When Emperor disbanded I had not even started listening to the band. And only after I heard them in around 2004 did I realise the weight of the matter. Coming across umpteen black metal bands after Emperor it was pretty much clear to me that Ihsahn is and will remain the best black metal vocalist. For me ofcourse. But then after repeatedly hearing Emperor and drooling over their music, I realised even my wait will not see another Emperor release.
And Ihsahn did a favor to me and countless others by finding a way to stay connected through his work. 2006 saw the icon take the other extreme side of himself ahead. Progressive influences were seen in Emperor‘s last release and the band Ihsahn picked up from where Emperor left.
With 2 years between each of their albums, Ihsahn has shown a variation in music that only a few can possibly demonstrate in their career. If The Adversary and angL were just glimpses of the same, After comes as a release you need to have in your archives. This time Ihsahn has incorporated jazz influences making it tougher for me to group the album under a genre.
After has a rather mellow start compared to their previous two albums. Opening track The Barren Lands has a melancholic touch to it, and conveying this feeling through music is something I always welcome. It is one of my favorite tracks from the album. Listening to Ihsahn sing lyrics that go this scenery, so beautiful, in thirst for more made me forget his roots. But only for a while.
Before I proceed, at the end of song one Ihsahn is still the harsh vocalist I respect and now he has mastered clean parts too. His clean vocals express the mood appropriately. The band uses a not-so-metal saxophone in most parts of the album and infact the sax plays an integral part on some tracks. This comes alive on A Grave Immersed, Undercurrent and Heaven’s Black Sea. Specially in A Grave Immersed where the sax has been played really fast without shifting from the metal focus.
To see progression at its best the tracks are After, Undercurrent and On The Shores. After starts off with completely clean vocals. Its a soothing track and has various pattern changes making it a strong title track.
Frozen Lakes On Mars has some good riffs and repetitive ones at that. It got my head banging more than any other track. Solos have been included all over. Metal comes alive on this one.
Initial few seconds of the next song Undercurrent somehow reminded me of Bon Jovi‘s It’s My Life. But thats that. At ten minutes this one is the second longest song. Yes, there is an even longer one. Undercurrent is a rather slow track with an acoustic part thrown in for good. The song builds up slowly and the sax has been put to some great use here.
Austere is what I call a beautiful song. Another slow track, it remains slow throughout. Something makes me feel that After was intended to have less harsh vocals, leaving me asking for more of what Ihsahn does best. Its an otherwise ordinary track but speaks volumes musically.
Heaven’s Black Sea is a trippy song. Its like a tale being told. A change from the previous couple of slower tracks, this one has an unexpected start. An elaborate solo is present before the sax takes over for another solo. The song ends where it began, making
On The Shores is the last track and is the longest. But presence of so many progressive layers within a single song does not make it seem like its over ten minutes. Its the only track where I felt the sax does not fit in the way it does on others. By now we are familiar with the amalgamation of saxophone with extreme music and so I sense the uneasiness on this one. But its all good, as it seems this way only at certain points.
The drums and bass have been played by Asgeir Mickelson and Lars Norberg (both from technical/progressive metal band Spiral Architect) respectively. The captivating saxophone player is Jorgen Monekby (from Norwegian blackjazz band Shining). Production-wise I cannot possibly have any complaints. The album has been mixed by Jens Bogren (Opeth, Katatonia). Gone are the days when you have a perfect album releasing, and After is very close to being a complete near-perfect one.
You will have to hear After atleast twice before judging as it grows on you. Thats the beauty of progressive stuff. Ihsahn‘s next will be awaited by me and I hardly await albums anyways thanks to certain disastrous comebacks last year slay(er)ing the wait. I would highly recommend After. Its not just for the average metal heads but for anyone who respects music. After is another fantabulous effort and a new direction in the musical journey of Ihsahn, who is a legend in his own right.
Rating : 4/5
key tracks : The Barren Lands, After, Frozen Lakes On Mars, On The Shores
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