After releasing seven solo albums, Emperor frontman Ihsahn presents his first solo EP, Telemark. The EP consists of five songs: three new tracks and two covers. Ihsahn took the album title from the county he grew up in and still resides. It’s the perfect title for a recording that takes him back to his roots both musically and culturally. Singing in his Norse tongue helped authenticate this Nordic black metal recording.
The compositions found here will remind his longtime listeners of the last two Emperor albums, which were similar to his first two solo albums. All his vocals are sung harshly and the music often churns aggressively. While many of the rhythms are reminiscent of latter-era Emperor, I didn’t notice keyboards.
Jørgen Munkeby’s saxophone seem to take the place of keys. He brings a symphonic facet as well as a jazzy quality to much of the EP. Just past the midway point of “Stridig,” the music takes a soft, melodic turn. The sax matches Ihsahn’s melodious guitar solo and has a forlorn quality, something apparent on the third Ihsahn album, After. Later in the track, the sax becomes much louder when the music picks back up and finds a crescendo. Ihsahn composed the album like a orchestra in the major notes when his music crests. The saxophone works well during the cresting parts of the chorus on their rendition of Iron Maiden’s “Wrathchild.”
Ihsahn’s harsh vocals work well because they’re timed so well on “Wrathchild.” Applying harsh vocals to songs originally sung cleanly doesn’t always work, though, as heard on their other cover “Rock and Roll is Dead.” While the guitar tones are very close to the original Lenny Kravitz song, his raspy voice just doesn’t fit the song. The sax jazzes up the song detrimentally (is this a P-Funk song?) and once again makes crescendo points sound even fuller. Once Ihsahn screams “oh yeah,” it’s like a black metal Kool-Aid guy just burst through a wall. This song could have been left off the recording, but Ihsahn probably wanted to try something different.
The three original tracks are some of the best of his solo career. “Stridig” features a sliding guitar in the beginning and near the end that is both icy and eerie. “Nord” sounds how one would expect that title to sound—pure Nordic black metal made authentic through Norwegian lyrics and divine choirs. He could have easily written this song for a Borknagar album. The title track takes the Nordic vibe even further with twangy, folkish rhythms. This song is most epic in length, clocking in near eight minutes. It also features the fastest parts of his EP.
Ihsahn will probably never again appease early Emperor fans. He’ll probably never return to the grim, necro productions or simplistically evil songs of his youth. However, fans who enjoyed the second half of Emperor and the progressive leanings he took then and onward will certainly enjoy Telemark. While it seems connected to earlier black metal works, Telemark has Nordic qualities I don’t recall hearing on any of his albums. It’s a new recording with new ideas. Ihsahn is one of the most forward-thinking, intelligent members of the Norwegian black metal circle. “Rock and Roll is Dead” seems out of place, but the rest of the EP is superb!
(released February 14, 2020 on Candlelight Records)
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Watch Ihsahn – “Stridig” Video