on 25 November 2013
The irony of how fans of such an alternative and diverse genre as metal can sometimes be so close-minded is a strange fact that shows how staid many people's aesthetic tastes can become once they are set in stone. Not this reviewer, though; and thankfully, not musicians like Ihsahn either. The creative gulf between Ihsahn and the rest of the world has grown significantly with the release of Das Seelenbrechen which, despite not being very `metal', does little to put the serious musical explorer off this release; even those, like me, whose bulk of aural delectation comes from the heavy metal genre. This work is an example of true progressive music, in which the artist - unbound from both forms and expectation - uses his talent to both express and manifest his profundity.
Hiber, or Winter, seems like a fitting place for such an aesthetically bleak effort to begin, rising like chaotic storms from the underworld into consciousness in what is perhaps, with NaCl, the most typical expression of his previous sound found here. Despite that, it sets the agenda for the changes too, with the first hint of drummer Tobias Ørnes Andersen's chaotic rhythms - which are later brought to their fullness in smothering intensity in Tacit 2 - as well as the dark, resonant chord progressions that make the aesthetic texture of the whole album so sublime. Regen expands the coldness of Hiber with rain, bringing in a gentle piano broken by slow, symphonic blasts of emotion before the layered choirs of Ihsahn and wife Ihriel bring climax to the chill. NaCl brings forth Salt, the alchemical base matter - the raw, impure elements of the human soul which must be broken down and dissolved - into the alembic. Again, this sounds quite close to previous Ihsahn offerings, with more than a hint of Opeth revealed in its inspiration, not least in the clean vocals that Ihsahn uses to such good effect throughout this track and the next, Pulse, where the Tveitan choir makes a welcome return, this time layered over a lonely, repeated guitar phrase and accompanied by a hint of the ambience to come.
After this contemplation comes the dissolution, with the shattering storms of Tacit 2 bringing 'The `Soul Breaking' that the Nietzschen title alludes to in a hypnotic, shamanic threnody to that which cannot be expressed. Tacit, which I see as the aesthetic scion of previous Ihsahn songs such as From the Shores and The Grave, follows, bringing an attempt to coagulate what has been dissolved in the underworld of Tacit 2 into a structure of conscious emotion, seeking, as great art does, to explain the spiritual cataclysm that has been experienced. The drum pattern of Tacit reflects but cannot mimic the chaos of its abyssal predecessor, though its chord progression and pained vocals and lyrics hint of the catastrophe and emotional emptiness that was found in that descent to the most tortured reaches of the soul.
Like the album as a whole does, the Tacit tracks express the descent and attempt to rise of the self-aware soul - of its solve et coagula - and in doing so Ihsahn attempts to transmit something tacitly from his soul straight to that of the listener. Rec, M and Sub Äter - which also have a touch of Opeth about them, this time stumbling through formless darkness and bumping into Radiohead during the darker moments of Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief - show that the process is not some self-help agenda that helps you to 'heal' yourself, but is a key to a further, darker descent. The albums ambient endings, in See, Entropie and Hel show words becoming increasingly useless, petering out as `the eyes secretly disappear, like escaped prisoners through a forest'. In context with the rest of the album, the ambient tracks do not turn to anti-climax, which they would be in danger of doing so were it not for the profundity of this work, but help to temporarily seal shut the sarcophagus of this exploration of a dark spiritual process.
on 31 March 2014
Probably repeating what others have said here - I adore Emperor's early work. I Am the Black Wizard was the song that really changed my life and introduced me to the whole Norwegian Black Metal scene, Anthems at the Welkin at Dusk being in my top CD's of all time. Things went a bit downhill after that, there were a few good songs on IX Equilibrium but only one of the songs on Prometheus piqued my senses. There were promising moments on The Adversary but After and AngL were so awful I didn't bother with Eremetia. So here we are with Das Seelenbrechen, first played on spotify after some favourable reviews but then decided to purchase. I've played a few times now and yes, its a definite improvement. Still a lot of Avant Garde progressive bollocks, but also some tunes and some black metal. Some impressive drum work and great vocals and not too much of the hideous saxaphone. Favourite track is "Rec" . If, like me, you'd given up on Ihsahn, or if you've played this once and dismissed it, I urge you to give it another chance.