There’s surely no need to bore everyone with the details by now; Vegard Sverre Tveitan has released more music under the Ihsahn moniker than he did with Emperor, and the sound of those solo records is far removed from the famous and controversial band’s pioneering symphonic metal. The experimental prog-metal Ihsahn puts out is the sort that does the term justice, so far as any such music can in modern times; prog as a genre signifier, yes, but also progressive in sound and temperament. Over the course of seven albums, Ihsahn has confirmed his place as one of extreme metal’s most creative musicians, but said albums have also tended to suffer from some of the typical pit-falls of prog. That they are weighty, challenging, serious pieces of work are both a strength and a weakness. Telemark is the first EP released under Ihsahn’s solo name, and marks a slight change, with two tracks showing a looser, more fun side of Ihsahn than any other previous release would have hinted at.
Named after the county Ihsahn grew up in, Telemark represents something of a “back to basics” release (as much as “basics” will ever apply to this genre). The first three tracks are what would be expected from Ihsahn in 2020, as far as anything can be expected from such an eclectic musician; namely, technical prog-metal with a blackened edge that one suspects will always be part of his music. Vicious riffs and tremolo-picked leads sit alongside winding structures, with a dramatic flair emphasised by the use of brass flourishes (evidence that, even whilst the press release quote from Ihsahn claims Telemark is intended to distil “basic, bare bones black metal influences”, he will forever be twisting the genre into unusual forms). Second track ‘Nord’ brings that sense of drama and grandiosity to the fore, coming across like some strange offspring of Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse and Yes’s Close to the Edge; whilst the title track features an almost jaunty lead melody, simultaneously frostbitten and celebratory.
It’s the final two tracks which might capture most attention, though; which in some ways is a shame, as they are the most straight-forward offerings here. Both are covers, but it’s the choices which might draw listeners in who might otherwise pass on Ihsahn’s recent records. The first, ‘Rock’n’roll is Dead’ by Lenny Kravitz, might initially seem an odd choice, and is sure to have some of the trve kvlt types upset; whilst the second, Iron Maiden’s ‘Wrathchild’, is much more typical fare. Both tracks stick remarkably close to the originals and come across as if Ihsahn simply wanted to record songs he enjoyed without pushing himself creatively (as was true when reissues of Emperor records came with bonus covers of songs from the likes of Mercyful Fate and Bathory). There’s nothing wrong with that of course, and they serve as a nice contrast to the original contributions here. It’s interesting that Ihsahn has chosen to record an album with the aim of re-embracing black metal yet still ends up writing a trio of prog-metal behemoths. Don’t let the press releases stating that this is For Fans Of Immortal, Darkthrone, Emperor etc. fool you; Telemark is never going to be mistaken for “pure” black metal. But if you’re into what Ihsahn has released since the final Emperor album, yet wished he would write something that hit just hat bit harder, then Telemark is what you’ve been waiting for.
Telemark is released 14th February via Candlelight Records and can be purchased here.
Words: Stuart Wain