01. The Observer (feat. Øystein H. Aadland)
02. Contorted Monuments
03. Dom Andrea (KENT cover, feat. Jonas Renske)
Vegard Sverre Tveitan, better known to most metalheads by his pseudonym IHSAHN, needs little introduction for those well-versed in extreme metal. The 47-year-old musician is of course the frontman and primary composer for the legendary Norwegian black metal band EMPEROR, whose albums helped define the second wave of black metal and were among the best metal albums of the nineties regardless of subgenre. The ever-evolving, multi-instrumentalist has been releasing solo material since 2006, and he returns with his latest solo effort, "Fascination Street Sessions". The three-song EP is a succinct representation of his prowess in the realm of prog metal. More than anything, it seems as though it was an opportunity for him to make the most of his growing passion for studio production.
"Fascination Street Sessions", which is basically two new tracks and a cover, came about via IHSAHN's link to URM Academy, an online educational program focused upon music production. More specifically, Ihsahn connected with the program's associate Jens Bogren, the producer and engineer whose resume includes work with OPETH, DIMMU BORGIR and ARCH ENEMY. IHSAHN had already been working with the famed producer for over a decade, but with "Fascination Street Sessions", the two worked on the project from its very infancy at a demo level through to the final product.
Here IHSAHN is joined by his longtime drummer Tobias Ørnes Andersen and keyboardist Øystein Aadland, the latter of whom provides incredible, soothing melodically vocals on the EP's opener, "The Observer", but there is no question who is the star. The song is a dichotomy of a lulling calmness, spearheaded by flowing, purpose-filled guitar work, counterpointed with the relatively beefier guitar-heavy sections that feature ISHAHN's distinct blackened rasps. "Contorted Monuments" follows with an upbeat drive that includes powerful, mysterious movements that ever-so-slightly harken back to IHSAHN's early days with EMPEROR. The appeal is more than nostalgic. There's a subtlety that embraces his roots in a manner that's expressed through the prism of the prog metal that he's moved toward. The song is held back, however, by its more overtly "heavy" portions that seem impotent and pointless.
The brief EP is rounded out with a rendition of "Dom Andrea", a song that was originally composed by the Swedish alt rock/synthpop band KENT. The unit remains faithful to the original, standing out as a highlight of IHSAHN's brief EP very much due to the talents of the guest vocals of KATATONIA's Jonas Renske. The cover really isn't adventurous at all, though. It essentially just mimics the original. Viewing the proverbial cup of water as being half full, however, the song shows how proficiently Ihsahn can express himself outside of extreme metal, well beyond the scope of metal in any sense, as a matter of fact.
Considering Ihsahn's reputation and tremendous capabilities, "Fascination Street Sessions" feels anticlimactic and underwhelming. It isn't bad, it just isn't jaw dropping in the way that much of his recorded work is. At the end of the day, "Fascination Street Sessions" is a self-serving exercise that will surely assist in his musical progression. And as unremarkable as it may be, subpar IHSAHN is still chock-full of material that's worthy of attention. It's just not enjoyable enough to revisit very much if at all.