One of the musical highlights of the year 2012 was the fourth studio album, “Eremita,” by the Norwegian avant-garde metal luminary, IHSAHN, released on June 19th, 2012, via Candlelight Records. His conceptual trilogy, consisting of the albums, “The Adversary” (2006) “angL” (2008), and “After” (2010), had come to a satisfying conclusion already, so the EMPEROR frontman was free to embark on a new sonic journey that would further transcend musical boundaries and solidify his place at the apex of the avant-garde. While the album did not completely sever ties with his black-metal past, it certainly took the extreme metal aesthetics to places we might not have been that accustomed to. The marriage of jazz and extreme metal had already been pioneered by bands such as SHINING and NAKED CITY, but no one had yet made the unholy mongrel of these two seemingly incompatible genres sound this bloody good before! As IHSAHN‘s later releases have shown by now, he certainly has a knack for writing haunting pieces of music that sneakily mix the extremes of both the light and the darkness.
In retrospect, “Eremita” was a sort of watershed moment in IHSAHN‘s career; it was in stark contrast with the desolate and bleak atmosphere of its predecessors. There had been subtle hints of his new direction, however. The hauntingly ominous track, “Undercurrent,” on the album, “After,” maybe subtly foreshadowed what was to come. Despite all the harsh black-metal elements, the songs on “Eremita” were characteristically more melodic, progressive, and almost poppy on occasion. The later albums would take this experimental approach even further. In this respect, the title was perhaps telling. “Eremita” is Latin for hermit – and as the ancient philosophical wisdom goes: to have the capacity to delight in solitude, one must be either a wild beast or a god. Ever since the release of EMPEROR‘s swan song – the album, “The Discipline of Fire and Demise,” that some consider being IHSAHN‘s first solo endeavor – IHSAHN seems to have traversed a musical path that is fundamentally solitary. I mean, aggressive saxophone bursts that scream free jazz in neon letters have not exactly been in vogue in the extreme metal scene, except maybe in the most clandestine and morally depraved underground metal lodges of late.
The album opens with “Arrival” and ends with “Departure,” as though suggesting a pause to reflect on the journey that has led us up to this point. The opener is a steamrolling riff marathon featuring Einar Solberg of LEPROUS on vocals. His strong, operatic style balances IHSAHN‘s harsh black-metal snarls rather beautifully. The song is layered thick with the progressive air of Devin Townsend, with whom IHSAHN had collaborated previously. Townsend, in turn, offers some vocal support on the third track, “Introspection.” Here again, the song resonates strongly with the air of that certain type of “Townsendian” prog-metal, while wearing the signature IHSAHN characteristics on its sleeve too. Like someone stated back in the day, it’s rather remarkable how this song sounds both IHSAHN-like and Devin Townsend-like at the same time.
One of the most pivotal compositions on the outing is the track, “The Eagle and the Snake.” The main riff in the verse resonates with a somewhat similar air to the jazzy mayhem of the song, “The End of Dormancy,” released by the Canadian prog-metal squad, VOIVOD, in 2020. The song has a little bit of everything – atmospheric plateaus, harsh black-metal shrieks, robust metal riffing, free-jazz saxophone bursts, and some guitar shredding courtesy of Jeff Loomis of NEVERMORE. What more could you ask for, really?
The following track, “Catharsis,” takes things a step further by infusing the atmospheric, almost meditative main motif of the song with the unrestrained jazz assaults of the saxophone and the oriental guitar legatos. Had IHSAHN not resorted to his trademark croaks here, the track could easily be used as the background music for meditation. On the other hand, who says you shouldn’t do it, regardless? If the blackened shrieks are too much, the special edition of the album comes with the bonus track, “Recollection,” which is basically a jazz meditation with clean vocals. That should do for a bit of inner bliss. Then again, I’m not really sure if anyone with reservations about black-metal aesthetics would be interested in this offering: yes, there are black-metal snarls, blast-beats, and all sorts of evil sonic incantations, most prominently on the track, “The Paranoid.” Furthermore, those who are vehemently opposed to the use of saxophone in this sort of metal setting, probably cannot stand the track, “The Grave,” which is heavy on the aggressive, free-jazz saxophone. Quite often, when the saxophone is juxtaposed against a metal framework, you cannot completely avoid the subtle flashbacks of the “Careless Whisper” variety. Here, the saxophone lines are more reminiscent of the late John Coltrane – that is, jazz at its most raw.
The closing track, “Departure,” balances between a jazzy, almost chill-out track and brutal metal riffathon. IHSAHN‘s wife, Heidi S. Tveitan, features some ethereal vocals in the ambient breakdown to a chilling effect. It further pronounces the fact that this is one of those metal albums that really push the boundaries in every direction; at the time of its release, “Eremita” was the most versatile selection of songs IHSAHN had yet offered. On this album, he sounded jazzy and poppy to a degree he had never sounded before – while remaining true to his black-metal roots. In other words, the album was a haunting tour de force of genuinely unique artistic vision. It was a forceful nudge in the direction that, eventually, reached astonishing new heights on his 2018 outing, “Ámr”, which was a downright frigging masterpiece.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- The Paranoid
- The Eagle and the Snake
- Something Out There
- The Grave
Ihsahn – vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards
Tobias Ørnes Andersen (LEPROUS) – drums
Jørgen Munkeby (SHINING) – Saxophone