Album Review: Ihsahn – “Amr”

In the nightside eclipsed?

In this year of our hot take 2018, I have this thesis to nail to the church of black metal: Ihsahn’s solo career, on the whole, is as good as anything he did in Emperor. While things looked dicey for a minute there in 2013, he righted the ship with 2016’s Arktis, and its follow-up Amr continues the prolific songwriter and multi-instrumentalist’s nonstop expedition to the darkest heart of expressive heavy guitar music.

That said, this time around Ihsahn does seem to be chasing at least the faintest whiff of a trend: vintage synthesizer fetishism. He never indulges in unabashed Italian disco worship veiled in gamer aesthetics—these songs still revolve around guitar riffage and the interplay between clean vocals and his extremist rasp—but the keyboard accompaniment on Amr gives the impression that he binged both seasons of Stranger Things before hitting the studio.

Beyond that stylistic choice, Amr mostly sounds like a direct continuation of Arktis; Ihsahn plays to his strengths without really breaking new ground. There’s no quantum leap forward here, but his relatively compact songwriting makes the excesses of his peers in Enslaved and Opeth seem wanton and hedonistic in comparison. The latter’s Frederick Åkesson delivers a guest solo in “Arcana Imperii” that kicks righteous ass but also serves as a reminder of just how wasted he is as Akerfeldt’s sideman.

The middle third of the record indulges his softer side. The suite of piano and synth-led ballads at the heart of the album will send anyone looking for blast beats scrambling for the skip button, but who cares? Let the past die. This is music for the future where neon is the new black.