It was a long time that listening to a new album happens to draw such an intense emotional response from me. Maybe it never really happened before this one. And to be honest, I was hoping for a long time (and knowing) that Ihsahn would do such an album.
Ihsahn is a shy, nice and reserved man from what I know. But he managed to rip himself out and exhibit his soul crushed by the music and succeed to make us feel the way he feels, and that's pretty rare. Of course, it takes an open mind and no prejudice to fully appreciate, but it's rare that a "metal" artist invites his listeners to share the core of his inspirational source. I would say that I prefer that approach. I love authenticity. Thank you Ihsahn.
I never managed to review his previous output, Eremita. This album was the Epilogue of the A trilogy. It resumes and assumes and it closes. While appreciating the music of that opus, I never saw the necessity to hold forth on an epilogue, even if Eremita was filled with promises for the things to come.
With Das Seelenbrechen, a whole new scope is deploying before our eyes. And I was waiting for that vision to be put forth again. Did I say new and again? Yes, this is a new sound to some extent but a vision coming from the past. A vision that has always haunted Ihsahn's creating process. A lot of ideas and tones on Das Seelenbrechen are drawn from older works, being Thou Shalt Suffer (both eras), and Peccatum, particularly. These were side projects were Ihsahn allowed himself to explore and experiment at the times, even if I never felt him as free as he seems to be on this eponym's fifth release. It's like this album is infused with those influences but seasoned with Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk's drive. Maybe it's just me, but the whole aura of Das Seelenbrechen brings back the Anthems vibe to me, and it's a pleasure.
Here he goes, throwing himself into the fury of Hiber (winter) with ominous filmcore keyboard resounding like a Mussorgsky's night and echoing TSS Somnium in its calmer section. But Hiber is nothing when Regen insinuate his melancholic piano and Ihsahn singing with a distant voice that leads into bombastic deployment of brass and violins displaying a level of epicness that will be the peak of the album for that matter. And when you're on the top, you abruptly drop into salt. Yes, that's a seasoned opus let me tell you.
Every now and the on the album, you'll fall abruptly. Why? Hence, the production differs from song to song, the style, the rhythm, the singing and the instrumentation, all differs to a point that some will say this is not a coherent album. What is coherence? Does art needs to be coherent? Hopefully not. But, this it what makes an album coherent, unexpected encounters, sweetness being merged with chaos, poetry surfing the noise. Like said further in the lyrics "That being broken is what makes it whole" (Pulse). After an amount of listening, depending on who is the listener, the album will unfold its cohesion, and the omnipresent cinematic shadow will reveal the hidden structure, the story line behind the veil.
This is the scenario of the fall and the loss. How one can lose himself into music, whatever it's listening to it or creating it. How one can fall in the imagery that music can spark. It's started with the fall of winter (Hiber), the loss of light (Regen), the loss of illusions (NaCl), the loss of equilibrium (Pulse), the fall into madness (Tacit 2), the loss of beacons (Tacit), the loss of the mind (Rec), the wait for death to come (M), the despair in which you drown (Sub Ater), and when the eyes disappeared ultimately, the end (See).
So for now we're into salt, rather NaCl. A change of rhythmic, but not so far from those once heard on the Peccatum records, hence the very reminiscent guitar bridge that seems to be ripped of "Lost in Reverie" Stillness. Is there contempt towards others or self-derision? I think it's both from the weird lyrical theme of that song where Ihsahn exhibits some of his best cleans ever. It's a pretty impressive prog rock song that leads to the next song, which is a pretty impressive ballad, too.
I've said it before, though it's far from being a wish, that Ihsahn would be able to put out a pretty decent pop song and get aired, but his lyrical themes would deprive him from a radio hit, although I think a lot of people could match on Pulse lyrics. But who is paying attention to lyrics these days? Even if Pulse music is quite a leap from what we've heard before from the man, the simple music line, the haunting lyrics could live on their own since they're such an ear worm. Pulse acts just like it's your favorite song, suave, sober in structure and strangely sensual. Is it dark trip hop, or just the leitmotiv of Ihsahn's psyche?
Speaking of Ihsahn's psyche, the next song is the counterpart or musically the counterpoint to Pulse, the dark side of Ihsahn's psyche. He was not able to let the listener in the sweet and brooding mood of Pulse, so he rushes into the chaos and madness of improvisation in Tacit 2. Some could think this is a forbidding track, it may be. But, this is a necessary break into the "logic" of the album. To break the mood of beauty installed with the last three songs and explore ugliness. Tacit 2 has little structure and no melody, and it's one the most black metal song Ihsahn ever did. Don't expect tremolo picking or blast beats, though. Tacit 2 is a terror inducing piece, built on towering drumming by Tobias Ørnes Andersen and Ihsahn's screams darker than ever. Lyrically, it's the poet's complaint over his attempts to reach an apex, and the letdowns he feels towards its failure to succeed, as he would have wished. Such violence in the nature of the sound Tacit 2 has, and such sorrow in the lyrics.
Tacit follows Tacit 2. Why in that order? Possibly because Tacit was composed before Tacit 2 was improvised. But, since the purpose of this opus is to crush, Pulse needed to be crush by the chaos of ugliness, before that the second part of the album takes off with Tacit. This one being filled with drive and urge, as a typically Ihsahn song often is, a bit like Hiber, but with more despair in the voice than aggression. A despair that tries to be swept away by the Big Band orchestra sound interlude that relates another suffering of the creating process, and the lyrics that describe accurately the "soulscapes" Ihsahn feels: "To feel destruction and play the sound". That resumes the man's vision to a certain point.
As we rest on a field of ruins, the seventh song, Rec begins quietly with a piano line, and Ihsahn muttering obscure lyrics and then the song builds onto unsettling crescendo turning itself into an industrial piece of music recalling again the Peccatum's days (Lost in Reverie era). This is maybe the shortest song that he ever did. But after several listen, this little piece of music and noise reveals itself to be far more disturbing than any of the others six previous songs. The lyrics are those of a man that has gone to far and lost his mind in his so called creating process. To this point, the listener feels that all is lost, and there is no redemption in sight, and that the album will drown in murk and confusion for good.
And this is exactly what it does! With the next one M, the muttering words continue, each word being a cut as each cut being a word until the dull words enumeration paves the way to a wonderful guitar solo, recalling some of Pink Floyd's, but in a much darker mood, as the voice continues to ask by "how many" cuts will you die ... This song, like the previous is more of a fragment, spoken words, guitar solo and that's all. And that's not what one could expect from Ihsahn. Thank you again Ihsahn, to deceive our expectations for to transform them into the pure joy of astonishment.
If M draws joy despite the malevolence that oozes from it, Sub Ater (under the black) put forth one of the main emotions of the opus, discomfort. Referring, always, to the creating process and inspirational source, this one finds our protagonist to be "crushed between the teeth of a drunken poet smile", a poet that sips the blood to the point he retches. Strong image, upsetting music, acoustic guitar that echoes some of Starofash's works, for who's got the chance to know. Sub Ater is a downward spiral to bleakness and disarray. Nothing can be done against the muse's vise when it holds you between its jaws. Just surrender.
Surrender to see. See is the last song of the standard issue of Das Seelenbrechen. With all the darkness painted by Sub Ater, there is nothing left to see, except the disappearing of the eyes through a vain and desperate fleeing amidst this musical improvisation and drone like, deconstructing the whole creating process. Deconstructing the whole Ihsahn mold. Deceiving some fans, exhilarating others.
Musically, this is the most keyboards driven album that Ihsahn has done since Anthems, but it has some of the best guitar soli heard in all the man's career. The drumming of Tobias Ørnes Andersen is quite impressive and he's the framework to most of the album. Ihsahn's voice is in top shape, better than ever, in my opinion. His cleans are fully restrained, pure and silken, yet his screams sound the most natural they ever sounded in his solo years. Sometimes, they even remind me the younger Ihsahn, when his voice was not fully matured, adding more spontaneity and urge to the whole picture.
Reading some reviews here and there before writing mine, you know, because the album got an earlier release in Europe, I notice that most of the people tended to dismiss the album second half, claiming it is too weird, that the songs don't reach a climax or are getting nowhere. I my personal case, I do prefer the second half, the songs, especially Rec, M and Sub Ater bring me in an ethereal state, lost in reverie. A somber reverie, delectably deliquescent as the purpose of Das Seelenbrechen is to break the soul, and the mold. Yes, the first half of Das Seelenbrechen is also exploring other paths, but songs are catchy as hell, especially NaCl and Pulse. They melt sweet and a bit acidulated on the tongue. The taste of the last six songs is far more challenging and disturbing. I love that the second half songs don't reach their climax and instead are instilling discomfort. Glimpse of beauty drowned in confusion. It's an atmospheric, disturbing and introspective experience that if you totally invest in, will reveal surprisingly rewarding. Ihsahn, he loves music, and it shows. He remains faithful to the dark source of his inspiration and it feels.