It should be stated upfront that the venerable Ihsahn has been a victim of his own success, as the halcyon days of EMPEROR still cast a massive shadow over pretty much all of his post-“Prometheus” output. It’s certainly not as if he gets by purely on the goodwill afforded to him by fans – his eponymous solo project is a legitimate and oft enjoyable musical vehicle in its own right – but there is a case to be made that he has yet to find a post-EMPEROR voice that is all his own. The magnificent “After” was perhaps the closest he had come to achieving this feat, but the follow-up (“Eremita”) was a curiously half-baked affair that contained all his trademark touches yet displayed a peculiar lack of soul. Is “Das Seelenbrechen” the definitive Ihsahn statement that would finally shake the monkey off his back?
Honestly, the answer is no. The accompanying press release hinted rather unsubtly that “Das Seelenbrechen” is a bold effort that represents the Norwegian’s final parting with his Metal roots. While the last part of that statement is not entirely true, this is arguably his weirdest album to date. I don’t know whether this came about due to his buoyed urge to forge a new sound and style for himself, or if it could be ascribed to the quick turnaround time since his last album (it has been less than a year and a half), but “Das Seelenbrechen” is a terribly frustrating listen.
Fans of his prior work are thrown a bone by the one-two punch of “Hiber” and “Regen” which continue to showcase the emphasised interplay between light and shade, as mellow passages segue wildly into heavier sections (trademark growls and sneers in tow). The orchestral flourishes and insistent keyboard melodies stitch things together pretty nicely, and based on these tracks you’d be forgiven for assuming that the man is back to his “angL”/”After” best. Things take an off-kilter turn with the DREAM THEATER-esque (poppy DT, to be more precise) “NaCI”, and from here on out all bets are off. It’s not that the experimental nature is the problem here, as Ihsahn can not exactly be accused of ever having written the most orthodox tunes in Metal, but rather the fact that the bulk of the album consists of nothing more than mere instrumentals and minimalist soundscapes (or ‘movements’, if you will). Some of these are quite good (see the bluesy swagger of “Tacit” or the orchestral thrust of “Tacit 2”, which mimics John Murphy’s Kick-Ass score), but most of them come off as dead air. The bizarre “Rec” and overlong “See” are the main offenders in this regard; lots of static, ambient noise and dislocated beats that ultimately lead nowhere.
Before this album the most experimental aspect of Ihsahn’s work was probably his choice of cover art (which got more and more abstract with every release), since the actual music still managed to feature a solid balance between Metal, ambient, neoclassical and Prog Rock. “Das Seelenbrechen” is made up of the same ingredients but it has been structured and arranged in such a way that the music suffers. Seeing as how only a fraction of the material on here could actually qualify as music that was perhaps the point? Either way, I’m not enjoying this album that much. I appreciate his drive to create something unique, but when 90% of it sounds like a hodgepodge mix of minimalist ambient and snippets from Art house film scores I’m not interested.
(Online October 18, 2013)