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Telemark is the first of two EP’s to be released this year by the incomparable Ihsahn, this opening offering featuring three of his own compositions with a couple of covers helping extend the rarely less than scintillating soundtrack to 25 minutes.
Forever renowned of course as the frontman of Norwegian Black Metal legends Emperor, Ihsahn is very much an intellectual of the genre, probably happier in his luxurious Scandi chunky cardigans as the corpsepaint with which the world first discovered him. Emperor do thankfully remain very much a part of his working life but when functioning under his own name Ihsahn has the space and licence to spread his wings more fully and in directions Emperor would not necessarily embark on.
Telemark is the name of the Norwegian county where Ihsahn grew up and still resides to this day. So by naming this EP after his birthplace tells you immediately what a personal piece of work this is and how it also builds nicely on the back of his most recent full length releases Arktis (2016) and Ámr (2018).
The trajectory of these songs in part reflects the brutal nature of Ihsahn’s character and we will learn in time if the follow-up to Telemark highlights some of more melodic tapestries. This Candlelight release is also notable for the reason that the lyrics are sung in Norwegian, making this whole project even more of a personal experience.
“Stridig” is an immense opener. It carries the urgency and desperation of a runaway train perilously clinging to the rails as it gathers speed, dangerously out of control. A prog-like pause midway through the journey offers a chance to recalibrate the wheels before the deep shuddering grooves returns, Ihshan irrepressible as he snarls across the top. The track is also reflective of Telemark’s ambivalence to the outside world, which you suspect is almost a badge worn with pride by the locals.
While similarly mid-paced, the initially smoldering “Nord” quickly reveals itself to be a much more opulent composition with rich waves of Norwegian air blowing harmoniously through the channels as the always innovative Ihsahn plots a tantalising path that crosses scything solos and rainbow soundwaves far warmer than anything you’re likely to find lurking in Emperor’s locker.
The title track is the longest piece here at almost eight minutes and certainly the most whimsical as Ihshan delves down into his nation’s folk heritage, leading to some dynamic riffage fueled by the traditional Norse instrument the Hardanger fiddle. Within what is a white-knuckle ride there’s also a surplus of blastbeats just in case we lose sight of who’s pulling the strings with Ihsahn also reminding us of his voluptuous vocal prowess.
The presence of two covers offers an insight into the great man’s own musical shapers with a lusty interpretation of Lenny Kravitz’s timeless “Rock & Roll Is Dead” followed by a technicoloured twist on Iron Maiden’s iconic “Wrathchild”. Both songs are embellished by Ihsahn’s intervention as he offers his own take on both their original attitude and aesthetics.
While his original plans to showcase these new songs before the faithful at Inferno were of course kiboshed by Covid-19 no-one can expect to reign as long as this particular Emperor without the occasional setback. But there’s no sign of him relinquishing his grip on the throne any time soon.
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