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02. Mass Darkness
03. My Heart Is Of The North
04. South Winds
05. In The Vaul
06. Until I Too Dissolve
09. Crooked Red Line
10. Celestial Violence
The solo career of former Emperor vocalist/guitarist Ihsahn has been built around distancing himself from the music he became known for in the 90's. It doesn't appear to be out of spite or anger, rather the natural instincts of a man who has grown out of the limited scope he was caught in as a younger musician. The five previous studio albums from Ihsahn have opened up his progressive sensibility, while occasionally dusting off the hyperactive black metal. From the pointed attacks on The Adversary to the screeching saxophone throughout After, Ihsahn has made it so that there are no restrictions put on his songwriting. Arktis is his way of mashing together everything he's attempted in his solo project to date, so that every sonic path he's taken the past ten-plus years is represented.
Like most of the recordings Ihsahn has produced, all the instruments—save for a session drummer—are performed by him, with guest spots on a few tracks. Trivium frontman Matt Heafy provides vocals on the chorus to "Mass Darkness," though it isn't as memorable as his role in Sigh's "Out of the Grave" from last year's Graveward. Ihsahn collaborates with Leprous' Einar Solberg on two tracks, a partnership that has been going on for years now. Shining saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby appears on "Crooked Red Line," notably with great restraint on his part. It fits with the tune's lapses into alternative pop.
Those who have followed Ihsahn for this long should know that the notion of him writing a popish song isn't out of the realm of impossibility. Every song is its own entity, as he bounces between metal, rock, pop, electronic, and acoustic to confuse anyone who only knows him from his Emperor days. The only callback to his Emperor roots comes in the closing minutes of "Pressure," where an orchestral pull is given to the untamed blasting that throws the album back to 2001 for a spell.
"Until I Too Dissolve" embraces 80's hard rock/metal, as if the catchy main riff was inspired by a group like Scorpions or Skid Row. The acoustics mentioned before come in on "Frail" in a deceptively smooth introduction shattered by thick guitars and jumpy keys. Solberg takes lead vocals on closer "Celestial Violence," a wonderful, dark affair that is as majestic as a song can get in half the time of a "On The Shores" or "The Pain Is Still Mine."
Arktis has been hyped as Ihsahn's longest album to date, and that's accurate if you include the throwaway bonus track "Til Tor Ulven (Søppelsolen)" that drags the album out another nine minutes. Otherwise, the songs are very on-point, with only "Pressure" pushing beyond the six-minute mark. The days of ten-minute tracks seems to be over (for now), so quantity seems less important, while value in a compact package is in.
Bottom Line: At this point, the very idea of Ihsahn's being considered "black metal" is comical. There's no precedence for it anymore, as he has morphed his sound into something that pools its resources from multiple genres. This gives Arktis an unpredictability factor that elevates the record, even in the face of an average track or two. It's not the best solo album Ihsahn has made, but it's a good rebound after the clunky Das Seelenbrechen.