Ihsahn - EREMITA

In my humble opinion, Ihsahn has quietly made three of the best metal albums of the past decade.  This may be blasphemy, but I prefer his solo work to the arcane, impenetrable hymns of Emperor.  Don't get me wrong; Emperor rules.  I am fully aware of their rule-ness (?).  Having said that, I've always leaned towards progressive metal.  That's why I champion 2001's Prometheus - The Discipline of Fire & Demise, their much-maltreated swan song.  I blame Opeth.  And Porcupine Tree.  Anyway, Ihsahn's solo records picked up where Prometheus left off.  Each one has been more temerarious than the last, and if you're like me, that's a good thing.  Contrariwise, Eremita is my least favorite Ihsahn album to date.  What gives?

It took me repeated spins to appreciate 2010's After.  At first, I was galled by the prominence of a shrill, scritching saxophone.  With the exception of "Frozen Lakes of Mars," the songs didn't grab me, and I wasn't sure why.  Eventually, I warmed up to the sax.  The album began to gel as a cohesive unit.  It's not meant to be consumed in fragments.  Perhaps I was expecting a sequel to 2008's Angl (sic), a song-driven collective that could be considered "catchy."  Eremita wants the best of both worlds.  The first half is a punchy, immediate slab of forward-thinking black metal, while the second half shoots for experimental ambiance.  It's hard to listen to straight through, as the closing tracks slough off at the heel of your brain like background noise.

Don't disparage.  I'd say that Eremita is worth your money.  Mediocre Ihsahn is superior to most modern metal, and these are only my viewpoints.  The songs that click are murderously dynamic.  "The Paranoid" is the token scorcher, yet the chorus is eerily accessible.  Frenetic riffs are conjoined with crying guitar licks.  Ihsahn has never been a subpar guitarist, but damn, he seriously upped his game for this session.  Overall, the solos are sweeter.  Check out the extended lead break on "Recollection."  Speaking of that killer tune, it's a bonus track on the hyper-deluxe digibook edition, whatever the fuck that means.  Why didn't it make the cut?  It might be the best composition here, and it's impossible to categorize (if I was forced to pigeonhole it, I'd probably go with "hard rock").  If it were included in the official tracklist, my rating would be higher.  No doubt.

"Introspection" is a divine collaboration with Devin Townsend.  Ironically, it reminds me of "Unhealer," the joint effort on Angl featuring Mikael Akerfeldt.  "The Eagle and the Snake" is a thumping epic with another guest spot.  This time, ex-Nevermore axeman Jeff Loomis contributes eight bars of shredding.  To be honest, his solo doesn't fit the song, and it feels awfully generic.  Meh.  The brooding "Catharsis" and the diversiform "Departure" are teeming with cool parts, but those parts don't mesh.  They're just...parts.  Again, the second half of Eremita seems hazy and unfocused.  I was hoping that it would grow on me.  Try as I might, I can't lose myself in the melodies.  After presented the same quandary, but I could tell that it wouldn't be long before the music seized my eardrums.

Y'know, it's strange.  Eremita doesn't mark a severe shift in songwriting for the insulated Norwegian.  He hasn't sold out or gone soft.  For some reason, I don't connect to this album on a gut level.  Still, it's pretty goddamn solid.  Remember, get the uber-super digibook edition for "Recollection."  That's a half-Abbath right there.

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