It’s undeniable that After will remain the classic Ihsahn record. If someone wants to get into his work, that’s the album they select. It’s not even out of the realm of possibility some would rate After higher than the man’s work with Emperor, despite that band’s deep significance and the impact it made on metal. After is marvelous, spanning black metal, avant-garde, jazz, and traditional riffs in a blend that’s not only palatable, but downright remarkable. Yet somehow, After belies the depth of talent that Ihsahn is fortunate enough to possess. It wasn’t until later albums that he fully expanded his lungs and revealed what a stunning voice he has. It wasn’t until Das Seelenbrechen that he showed how effective he could be working in sparse landscapes and minimalist composition.
Àmr is seemingly effortless in its ability to combine elements from every prior Ihsahn album, while also being his most aggressive work in years. Opener “Lend Me the Eyes of Millenia” not only gives immediate evidence to the importance of synthesizers across the album, but it brings back Ihsahn’s ferocious, throat-ripping growls, plus a myriad of blast beats—some atmospheric, and some more vicious in their aggressiveness. The synthesizer sets the tone for ‘Amr throughout, cycling over and over while creating tension—angry tension, even.
“Arcan Imperii” and “Sàmr” feel familiar (despite Opeth’s Fredrik Henry Åkesson handling guitar duties on the former), as if they were made long ago and are simply being re-recorded, which speaks to the seamless blend of uniquely “Ihsahn” styles. It’s on “Sàmr” that the album begins to take a turn towards what is essentially a new chapter in Ihsahn’s composition, and a new level of welcomed discomfort for fans of his ever-changing approach to pushing boundaries. The guitar work in particular takes a massive leap into an arena of cleaner melody that blends sounds primarily from angL and Arktis. into a palate-friendly cocktail of grit and charm, thus evoking more emotion than physical reaction.
Àmr is essentially an album in three movements, the second beginning with “One Less Enemy” and ending with “Rites of Passage.” Aggression slides from the rhythmic persuasion to the more vocal. Across “One Less Enemy,” Ihsahn is at his shrillest, forcing out throaty cries with the power of forty diaphragms. The song’s guitar solo is perhaps the album’s most aggressive, sounding at times like a practice routine to loosen the fingers, with less melody than technique as the halting track grinds along, returning to its earlier whimsical lead.
“Where You Are Lost And I Belong” foreshadows the melancholic third movement, opening with a deep tenor melody crooned over a simple, tension-focused guitar rhythm before evaporating into the main body of the track—A soundscape over which Ihsahn reveals a number of vocal techniques, the most shocking of which is probably his throatier, grunge-like howls. As the third movement comes to a close, he draws heavily on Eremita-era vocalizations and Das Seelenbrechen-era electronic affectation ranging from industrial-sounding drums to downright electronica.
It’s here that the album begins to depart from direct comparisons to earlier work, with “Marble Soul” showing Ihsahn’s newest and most emotionally connected phase. Opening with a dissonant riff studded with melody, the song uses standard Ihsahn composition with thick guitars and his characteristic growls. But it’s the chorus, laden with clean melody, ample harmony and more than enough pop-friendly factor, that reveals a future path for Ihsahn to do something that hasn’t been done successfully since the late 90s: Push metal from the underground back into the spotlight. The thickly layered harmonies (harmonizing with himself, as always), combined with lyrical slurs carrying over from one bar to the next—the chorus is not only singable, but hummable, danceable, memorable and not at all unsettling like much of his work.
“Twin Black Angels” follows “Marble Soul” and builds on the pop-friendly foundations. Utilizing a straightforward kick-snare in the chorus, with the vocals following in lock step, Ihsahn uses slurry guitar melodies to connect bars in a manner that swings over the straightforward rhythm. Where earlier in his career, saxophone might take the show during a solo, here the guitar breaks through, slightly over-driven as Ihsahn shows his soft touch for melody, feel, and mood. Where “Marble Soul” had pop elements, “Twin Black Angels” is a downright hit on any radio station, with only mild harsh vocals sparsely populating the track.
Book-ending this masterpiece, while mimicking the aggression of the opener “Lend Me the Eyes of the Millenia” and also tying together the album with triumphant choruses, “Wake” is the glue that binds Àmr to your soul. What begins as an aggressive, unsettling attack on the listener (albeit, perfectly done) ends in a masterful and flat out emotional conclusion.
While Àmr may not prove to be the best album of Ihsahn’s career, it does feel like his most complete work to date, doing everything he does best. It successfully pushes boundaries, makes the listener uncomfortable, and ultimately converts said listener to his cause.