Sound — 10
Did you know that Ihsahn is 34 years old? You'd think he would be getting settled into his 40's next to David Vincent and Tom G Warrior considering his elder statesman' status in extreme metal, but no! The man continues to grow and explore, many years after he and his bandmates in Emperor made the album that some would use to define him In The Nightside Eclipse'. By any degree of logic, a solo project is going to be a more accurate representation of the self than any band's output, but Ihsahn's first two solo albums did seem distant, like the real personality was being a bit shy but putting on a brave face nonetheless. On After', though, he's the god-damn life of the party.
Oh man, eight string guitars! Saxophones! Yes, yes. You can picture the internet briefly taking Traced In Air' out of its anus to see what Ihsahn's up to there, but those particular quirks are only contributing to a far grander overhaul. Despite the addition of a low Z string, the guitars are no longer mechanical or callous, they're warm and creamy; a fantastic, prominent bass sound is brought to life by Spiral Architect's Lars K. Norberg and then there's that saxophone, but frankly, there's not that much to say about it. It's simply a natural extension of the album's atmosphere, another equally expressive voice when the man himself isn't singing.
Well and truly distanced from any black metal conventions, After' is a prog rock album that's been written using its creator's musical vocabulary, and woven together with that contextual extremity. Exploring different avenues is the key here; Undercurrent' is Frippian songwriting with its Sunday best on, while A Grave Inversed' is like a gigantic, overexcited puppy - perfectly capable of tearing you limb from limb, but more than content to just sit and lick your face.
Lyrics — 9
angL's uninspiring song titles hardly invited listeners to really get into the lyrics, so it's nice to see this album's mystery and psychedelia doing that job quickly. Thoughtful and well-written as the lyrics are, the real success here is in every word matching the mood of the music in which it appears. Intensity fluctuates in the music and the lyrics move accordingly - Austere' constructs still life while On The Shores' makes it move. High-pitched, almost-melodic wails have been left at the wayside after mixed results in the past, but his clean voice has seldom felt more at home than it does on the title track. The only other thing that's really gone unchanged, actually, is Ihsahn's charred, bitter rasp, which suits his who's your daddy' promo shots quite nicely despite its raw, visceral bite.
Overall Impression — 10
Every year, a previously solid artist will put out an album that's such a step up that you begin to wonder what's been missing before. I've spent the course of this review elaborating on this concept, but After' truly represents metal lodging its sword into the untarnished ground of this decade and declaring itself present, ready to move on. In 2010, Gorgoroth and Immortal will be reaping the rewards of rebirth, Darkthrone will be putting out another reason to prefer the 90's and one Mr. Vikernes will try to reclaim his legacy, but Ihsahn is only now revealing what mastery he is truly capable of. Let's hope the world listens, cause if it does, it's gonna be an interesting year.