Ihsahn. Ask any well seasoned metal fan that name and the response will ring many a positive reverberation. First hitting the radar with the enormously pioneering and influential black metal act Emperor, as their front man and guitarist, Ihsahn sculpted from the start a massively respectable repute for himself.
After further work with Peccatum, a project with his wife Ihriel and an immense reunion with Emperor, Ihsahn set about his first solo record, 2006’s The Adversary, an engrossing piece of grandiose metal. To follow up that he delivered angL. A superior record in multiple ways, it veered more and more towards heavily progressive and sophisticated musical vistas.
Now, After is the simply breathtaking culmination in this wholly remarkable musician and song-writer’s trilogy.
Shifting seamlessly through varying passages “The Barren Lands” commences After with stunning fret work and throat shredding vocals which move fluently into some smooth elegant clean singing in parts. It’s largely indicative of how effortlessly this collection of songs can switch between tones and moods and not feel even remotely unnatural or contrived.
After has one particularly crucial swerving element and that’s the collaboration with saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby of Norwegian jazz act Shining (not to be confused with Swedish black metal band of the same name). Munkeby sways between styles in his playing, vividly changing from eccentric chaotic blasts to the relaxed and soothing jazz with which his instrument is most associated with. His sundry playing is thoroughly exemplified on the schizophrenic waltz of “A Grave Inversed” as he collides with monolithic riffs. Then, with the extravagant album closer “On The Shores”, Munkeby unreels some gorgeously melodic cadences which makes the whole jaunt an utterly captivating one.
“Frozen Lakes On Marks” unhinges with a dazzling guitar lead before launching into a colossal riff capable of budging glaciers. The verses stampede a way through to a sterling chorus exhibiting Ihsahn’s chilling clean vocals.
This third solo offering marks another creative departure, being Ihsahn’s first record written and recorded with 8 string guitars – again, adding more and more layers to an already intricate equation. His ominous guitar dexterity is otherworldly evident with “Undercurrent” having the seismic riffs massed similarly to planets while “Austere” wanders through moodily ethereal verses. Furthermore, the harrowingly clean chorus of the title track and “Heaven’s Black Sea” serve up new dashes of the record’s shivering charm.
After is Ihsahn at his most cerebral and calculating yet, and has him meticulously sculpting out another opus for his trophy room. Atmospherically, After creates a hypnotising milieu akin to a thick misty maze-like forest in which you can and will become completely immersed in.