Extreme metal pioneer distils his vast imagination
Even by his own daring standards, Ihsahn’s improvisational fifth album Das Seelenbrechen was a revelatory detour, splitting opinion among his legions of disciples.
Many praised its virtuous creative experimentation, but others found it an impenetrable step into the wilderness. Now, having laid his beloved Emperor to rest for the third and perhaps final time, Arktis. sees the visionary Norwegian take another measured, strategic passage into uncharted territory, rather than leaping headfirst into the unknown.
Disassembled picks up where 2012’s Eremita left off, with a fiendish, instantly recognisable riff and Ihsahn’s unmistakable, sinister vocals, launching Arktis. on a dark tide. However, this soon gives way to the first of many rays of light bursting through the shadows, with a lush explosion of Hammond-led choruses and the melancholic croon of Leprous frontman Einar Solberg creating one of the most melodic moments of his entire discography. Mass Darkness, meanwhile, sees him joined by Matt Heafy for a metal-plated epic that again rises from murky depths of blackened textures into a homage to Mercyful Fate, complete with galloping leads, vocal histrionics and bursts of strings. My Heart Is Of The North echoes Opeth at their prog-worshipping best, a heady mix of rich keys and spacey guitars, before stripping down to delicate vocals where Ihsahn lays his soul bare. The bleak electronic din of South Winds, trading off between lurching, menacing riffs and resplendent passages, encapsulates the album’s none-more-black-metal inspiration, the vastness of the frozen north – albeit more recalling Robert Peary and the heroic age of polar exploration more than Immortal-style battles in the snow.