REVIEW: Ihsahn – EP: Fascination Street Sessions

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For some peculiar reason, Norwegian extreme-metal maverick Ihsahn has not released a full-length studio album since his haunting 2018 effort “Ámr,” which, in retrospect, seems rather unusual; after all, he had a habit of releasing one almost every 2 years up until that point. Instead, in 2020, he chose to release two distinct EPs, “Telemark” and “Pharos,” respectively, almost as though taking a moment of introspection; namely, the first EP resonated with the air of reminiscing on his black metal roots, while the latter took a closer glance at his more progressive leanings. Now it’s 2023 and we still won’t be seeing a studio album rolling our way from this progenitor of true avant-garde metal. Released on March 24th, 2023, via Candlelight Records, we did get yet another EP though – one descriptively entitled “Fascination Street Sessions.” It is comprised of only three songs but, once again, Ihsahn pulls no punches in creating nothing short of a haunting listening experience – yes, even with such a bite-size offering.

There is once again a rather unexpected choice of a cover song, considering Ihsahn‘s impressive black-metal legacy. On “Pharos,” we heard the cover rendition of the late-1980s A-HA song, “Manhattan Skyline,” featuring Einar Solberg of LEPROUS on vocals, whereas now the honor falls to the 2002 indie-pop hit, “Dom Andra,” originally released by the Swedish melancholy-rockers, KENT, with the guest vocalist being Jonas Renkse of KATATONIA in this awe-inspiring, new rendition. Ihsahn‘s interpretation of the song remains rather faithful to the original in terms of the arrangement, so we won’t be subjected to a surprise onslaught of free-jazz saxophone bursts or anything. Yet, there is something inexplicably haunting in this version – thanks to Renkse‘s trademark emotion-filled vocals, which should drive the message of the lyrics home even if you don’t understand a word of Swedish.

The two other tracks, “The Observer,” opening the EP, and “Contorted Monuments,” sandwiched between the opener and the haunting closer, are more guitar-driven – so much so, in fact, that they serve as due reminders of Ihsahn‘s skills with this instrument. For me, Ihsahn has always come across as a musical genius quite similar to Frank Zappa: their musical vision looms so far ahead of the curve that you kind of forget that both gentlemen deserve to be regarded as undisputed masters of the guitar. Zappa usually handed the most pyrotechnical parts to someone else, like Steve Vai in the 1980s, but stripped-down as his signature style was, it spoke volumes. Ihsahn can drop a good few prestissimo licks at any given time, but even at his most frantic, he beautifully avoids the pitfalls of shooting those fast and funny little notes just for the sake of ”more is more.” His melodic guitar chops are, by default, about telling intriguing stories.

In conclusion, while I cannot honestly say that I wasn’t slightly bummed by the fact that this latest endeavor from Ihsahn still wasn’t a full-length studio album, this three-track offering turned out to be so damn incredible that I think I can bear waiting for his next studio album for another year or so. In fact, judging by the pristine quality of these last three EPs, whenever the time comes that we will be blessed by the full banquet of Ihsahn‘s musical genius, I’m pretty sure that it will be something even more spectacular than his 2018 endeavor.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. The Observer
  2. Contorted Monuments
  3. Dom Andra (feat. Jonas Renkse)

Lineup

Ihsahn – vocals, guitars, bass

Tobias Ørnes Andersen – drums

Øystein Aadland – keyboards

Label

Candlelight Records

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