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Across the past three deacdes Ihsahn has metamorphosised from the ungodly leader of one Black Metal’s leading lights into an irrepressible solo singer whose current body of work can comfortably be embraced by an audience who’ve never so much as looked at a tin of corpsepaint.
This year, we need something to stop us all from going sane, and the Norwegian has certainly obliged with his rapid-fire release of two EPs. Pharos is the second and is perhaps something of an ‘Ihshan light’, following the previously released, Telemark, which was a far moodier affair.
As with Telemark, Ihsahn has peeled back the lid on some new material (the first three songs) followed by two covers, all neatly shoehorned into a bitesize 25-minute box of guilty pleasures.
“Losing Altitude” is a bewitching opener full of rich melody through which Ihsahn’s voice skips with not so much as a raised voice in sight. As with “Spectre at the Feast,” some of the sublime melodies are reminiscent of Ghost at their imperious life-affirming best. But while the Cardinal performs in the midst of great theatrical spectacle, Ihsahn’s delivery is less showman but all the more intimate and emotive because of it.
The EP’s title track does bring the mood and tone down a shade, a much more sombre statement, gently meandering with the addition of choral voices adding further gravitas with a hint of more sinister forces at work here.
So to the two covers, starting with “Roads” a song that belongs to UK outfit and Mercury Prize winning trio Portishead, on which Ihsahn reaches up to a higher pitch than we’ve possible ever heard him before on the Bristolians’ miserabilist anthem.
On the Telemark EP Ihsahn included a Lenny Kravitz cover. He’s pulled another machiavellian masterstroke this time around by covering A-ha‘s haunting tearjerker “Manhattan Skyline”. As with fellow Norwegian’s Ulver, Ihsahn has shed some of his old skin to produce something far removed from the sound that made his name.
Ihsahn’s Emperor reign is still very much alive and kicking of course. But on Pharos he scratches an itch that is clearly niggling away at him. To his credit he cares not what some of the Emperor army may make of this radio-friendly release. Of course such is the esteem in which he is quite rightly held, that whether he’s performing in corpsepaint or polo neck sweaters the faithful will remain unwavering in their respect and admiration.
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