rating icon 9 / 10

Track listing:

01. Arrival
02. The Paranoid
03. Introspection
04. The Eagle And The Snake
05. Catharsis
06. Something Out There
07. Grief
08. The Grave
09. Departure
10. Recollection (deluxe edition only)

Vegard Sverre Tveitan is a genius.

Okay, so that's common knowledge. Accredited, even, given the numerous awards, commendations and honorariums Tveitan ? better known to the metal community as Ihsahn ? has reaped throughout his prolific career. Ihsahn is metal, whether or not you appreciate his relentless embryonic exploration modes. EMPEROR is forever legend, sure, but Ihsahn as a standalone artist is continuum personified.

Now through four solo albums, the Norwegian phenom exemplifies just how gifted he is on his latest offering, "Eremita". Black metal pundits might be at odds with the eclectic directions their dark redeemer has taken on his recent genre-bending passages. Yet it's the overwhelming impact Ihsahn continues to deliver upon metal music as a collective body that reaffirms his credibility.

In the metal community, you're hearing people comment how Ihsahn has distanced his craft as far as can be from his black metal roots on "Eremita". Well, yes?and no. "Paranoid" may have dime-turning power pump shifts and a hefty sing-along chorus, but no rods were spared by Ihsahn to give his EMPEROR holdouts something to chew on with the cut's ratchety blast inferno verses. Stand by for more of the speed killing on "Something Out There" and "Grave". All carry a triumphant yet foreboding menace as Ihsahn commandeers shrewder than most. The blaring, Wagner-esque symphonics at the end of "Paranoid" are well-reflective of EMPEROR, so fear not, disciples of the esoteric.

While most of "Eremita" does indeed stray from the thrashing odes of desolation that was once Ihsahn's creed, that doesn't mean it's a slacker album. If anything, Ihsahn's songwriting has grown even more complex, more audacious and more intriguing. Say what you will about his inclusion of the manic X-RAY SPEX-like sax dogging; the way Ihsahn incorporates wailing brass for the second album in a row simply proves he knows how to wield another formidable weapon at his leisure. Whether planted in sprouts on "Eagle and the Snake" or with fearless exhibitionism on "Catharsis" and "Grave", saxophonist Jorgen Munkeby brings more tortured dramatics to Ihsahn's cause than he did last time around on "After". The eight-minute "Eagle and the Snake" thus becomes an immediate halcyon epic for Ihsahn complete with the composition's swerving inertia, gallant signature swaps and chilling guitar tapestries.

"Arrival" and "Introspection" might be two of Ihsahn's most accessible songs ever, which isn't as unholy as it sounds. They carry huge depth behind their bombastic slamming. As with his other solo albums, there is plenty of effortless transitioning between Ihsahn's agonized swilling and his dreamy clean vocals. It merely sounds more sophisticated now. Joining him undercover on "Introspection" is Devin Townsend in a MASTODON-like thread of winding bridges (Townsend even mimics Brent Hinds to a tee) and it's a sharp alliance. As is the fiery lead guitar cameo by Jeff Loomis on "Catharsis".

Added to the guest list on "Eremita" is LEPROUS drummer Tobia Ornes Anderson, who bravely serves whatever Ihsahn's hellbound sonatas demands from him, be it brooding slide chops, rhythmic pile drives or whiz-bang triplicates. Anderson's LEPROUS cohort Einar Solberg delivers some influential, gusting vocal tracks to "Arrival", but the star attraction outside of Ihsahn is his wife and PECCATUM co-conspirator, Heidi Tveitan. Her celestial swoons on "Departure" lend "Eremita" further grace, demonstrating an exemplary conviction between spouses and inter-reliant artisans.

All of Ihsahn's solo albums, "The Adversary", "Angl", "After" and now "Eremita", have been about darkness and light, wonderment, eroticism and above all, unpredictability. It was enough Ihsahn one-upped CELTIC FROST's orchestral maneuvers in the mire with EMPEROR. In his somewhat private sanctum of songwriting, we've witnessed the assimilation of jazz, prog, fugue, chamber, Moog and world music, all culminating in Ihsahn's schooled showground of iniquitous splendor. "Eremita" is daring, sensual and magnificent as much it's birthed from a bloodcurdling banshee shriek straight out of the Welkin. All crystallizing reasons Ihsahn's expansive repertoire has produced another benchmark album. Be witness or be clueless.

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