The prog wizard who really should need absolutely no introduction is back with (solo) album number four. Again it has cover art that is completely naff and leaves me thinking huh what on earth is that all about? (Later I discover it’s an upside down Friedrich Nietzsche’) The title is Latin for hermit and that does however make sense, perhaps to the cover as well. This aside one should never judge books by covers and all that and once you dip inside and get to the music itself, if you are already a fan then this should be another instalment of the Norseman’s career that you will find as wondrous as everything that has come before it. If not wait a couple of weeks and you can revisit the past with the release of a tribute album to Ihsahn’s former band (who I am determined not to name in this review) instead.
Having finished his trilogy of albums it is time to move on but you are not really going to notice a radical change here from his previous works. On hand to help out we have members of his live band Leprous as well as some special guests such as Jeff Loomis and Devin Townsend.
‘Arrival’ is where it all starts with some finally textured melody flowing all around Ihsahn’s craggy rasps which just when you are getting used to it is changed to clean harmony that would give a the likes of Spandau Ballet or ABC a run for their money. The guitar work is scorching when it goes into a solo and although I hate things that are overblown and showing off this has me gurning along and playing air guitar without hesitation. ‘The Paranoid’ changes tack and batters in on a full black swagger, driving the musicianship at a relentless pace and keeping it venomously charged vocally; it could be the continuation of…. there is even a death rasp in there. Lightening the mood we get one of the catchiest choruses of the album and the song will continue to have you both banging your head and singing along. I think this could be a new fave live number.
It is a pretty epic album at times and we are informed that it is the artists longest to date. This has allowed him to put some pretty epic tracks on it too like 9 minute number ‘The Eagle And The Snake.’ This sees the first appearance of Shining saxophonist Jorgen Munkeby, indisputably one of the best musicians of said instrument about. It’s a brief encounter but there is plenty more to come and I think it’s fair to say if you hate the sound of the sax, this album might be best avoided. Keeping to the background here the guitar takes over with some progtastic weaving and wafting that really draws you into things. Along with both gruff and clean vocals there are many light and shade textures about this and although somewhat mind bending musically it naturally develops and allows you to keep up with it, bringing back the sax and spiralling dreamily away. After starting in a real gnarly and hateful fashion ‘Catharsis’ breezes into a delightfully airy chorus perfectly juxtaposing extremes like a cool wind on a blindingly hot day. But you are again on fire as the Empirical swagger of ‘Something Out There’ blazes in. Flailing up and down the scales this is one of the most frenzied parts of the album but again the melody is rich and fantastically defined.
I particularly like the last couple of tracks here; again this is partly due to Munkeby’s contribution. ‘The Grave’ is cold and ugly with the discordant sax screech setting you right on edge. The vocals clamour here and this is like a bad nightmare with the somewhat avant jazz etched delivery getting into the veins like a dark heroin nod. The heroin reference no doubt comes from me thinking of this as similar in mood toHowardShore’s excellent Naked Lunch soundtrack. Thankfully my keyboard has not yet turned into a giant cockroach. We finish with ‘Departure’ not so much stating the obvious as completing the circle and doing so in a fraught and burly manner with coruscating, turbulent jagged instrumentation and vocals at intense levels. Luckily it lightens and again does completely the opposite to how the track started out leaving you unnerved and tense knowing that the disparate styles are going to joust until conclusion. Final trick is the addition of some vocals from Heidi Solberg Tveitan (more Peccatum please).
Eremita is a complex and incredibly mature listening experience as you would expect from the man behind it. It probably is not for everyone and is an album that takes a while to get into, once the penny drops though it does so with fantastic clarity. The question I am left with is would this work better in a dark venue or at a festival? It certainly deserves to be heard live but for the moment the album shall get plenty more plays from me.
(8/10 Pete Woods)