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Candlelight (2012)
Rating: 7.5/10

Ihsahn is likely still best known for his work in seminal Norwegian black metal band Emperor. Much like Devin Townsend coming out from the shadows of Strapping Young Lad, so has Ihsahn taken a long journey to free himself from the constraints of the work he did as a young adult. Post-Emperor, he has created four (counting this one) solo albums concerned more with musical exploration than with cohesive structures.

The album features guests such as Devin Townsend, Einer Solberg (Leprous), guitarist extraordinaire Jeff Loomis, and returning saxophonist Jorgen Munkeby of Shining. Additionally, the album was mixed by Jens Bogren (Opeth, Katatonia, Soilwork, God Forbid etc.).

The album opens up with a bit of a surprise. ‘Arrival’, while heavy and explosive at all the right times, features a driving hard rock guitar riff, a mildly growling vocal and an almost commercial sounding melody. It’s actually really damn catchy and I would be willing to bet that time will prove it to be one of the strongest songs penned by Ihsahn. ‘Something Out There’ has an, albeit creepy, accessibility to it as well.

‘The Paranoid’ takes it up a notch, revealing both the scars of and the roots of the artist’s early career. This could easily have been on either of the last two Emperor studio albums. The instrumental ‘Grief’ and its coupler ‘The Grave’, in addition to the sludgy ‘Catharsis’, are also extreme offerings, but in the opposite way. Cathedral and early Candlemass come to mind for sure, but the wailing saxophone takes it to a slightly different place. It really adds an even creepier dynamic that makes me wonder why neither of those bands ever added an extra instrument that would have seemed out of place.

So you have the heavy and the driving, but it wouldn’t be an Ihsahn album without a healthy dose of, “Damn! Did I just hear that right?! Start that track over!” The songs that do that the most for me here are ‘The Eagle And The Snake’ (which has a commercial side to it, but has so much going on that you barely have time to latch on before it moves on to the next thing) and ‘Departure’, which has an underlying element of jazz improv in it for sure.

With Eremita, Ihsahn finds a more cohesive yet still experimental sounding structure that pays tribute to his first love and moves him forward without alienating fans old or new that were open-minded enough to take the journey with him. It reminds me a lot of listening to jazz albums as the music is always fluid and changing and it’s not easily relegated to the background. As with any Ihsahn album, some of it works and some of it you won’t desire to revisit. That said, this is easily his most solid album from start to finish.

Mark Fisher

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