of the Death Metal machine that was Zyklon, and whilst projects like Paganize have slipped and fallen from the path, Vegard Tveitan's self-titled project has, with After, outdone even Emperor in certain ways. I'll admit that I was far, far too harsh on 2008's angL - I've been making the acquaintance of the first two Ihsahn albums again recently, and whilst I still find The Adversary good but far too much in thrall to Tveitan's love of King Diamond, his subsequent album is simply excellent, growing and unfolding on each listen, packed full of experimentation that takes time to work its magic on you, but hints at its genius from the start.

I've been looking forwards to After, then, not least for the intriguing title, but also to see where he would go next, and it's exactly what I was hoping for; a dense, technical underground Prog Metal album that is neither afraid of melody nor avant-garde experimentation. With Asgeir Mickelson and Lars Norberg of Spiral Architect once again supplying the drums and bass, Ihsahn has taken another step forwards musically, and the results are highly impressive. Whether it's Post-Rock or Jazz, the man seems to master every genre he plays, and few can bring them together with Prog Metal and create something as good as After.

Don't expect an album similar to, say, Cynic or Pelican, however - this is Ihsahn through and through. Opener The Barren Lands' unaccompanied guitar shines like a rising sun before kicking into the sort of post-Prometheus technicality that we know and love. Interestingly, the instrumentation gets more complex the harder you listen, and sounds rather detached if you try and focus in on, say, the bass, but as a whole it's wonderful stuff, the kind of grandiose and tasteful Prog Metal piece that Dream Theater wish they could write. Granted, Ihsahn's harsh vocals take time to get into, but they're hardly an impediment - I doubt even Prog fans from the Power Metal end of town will have trouble enjoying this. Even Ihsahn's clean vocals are an improvement from his last outing, sounding as if he's been taking lessons from Mikael Ã…kerfeldt. A Grave Inversed opens with a bit of post-Black speed, before Avant-Garde saxophone (provided by the awesome Jorgun Munkeby of Norway's excellent Shining) comes along, a perfect part of the song rather than an external element. The best comparison is John Zorn's widdly-sounding meander, and yet here it's a wonderful addition, joining the guitars in their speedy charge and pausing for the technical melodies and solos - if Mr Bungle were ever to go Black Metal, it might well sound something like this. To be honest, I'm pretty much bowled over - I had high expectations, but this song alone has easily surpassed them, and if the rest of 2010 can produce a musical moment as good as this then it'll be a pretty darn fantastic year indeed.

The rest of the album, although not quite as jaw-dropping, is still excellent. Mastodon are outperformed on the title track, a slow-paced weave of melodies with a percussion-led build-up which implodes into a subtly Meshuggah-esque groove - those eight-string guitars put to good usage. Frozen Lakes On Mars opens with a modern Dream Theater-esque stomp before twisting into superb guitar-driven Metal, groovy riffs building on riffs with a wonderfully catchy chorus shooting in to catch the heart as well as the brain. Elsewhere Undercurrent, the first of two ten-minuters, is restrained and melodic, the bass coming into its own (it can be rather drowned out, elsewhere) as the quieter guitars make room for its pleasant murmur before taking the lead for an ominous build-up to more saxophone - more melodic and atmospheric than before, but equally in keeping with the guitar.

I've been listening to After pretty much non-stop since I received the promo, and it's an easy album to enjoy, if a tough album to really get to grips with. There are plenty of Metal moments which the faithful can willingly bang their heads to, and these are woven in cunningly, often a vital part of the experimental moments. It's pretty amazing music, whether the quiet intelligence of Austere, touching Opeth territory - with some lovely Hammond-esque keyboards - whilst remaining quite separate from the Swedish heroes, or the powerful crunch of Heaven's Black Sea, Heavy Metal riffs and soloing giving way to saxophone-infused grandiosity, a theme continued on album finale and second ten-minuter On The Shores. This final track soon speeds up and goes for the throat, and it's a fitting conclusion and summation of After, having plenty of killer riffs but also finishing with unaccompanied saxophone. Ihsahn's latest is rather like a diamond ring in the way the individual facets shine together, seemingly disparate elements brought together to create an impressive piece of art - the one flaw are his harsh vocals, still a matter of taste, but so polished is the rest that it's easy to overlook, and the results are spectacular. Whether it's his fantastic guitar playing or his ever-impressive compositional skills, Ihsahn has truly become an artist of the highest order, and his latest solo piece, full of mature and progressive extreme metal, has kicked 2010 off to a wonderful start.

MySpace
Killing Songs :
A Grave Inversed, Frozen Lakes On Mars, Austere, Heaven's Black Sea, On The Shores
Goat quoted 89 / 100
Other albums by Ihsahn that we have reviewed:
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
Ihsahn - angL reviewed by Goat and quoted 78 / 100
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