Released: 2013, Candlelight Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Ever-unpredictable ex-Emperor frontman Vegard Sverre Tveitan, aka Ihsahn, continues his solo career with yet another experimental outing bound to confound those who long for a return to the black metal histrionics of old and challenge those who perhaps thought he’d found his comfort zone with the black/prog pomp of 2012’s Eremita and 2010's After, which brought a little more aggression back into the equation each time.
Das Seelenbrechen - which translates as “the soul breaking” or something to that affect - comes from an entirely different angle that is steeped more in jazz, ambient and industrial music. It has a very free-form, avant-garde feel that speaks to the improvisational nature of the compositions Ihsahn promised in announcing the album at the end of August – if John Zorn played guitar and sang is might sound something like this.
Even the tracks that are more metallic in nature, like the opener “Hilber,” “NaCl” or the riffy “Tacit,” take decidedly left-hand turns into mind-warp jams with Leprous drummer Tobias Ørnes Andersen's skittish beats leading the way and Ihsahn adding layers of piano, synthesizers or guitar effects. As he has on Ihsahn's last couple albums, Shining frontman Jørgen Munkeby punctuates things on occasion with his spastic saxophone wails.
“Tacit2” is an industrial-strength clamor of drums and noise and is the album's most calamitous track. The near complete lack of structure on “Tacit2,” and a number of the chaotic asides, makes it seem like Ihsahn and Andersen are making it up on the spot. But since Leprous serve as Ihsahn's backing band when he plays live, the two have an obvious musical rapport and even when things seem somewhat thrown together here they don't feel like pointless exercises or indulgent bullshit.
On the flipside, “Pulse” takes bare bones vocals and keyboards and runs with them for the entire song, offering an almost “loungey” feel that is surprisingly relaxing, while the similar “Rec” throws a relatively brief fit at the end. The sparse, eerie “M” echoes Pink Floyd with its soaring guitar solo, shimmering riffs and chorale backing vocals, while the airy “Sub Alter” is downright new-agey and “See” sounds like something off the Twin Peaks soundtrack with it shuffling pace, whispered vocals and instrumental hum.
“Regen” is perhaps the album's most “standard” song, a rousing bit of symphonic rock that begins with gentle vocals and piano and builds ever-so-slowly before concluding in a rousing wash of guitar and orchestration. It's as epic a power ballad, of sorts, that Ihsahn's ever done, but it’s one of the rare genuinely accessible moments here.
Das Seelenbrechen is certainly Ihsahn's most daring and difficult solo release. It’s certainly not for everyone, but if you liked the more unconventional side of his earlier work, then this will be right up your alley. If not, well, there’s always the Emperor reunion shows next summer, if you can get there.