Although still widely perceived as one of black metal’s principal figureheads, Ihsahn was always too great and adventurous a talent to be contained by the genre’s aesthetic and ideological myopia. The widespread acclaim generated by 2010’s After – the third and most daring in the Norwegian’s first trilogy of solo albums – was vindication for a man who has always aspired to be something more than a two-dimensional cult hero. And while Ihsahn would surely never pledge allegiance to any specific genre, his post-After assimilation into the prog world seems natural, as his vision needs limitless room in which to flourish.
Four albums in, the black metal hero gets progressive.
Prog credentials established, Eremita still places its creator firmly at the extreme end of the musical spectrum. Blazing opener Arrival begins as a whirlwind of urgency and serrated-edge riffing, but mid-song detours into more unfamiliar sonic waters. A visceral barrage of blastbeats and sinister twists, The Paranoid is arguably the most conventional thing here and yet is still full of surprises, not least the strutting offbeat riff that dominates its wilfully dissonant mid-section and menacing outro.
It is testament to the strength of Ihsahn’s musical personality that guest appearances from Devin Townsend (who sings on the schizophrenic Introspection) and ex-Nevermore guitarist Jeff Loomis never threaten to overshadow the master’s own voice. Loomis melts frets on The Eagle And The Snake, which heralds the return of Shining saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby. His mellifluous wailing and venomous squeals mesh brilliantly with the song’s dense six-string tapestry. It’s increasingly hard to imagine an Ihsahn album without him.
Contrasts abound here. The stately but nebulous haze of Catharsis’s opening 90 seconds gives way to muscular, arcane balladry, before Something Out There erupts; a storm of high-velocity snare drum clatter and morbid angularity. Macabre instrumental Grief provides a welcome pause from the relentless intricacy, but respite is only fleeting as The Grave lumbers forth. A towering avant-garde doom metal monolith, replete with eerie field recordings, freeform drums and more sax from Munkeby, it is simply the most startling, disturbing and authentically out-there thing Ihsahn has recorded to date.
The insanity continues on Departure, wherein hellish jazz and dark ambience collide with a churning fog of left-field metal riffs before Ihsahn’s better half Heidi S. Tveitan pops up for a sublime vocal cameo. Like everything else on Eremita, it will leave you breathless and bewildered but thoroughly enriched by this fresh encounter with a fearless maverick.