Originally written by K. Scott Ross.
Ihsahn is many things to many people. The father of modern black metal. The killer of TRVE black metal. Master of interlocking jigsaw riffs. International sex symbol. Musical genius. Overrated wanker. Regardless of how you feel about Ihsahn, though, we can all agree that he’s not one to endlessly repeat himself. With his sixth solo release he proves that he’s still full of ideas, and whether you like or hate them, he’s certainly continuing to progress his sound.
It’s been three years since Das Seelenbrechen, an album that never sat quite as well with this particular critic as either Eremita or the incomparable After, and while that particular album felt extremely experimental, it didn’t have as much of a heavy metal feeling to it as listeners expect from Ihsahn. Arktis. fulfils that desire for more rock n’ roll feeling, and then some. Saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby only appears on one song here. Leprous’ Einar Solberg lends his vocals to the first and last track of the album, and Matt Heafy of Trivium fame appears as a guest on “Mass Darkness,” but the rest of the album is just Ihsahn himself with Tobias Ørnes Andersen tackling drum duties as he did on Eremita and Das Seelenbrechen.
“Disassembled” opens the album with some rolling 12/8 guitar riffing and Ihsahn singing some lyrics about Satan. He’s 40 years old as of last October, and his voice is only getting better with the years. It’s always exciting when Ihsahn and Leprous work together because they take such different approaches to painting the same picture. The inclusion of Matt Heafy on the second track, “Mass Darkness,” is much more surprising, but works well. It gives a big rock chorus feeling to contrast the eight-string riffage in the verses. I’m not sure whether Heafy or Ihsahn plays the guitar solo after the first chorus, but its inclusion further increases the traditional feeling of the song, despite the fact that it’s using purely modern instrumentation.
It’s delightful to hear Ihsahn using the eight-string to increase compositional dynamics. It seems these days that for every Ihsahn or Abasi who actually uses the extended range of these guitars to, well, extend the range of their songwriting, you have twenty guys on YouTube slamming on the bottom two strings while plugged into some digital amp modeling software. Hearing this type of guitar played through real guitar amps and utilizing all the strings goes to show that it’s the fault of the instrument.
“Until I Too Dissolve” embodies that blend of modern and classic. The riff that opens the song could have been written by Van Halen in the early 80s, but the heft that the guitars bring to it is just so groovy. The fact that the verses remind me of Cutting Crew and Mr. Mister might sound too cheesy for listeners hoping for a return to angL-era Ihsahn, but it’s played so confidently that you can hear the grin on his face. This is a feel-good rock n roll song, and I love it.
The Weird puts in a great appearance on Akrtis. as well. “South Winds” opens up with a deep house beat that instead of being canceled out is embraced by the guitars, doubling down on the dance track feeling. “Frail” opens with a little acoustic guitar riff before transitioning into one of the weirdest synth grooves I’ve ever heard. And I do mean weird; I laughed aloud the first time I heard it. “Crooked Red Line” features slow-jam saxophone and crooning vocals. And yet these bizarre touches all work, enhancing the songs rather than drawing away from them.
When Darkthrone wants to make a tribute to the 80s, they produce The Underground Resistance. Straightforward and pure, but not particularly necessary in a world full of actual 80s rock and metal. When Ihsahn wants to pay tribute to the 80s, you get Arktis. Its influences are clearly there, but the music is transformative. And honestly, lots of fun. Arktis. is an album that deserves your precious listening time.