It’s been a couple of years since we last heard from Ihsahn with last album Àmr and it seems his plans for 2020 are to release a couple of 5 track EP’s dedicated to his home country. As he is going it alone in the studio (there are certainly no other musicians involved in the recording according to any notes I have in front of me) this allows him to take the reins completely on themes, as well as musical direction which has in this case on the three new songs taken more of a blackened direction than a progressive one. There’s also a bit of fun involved too with a couple of covers which we shall arrive at in due course. It of course leaves him the time to organise and play those all-important (to some) shows with his (ahem) heritage band.

With opener ‘Stridig’ it is quickly evident that this is harder and more in the extreme mould than anything we have heard from thee black wizard in a while. Strident tones jab away and stab like a murder in a slasher movie and the vocals are coarse and guttural. Pace is suitably dashing and close to frantic and guitar nuances head back to the days of both Emperor and even Peccatum. There is some fluidity and although driving the melody is strong allowing a sombre midway mark of gloomy acoustic work to direct things before a final madcap gallop to the finish. The spirited Nord starts gracefully and the Norwegian lyrics are notable giving it the feel of its true origins. Choral parts flow and it breezes along taking you by the hand and leading you through the geographic peaks and forests of its homeland. There’s a definite pine-scented waft about it and the thick bass tones and meandering fretwork are as captivating as the harsh growls are feral. Some brass tones also infect and are subtle here but more pronounced in lead track Telemark, the regional district which apparently “In 2020 became part of the larger Vestfold og Telemark county. The brass adds a bluesy and fragrant airy vibe to proceedings and here progressive near folky elements unfold giving the musicianship a near elemental vibe that one might find in more recent Borknagar or Vintersorg material. No doubt those with means to translate the gravid Norse lyrics will find congruence to their poeticism too. Personally, I can find little to fault these three tracks and the fact the dynamism of these songs are designed to also be included in future solo concerts is not lost on me.

There’s already been some interesting, annoying, catchy as hell covers in 2020 as anyone who has heard Kirk Windstein infectiously delivering Aqualung or the whole of the somewhat irreverent new Supersuckers album will attest. Here we get the not so obvious Lenny Kravitz stomper Rock n’ Roll Is Dead and the dated and honestly going through the motions Iron Maiden classic Wrathchild. The former is up front and guaranteed to confuse black clad masses into wondering just how they find themselves cutting dad dancing-moves and boogieing on the dance-floor and as for the latter, well horns will be held aloft and its sassy and fun but frankly I can take or leave it. The question it is likely to leave is just what is planned for the second EP? Till then this should keep most fans more than happy.

(7.5/10 Pete Woods)