Let’s get a few things out of the way. I love everything Ihsahn has done. For me, he is a musical genius. He has progressed from each album, refining his approach while still being very much HIM. This was very apparent on his last album “Das Seelenbrechen” which was more experimental than Ihsahn had ever been before. Now three years later, he is back and as impossible as it might be, he has outdone himself again!
“Arktis.” takes everything that Ihsahn has done over the years and mixed them into a perfect balance of aggression, progressive arrangements and a LOT of melody. The album opens with an excellent one/two punch of “Disassembled” and “Mass Darkness.” Each song is both heavy as one would expect from Ihsahn but each has instantly memorable melodies.
“Disassembled” features Leprous frontman Einar Solberg while “Mass Darkness” has Matt Heafy of Trivium. While Solberg’s unique voice is easy to distinguish on that track and on the equally amazing “Celestial Violence,” Heafy blends in well on “Mass Darkness.” Another guest is Jørgen Munkeby of Shining who adds some excellent sax work on “Crooked Red Line,” giving it a really cool jazz flavor. Traditional jazz and not blackjazz this time!
“South Winds” is one of my favorite tracks which starts with a throbbing synth line (along with Ihsahn hissing out the lyrics) that reminds me of the dark ambient experiments on Das Seelenbrechen” but eventually evolves into a big hooky chorus. It’s nice that Ihsahn is mixing seemingly unrelated ideas into a perfect song. “My Heart is of the North” is another good example of that. For the most part the song is a blast of metallic goodness but it also has a short, quiet refrain that showcases Ihsahn’s very underrated clean vocals along with an awesome keyboard solo after that.
“Arktis.” pays tribute to the power of the almighty riff. Whether it’s the opening riff of “In the Vaults” or “Until I Too Dissolve” which has a riff that you will be playing air guitar to. It’s a bit of a nod to classic rock riffs which is so cool about this album (think Randy Rhodes). The guitar solo on the track is just as awesome! Ihsahn isn’t afraid to embrace some “user friendliness” from time to time. Plus his awesome clean vocal on the track is one of his best performances. It makes me wonder why he uses Solberg or anyone else when he is so capable of singing it himself!
The one true oddball track on the album is the bonus track on the deluxe edition. “Til Tor Ulven (Soppelsolen)” is an experiment for sure. Spoken word in Norwegian (I think?) over some piano and mournful chords, before Ihsahn’s trademark black metal wretch takes over. While I don’t think it ADDS to the album as a whole, I don’t think it detracts from it either. It just underscores how progressive Ihsahn is. Anything is possible.
“Arktis.” is a prog metal masterpiece. Yes it’s not for everyone because Ihsahn’s harsh, wretch vocals remain and I know they aren’t for the faint of heart. But if you want to listen to an amazing album that has plenty of hooks, depth and a sense of adventure, “Arktis.” is essential. It will be on many best of 2016 lists, including mine.
2. Mass Darkness
3. My Heart Is Of The North
4. South Winds
5. In The Vaults
6. Until I Too Dissolve
9. Crooked Red Line
10. Celestial Violence
11. Til Tor Ulven (Soppelsolen)
Label: Candlelight Records