Regardless of where Ihsahn goes with his music, it’s doubtful subsequent albums will escape comparisons with his flagship work in the legendary Emperor.Although most musicians who choose to go to ‘solo’ route end up dwarfed by their younger selves, Ihsahn has continued evolving his sound, inching towards prog rock with each album. Many don’t share my enthusiasm with Ihsahn’s solo material, but his album trilogy of “The Adversary”, “Angl”, and “After” make up some of the fiercest progressive metal to come out in the past decade. In other words, I had big expectations for “Eremita”; an album I hoped would follow up on the streak of excellence. While the musicianship and scale of the previous albums is still here, “Eremita” does not strike me the same way his earlier work did, even after many devoted listens. The sound of Ihsahn is here in full, but there’s something missing that keeps it from truly taking flight.
Anyone who heard 2010′s “After” will not be surprised to hear that Ihsahn has more or less tossed out the black metal aesthetic in his music. Although his trademark rasp is still here, progressive metal is the lifeforce on “Eremita”. Technical guitar riffs and symphonic overtones are paired with an even greater presence of soft clean vocals. At no time before has Ihsahn so visibly aligned himself with prog. Whether it’s time signature-bending organ licks or a five minute-plus saxophone solo, there’s the sense that Ihsahn is becoming more liberated with trying new things in his music. Even so, the dark atmosphere has not been forgotten entirely. The ultra-gloomy “The Grave” takes its time to paint a grizzly picture befitting its title.
My first experience with Ihsahn was his Mikael Akerfeldt collaboration on the song “Unhealer” (from his second record “Angl”), so it’s pretty cool to hear him bringing other guests into the fold. Among these, Einar Solberg- the lead vocalist for Ihsahn’s touring band Leprous, not to mention one of my favourite singers- delivers his trademark belt on the opener “Arrival”. Nevermore guitar hero Jeff Loomis throws in a guitar solo, and- last, but not least, Devin Townsend pays Ihsahn back for his cameo on “Deconstruction” and offers some of his unique charm to the spacey “Introspection”. Although Loomis’ solo does not really stand out in the midst of Ihsahn’s brilliant guitar work, the vocal performances are excellent. Ihsahn’s vocals here are on a general par with what he has done over the past few albums, although there’s certainly an impression that he isn’t straining to push himself further than he’s already gone before. This is an impression I get with most aspects of “Eremita”.
“Eremita” is certainly not bad, but for the first time, I find myself feeling decidedly underwhelmed by what Ihsahn has done here. Looking back on his trilogy, each of those albums had a unique feel to it. “The Adversary” was very symphonic, “Angl” was fierce and to-the-point, and “After” was the leap into full fledged prog metal. With “Eremita”, there’s certainly a shift in an increasingly progressive direction, but I cannot help but feel that this album is a sequel to the themes explored on “After”, rather than something truly fresh. I might even go as far as to say that “Eremita” feels like a collection of b-sides that didn’t make it onto “After”. The production and performance are all up to par, but “Eremita” seems to lack a personal identity of its own. By the end of “Departure” and period of silence after the album’s over, there’s a sense of disappointment, and it only seemed to grow with each listen.
Besides its lack of unique identity, I cannot truly pinpoint where “Eremita” is undercut. As I’ve said, it’s got some fantastic musicianship and a sense of real intelligence to it. Almost as if Ihsahn’s genius has brickwalled, “Eremita” comes out feeling like a decaffeinated version of what he has done in the past. It’s a tightly-knit, enjoyable record, but I think I will remember this album as one that didn’t quite meet the expectations I had for it.
1. Arrival (5:40)
2. The Paranoid (4:43)
3. Introspection (5:37)
4. The Eagle And The Snake (8:47)
5. Catharsis (4:50
6. Something Out There (5:09)
7. Grief (2:21)
8. The Grave (8:18)
9. Departure (7:06)
* Ihsahn – vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards
* Tobias Ørnes Andersen – drums
* Jørgen Munkeby – saxophone
* Devin Townsend – vocals (track 3)
* Jeff Loomis – guitars (lead) (track 4)
* Einar Solberg – vocals (track 1)
* Heidi S. Tveitan – vocals (track 9)