Ihsahn’s Solo Journey: From Emperor to Progressive Metal Icon

If there’s one musician who embodies the spirit of progressive metal, it’s Ihsahn. Known for his daring musical explorations and genre-blurring experiments, Ihsahn has made an indelible mark on the world of metal.

Ihsahn
Ihsahn

Ihsahn’s Journey to Solo Stardom

Ihsahn, born Vegard Sverre Tveitan, is a name that commands respect in the world of progressive metal. Many know him as the frontman of the influential black metal band Emperor, but it is his work as a solo artist that has cemented his reputation as a vanguard in the genre.

It all began in 2006, a few years after Emperor’s disbandment. Ihsahn decided it was time to embark on a new musical journey. His solo career launched with the release of his debut album “The Adversary”. This was a significant turning point in his career as it presented an opportunity for Ihsahn to showcase his versatility and explore a myriad of musical influences outside the black metal framework. The album was well received, lauded for its progressive elements and the integration of classical and jazz influences, signifying a bold and promising start to his solo endeavors.

In 2008, Ihsahn released “AngL”, a venture deeper into progressive territories, while still retaining the aggression that was a signature of his previous work. This album introduced more clean vocals and complex song structures, hinting at a musician eager to push boundaries and unafraid to experiment.

Following a similar timeline, Ihsahn continued to shape his progressive identity with the albums “After” (2010), “Eremita” (2012), and “Das Seelenbrechen” (2013). Each release progressively steered further from his black metal origins and more into avant-garde and progressive territories, revealing a musician constantly in the process of evolution and refinement.

Ihsahn’s later albums, “Arktis” (2016), “Ámr” (2018), and “Pharos” and “Telemark” (both in 2020), further reinforced his reputation as a progressive metal innovator. With each release, he demonstrated a consistent ability to incorporate diverse elements ranging from electronica to traditional Norwegian folk tunes, keeping his sound fresh and engaging for his fanbase.

The Early Days: From ‘The Adversary’ to ‘After’

When Ihsahn embarked on his solo journey in 2006 with the release of “The Adversary”, many were intrigued to see what this giant of black metal could accomplish on his own. Thankfully, he didn’t disappoint. “The Adversary” was a testament to Ihsahn’s ability to construct a complex and layered sound, combining elements of black metal, progressive rock, and even classical music. It showcased his capacity to embrace experimentation and push the boundaries of metal music.

In the making of “The Adversary”, Ihsahn played almost all of the instruments himself, except for the drums. This hands-on approach gave the album a personal touch, with each track reflecting Ihsahn’s creative vision in its purest form. It was a daring debut that set the tone for the rest of his solo career.

Following the success of “The Adversary,” Ihsahn released “AngL” in 2008. This album delved deeper into his progressive side, featuring intricate song structures and more use of clean vocals. “AngL” also marked the first of many collaborations with Mikael Åkerfeldt, the lead vocalist of the Swedish progressive metal band Opeth. Their partnership brought about “Unhealer,” a hauntingly beautiful track that remains a fan favorite.

The year 2010 saw the release of “After,” the final album in Ihsahn’s initial trilogy. This record marked a shift in Ihsahn’s sound, veering away from the more straightforward metal of his previous albums towards a more atmospheric and introspective sound. “After” is known for its extensive use of saxophone, an unusual choice for a metal album, but one that further proved Ihsahn’s willingness to experiment and push genre boundaries.

Throughout these early years, Ihsahn’s solo career was marked by an evolution in sound that moved from the dense and complex to the atmospheric and moody. He continued to show his ability to combine disparate musical elements and create a unique sonic experience. This trend of musical innovation would continue to be a hallmark of his career, taking him and his listeners to new heights with each subsequent release.

The Evolution Continues: From ‘Eremita’ to ‘Das Seelenbrechen’

Ihsahn’s relentless spirit of innovation didn’t waver as he moved into the middle years of his solo career. The albums “Eremita” (2012) and “Das Seelenbrechen” (2013) saw Ihsahn push his creative boundaries even further, demonstrating his continued commitment to his art and his refusal to be confined by genre limitations.

“Eremita”, which means hermit in Latin, truly lived up to its title. This album was characterized by a sense of isolation and introspection, both in its lyrics and its sound. It saw Ihsahn move further away from his black metal roots, embracing a more avant-garde style of progressive metal. Notable tracks like “The Eagle and the Snake” and “The Grave” showcased Ihsahn’s skilled guitar work and penchant for unusual instrumentation, further solidifying his reputation as a musical pioneer.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of “Eremita” was the inclusion of several guest artists, such as saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby and Devin Townsend, another heavy hitter in the progressive metal scene. Their contributions added new layers of complexity to Ihsahn’s music, resulting in a rich tapestry of sound that captivated listeners.

Just a year later, Ihsahn took another creative leap with the release of “Das Seelenbrechen,” an album that was a radical departure from anything he’d produced before. Inspired by artists like Scott Walker and Kristoffer Rygg, “Das Seelenbrechen” saw Ihsahn explore the realms of ambient and experimental music, a move that took many fans by surprise.

Each track on “Das Seelenbrechen” was an exploration of sound and mood, often featuring unconventional song structures and an emphasis on atmosphere over melody. It was a bold artistic choice, but one that showcased Ihsahn’s versatility and his willingness to take risks in the name of musical exploration.

Throughout the “Eremita” and “Das Seelenbrechen” era, Ihsahn’s music was defined by its evolution and his drive to constantly push the envelope.

Recent Years: From ‘Arktis’ to ‘Pharos’ and ‘Telemark’

Ihsahn’s creative journey took yet another unexpected turn with the release of “Arktis” in 2016. This album marked a return to more traditional song structures after the experimental nature of “Das Seelenbrechen”. However, it was far from a regression; rather, it was an example of Ihsahn’s ability to explore new territory while still staying true to his roots.

“Arktis” was received as a vibrant and energetic album, with Ihsahn skillfully weaving together elements of progressive rock, black metal, and even pop. The inclusion of tracks like “Mass Darkness” and “Until I Too Dissolve” showcased his ability to produce catchy, memorable tunes without sacrificing the complexity that his music is known for.

Two years later, Ihsahn released “Ámr”, an album where electronic and synth elements took center stage. This foray into electronica was yet another testament to Ihsahn’s desire to push boundaries and evolve his sound. Tracks like “Arcana Imperii” and “In Rites of Passage” featured heavy synth layers that added a futuristic tone to the album, creating an intricate balance between the organic and electronic.

In 2020, Ihsahn took a unique approach by releasing two EPs, “Telemark” and “Pharos”, instead of a full-length album. “Telemark” was a homage to his black metal roots and Norwegian heritage, while “Pharos” was a softer, more introspective collection of songs, showcasing Ihsahn’s versatility as a songwriter and performer. The juxtaposition between these two EPs exemplified Ihsahn’s broad musical range and his continued commitment to exploring different facets of his creativity.

From the progressive powerhouse of “Arktis” to the electronic explorations of “Ámr”, and the contrasting emotions of “Telemark” and “Pharos”, the recent years of Ihsahn’s solo career have been marked by constant evolution and innovation. His ability to merge genres, experiment with new sounds, and push the boundaries of what is expected from a metal musician is a testament to his status as a true pioneer in the world of progressive metal.

Ihsahn’s Impact: An Icon of Progressive Metal

Reflecting on Ihsahn’s solo career, one cannot help but be struck by the sheer range and depth of his musical explorations. From the dark, aggressive tones of his early work to the avant-garde, experimental sounds of his recent releases, Ihsahn has proven time and again that he is not an artist who can be easily defined or pigeonholed.

His music is characterized by intricate song structures, innovative guitar work, and a blend of harsh and clean vocals, which together create a uniquely captivating soundscape. Each album is a testament to Ihsahn’s impressive musical abilities and his knack for combining disparate elements to create a cohesive and compelling sound.

As we anticipate what lies ahead for Ihsahn, we can be certain of one thing: he will continue to evolve, surprise, and mesmerize us with his musical journeys.