Ihsahn: Arktis (Candlelight)
OK I'll level with you despite many protestations from Metal Hammer, Matt Heafy and indeed many of my peers, I'm not a fan of Emperor, I realise how important they are in the Black Metal scene but they are not up my alley at all, because of this I have never really given Emperor mastermind Ihsahn the time I should have. I know that much of his solo work is progressive moving away from Emperor but still I've ignored even when I found out that Leprous, whom I really like were his backing band I wasn't tempted to check out the back catalogue. So what has tempted me to check this new record out? Well in the increasing drive to bring new music to the masses, I've heard that Arktis his first album in three years, sixth in total was a return to the progressive metal sound of his earlier work after some experimentation on his previous release.
Now as many of you know I love progressive music and I even like progressive black metal when it's fleshed out with other sounds rather than just blast beats and grunting. Arktis is fleshed out and as such I am impressed by it, the music is progressive, heavy and melodic with the classic metal tropes of the black metal all out assault, some classic heavy metal, interspersed with some jazz on Crooked Red Line as well as enough synths/keys and time changes to keep any progger happy. Ihsahn's vocals, which are always the sticking point to black metal for me, are actually quite superb, he snarls and screams clear and the lyrics are audible, his clean vocals too are booming and carry enough weight to work in conjunction with the harsh vocals switching back and for effortlessly. As with all of Ihsahn's solo work he plays everything sans drums, the percussive assault is from former Leprous/current Shinning (Norway) man Tobias Ørnes Andersen, who is not the only musician from the BlackJazz group on the record because frontman Jørgen Munkeby contributes the parping sax to Crooked Red Line.
The songs on this record are very good indeed this is not progressive black metal for the most part just a more extreme form of prog with nods to doom, gothic, electro (South Winds) and even some folk elements abound. The overall concept of the record is one of the dark, Nordic world that Ihsahn was born into and as such this record has sections of rapid, ferocious extremity but also haunting bleakness that evokes the images of the frozen tundra on the cover. Vocally the record is fleshed out by the aforementioned (and Ihsahn superfan) Matt Heafy on the thundering first single Mass Darkness, which is probably the albums most accessible song, then on the finale of Celestial Violence Ihsahn duets with live keyboardist/Leprous frontman/brother-in-law Einar Solberg to lend a little of the bands live sound to the record. Arktis is a great record, whether it's a return to form I don't know, but what it has done is spur me on to find Ihsahn's other solo records as this a fine release and one deserving of the legacy attached to Ihsahn as a musician. 9/10
Votum: Ktonik (Inner Wound)
Polish proggers Votum are fresh off the back of a co-headline tour with Italians Kingcrow, who's latest album was reviewed here last year. Ktonik is Votum's fourth album and sees them delve deeper into their progressive side, while maintaining the metal base they formulated at the inception of their career. However much like many of the more progressive metal bands around today, the songs are complicated and technical without suffering from dreaded curse of outstaying their welcome, most clock in at around 6 minutes letting the band conjure their magic over the course of 51 minutes, leaving you wanting more without getting stale. Votum is made up of Bart Turkowski on bass, Adam Łukaszek on drums, Adam Kaczmarek and Piotr Lniany on guitars with keys from Zbigniew Szatkowski and vocals from Bart Sobieraj, the six men work together in perfect unison on this record that begins with the impressive Satellite which moves from fleet fingered acoustic verses into the colossal riffs and swathes of synths that bring to mind Anathema, Katatonia and even Opeth. The Akerfeldt factor is at it's most prevalent on the haunting Greed which builds and builds into a stunning crescendo, bringing in some harsh vocals from Sobieraj. These songs are built upon layers of sound, the atmosphere is created from the first note of every track and continues through the entire album linking them all and ushering in more intense musical experience as despite being able to pin point and extract every track separately, the album works better as whole and to do so would dampen it's effect. Each musician is virtuoso and it shows, on Simulacra the rhythm is driven by the percussion with an ambient beginning that increases into the powerful final part of the track, Horizontal brings to mind Steven Wilson at his most euphoric a trend that continues on Vertical. Ktonik has some really excellent moments to it, continuing Votum's run of great albums it cements them as being at the top of their game. 8/10
Cult Of Luna: Mariner (Indie Recording)
Cult Of Luna are one of 'big three' expansive post-metal along with Isis and Neurosis, Mariner is a collaborative album with Brooklyn vocalist Julie Christmas and it adds yet another layer to their already thick brooding soundscape, developed over their long career. Her vocals keen, yelp and cast spells through this records dream states where the band go spacier than before with the opening 8 minute plus A Greater Call grabbing you by the balls and pulling you into the 'trademark' sound COL have always been known for, this first track on the record is slow, heavy and sludgy with the deafening percussive assault, a wall of noise guitars and guttural roars as the counterpoint to Christmas' more ethereal singing and the waves of Floydian synth. The band describe Mariner as "a figurative journey through the cosmos after the gritty reality that was our last album, Vertikal" as full of itself as that sounds it quite aptly describes the sound of this record, with the bludgeoning noise of their early work fusing with the floaty space rock of bands such as Hawkwind or Gong, while Christmas' vocal versatility reminds you of Iceland's queen of the obscure and offbeat Björk. The concept of this piece is a journey and this really doesn't work, yes there are ambient, dream-like passages especially in the middle section of The Wreck Of S.S Needle, but you are almost thrown into the aggressive metal style which makes the whole thing a bit jerky. Still Cult Of Luna were never going to make a bad album it's just this doesn't really it's aim of being a progressive mind-trip interwoven with the bands post-metal assault. 7/10