Reviewed: [February 2020]
Released [2020 Candlelight Records]
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Emperor’s prolific frontman Ihsahn is back with his eighth solo release in Telemark, the first to two EPs he has planned for the coming year, both of which will continue to expand the already broad sonic palette he has explored with his earlier efforts. Telemark is being billed as the “heavier” of the impending EPs, yet it offers some of his most listener-friendly moments amid the metallic clamor.
For instance, there’s the surprising and rather straight-forward cover of Lenny Kravitz’s “Rock & Roll Is Dead” – clean vocals and all – and the unorthodox take on the more familiar Iron Maiden classic “Wrathchild,” which is tweaked here to pair the sax bleats of Shining’s Jørgen Munkeby with the traditional wailing guitars during the choruses and leads, giving it something of a Blues Brothers vibe – and I’m not being facetious. It certainly makes for a bit of a surprise. But once the initial shock wears off, it actually sounds kinda cool. It’s definitely daring, something Ihsahn has had a penchant for throughout his solo career.
The two covers conclude the EP. Prior to that, Ihsahn makes good on his promise of heaviosity – but with the same sort of twist. The opener is the rather direct and potent “Stridig,” which rides the steady gallop of Shining drummer Tobias Ørnes Andersen – at least I’m going to assume it’s him, as he’s been playing in Ihsahn’s live ensemble for a decade – and Ihsahn’s own stirring riffs and snarling voice. And as with all three of the original tunes, the vocals are in his native Norwegian, which makes them sound all the more fearsome, even when things mellow out.
This is especially true on “Nord,” the most easy-going of the new songs, with its “ahh, ahh” backing vocals, prog-rock construction and sinewy, jangly guitars, which Ihsahn contrasts with an agitated wolverine rasp. Even with the rousing flourish at the end, it makes an otherwise inviting song seem downright sinister.
The jaunty title track has something of an Eastern folk feel to it in its serpentine tangle of riffs. But it is delivered with more typical metal tenacity and velocity, thanks to its bracing pace and the beefy hooks and trems Ihsahn scatters liberally about. And again, his commanding vocals bring an undeniably authority.
A constant throughout the EP is Munkeby’s sax, which weaves its way in and out, providing a bit of blues or jazz soulfulness to each track, instead of the avant freakouts of his earlier contributions. This, and the full-on rock sensibilities of the Kravitz cover probably illustrate Ihsahn’s black metal free spirit more than any mere Emperor rehash might. Although that would probably sound pretty cool, too.