Ihsahn – Arktis

You know that autistic friend you have that doesn’t really act autistic? Like, for the most part, he’s completely normal, talks to people well, communicates fine, doesn’t do anything remarkably strange, that sort of thing. But at the same time, there’s always something a tad off about their mannerisms? Like their speech pattern might be a tad abnormal, they might accidentally interrupt you before saying sorry, and you can tell they have trouble making eye contact. And then once in a while, they’ll just ask a question or say something that’s just totally off and bizzare, to the point of being inappropriate, and then like an hour later they apologize? That’s this album. Arktis is full of great music, well constructed songs, and chilling harmonies, but hindered by this innate bit of awkwardness in everything it does.

I have to first talk about the vocals. The harsh vocals are definitely not optimal. Do they “work”, I mean sure. Lots of things can “work”. Whipped cream on a hamburger “works”, but I don’t think anyone in their right mind would say it’s a good idea in most situations. Ihsahn seems to be desperately trying to have a connection to his black metal roots in an album that aside from the vocals, is devoid of any of it. There’s blast beats i think twice on the entire album, and even if you argue the guitar tone is sometimes “black metalish”, note that a black metal guitar tone is not unique to black metal. If anything this has more in common with Alt metal than black metal. Back to the point, the vocals don’t work because nothing about the music supports them. They sound just out of place with the music being just heavy prog metal with fucking industrial and jazz influences. Clean vocals would improve the music substantially, and this is proven every time the clean vocals do come in on this record. Now, do they exactly ruin the music, not really.  But the point isn’t that they make the album bad, it’s that they hinder the album from being it’s best.

It’s the same with the random ass industrial synths. For fucks sake South Winds is half a dance track. Nothing else in the entire album sounds like it, and despite the fact that on repeated listens, it is kind of a cool track, it doesn’t fit with the theme of the album. Or at least it wouldn’t if the album even had a theme.

My biggest critique of Arktis is it’s lack of unifying elements. Musically, there’s nothing that unifies this album as album rather than a collection of songs. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but the problem is there are enough stylistic consistencies to make it so that it doesn’t sound like a collection of songs, but not enough to create a full picture of a complete album. The closest thing I can think of is that they have a heavy guitar sound, but you also have tracks like Crooked Red Line which sounds like it belongs in an entirely different album. Again, it’s not exactly obvious to the point of completely detracting from any quality music that’s put forth, but it’s something I noticed and the various weird quirks in each track managed to take me out of the album more than they did to keep me interested in it.

And then you have Celestial Violence. Where the actual fuck was that the whole record? The large majority of the time you have what is essentially heavy sporkprog with raspy harsh vocals because the frontman doesn’t want to let go of his origins, and then suddenly to close the album we get what would happen if Muse had continued to make good music after 2006. The have the haunting piano, fantastic orchestration, and the buildup to a brilliant climax. I mean yeah, that climax lasts the entire final minute of the song, and consists nothing of overly euphoric guitars and the singer saying the title of the song, but still. It’s a pretty large leap in quality from the rest of the album and makes me wonder why nothing else really approached that the rest of the way.

Despite me shitting on this album for most of the review, this was actually a very decent listen. All of the faults I listed were nothing super substantial, just reasons why I couldn’t rate this higher. At it’s core, Ihsahn has created an album full of fun, if maybe confusing and annoying quirks, centered around extremely heavy guitars and some gorgeous harmonies on occasion. If only it didn’t get in its own way by trying too hard to be unique.