Complex, intricate, yet a little cold
There’s no denying the impact of Ihsahn on the world of metal and progressive music. I’d submit that there are few, if any, who consistently push the envelope with as much free abandon as he but, that being said, the truth is that I’ve rarely been attuned to his musical vision – certainly on his post Emperor work but also as his flagship was in its final years as well. This is a guy that I can appreciate from afar, no doubt, but one who I frequently feel musically at arm’s length from and, with Eremita, his fourth solo effort, I continue to be both appreciative of, yet somewhat disaffected by, his musical vision.
Eremita is Latin for Hermit and it is both a fitting title and an apt description for the 50 odd minutes of material contained within the disc which can be viewed as a continuation of the sound he proffered on After though perhaps a little darker than its predecessor and, arguably, a little more on the stale side. There is a sense of isolation, sparseness, and perhaps even a yearning that speaks loudly through the narrative of the compositions that range in scope from those that could quite happily have found themselves on a late era Emperor album through to those much more in line with the progressive and jazz-influenced experimentations of 2010’s After, the saxophones of Shining’s Jørgen Munkeby included in expanded fashion.
The one-two punch of Arrival and The Paranoid gets Eremita off to a fine start with their driving and up-beat rhythms and almost rock opera feel. OK, I might be exaggerating a tad with the rock opera comparison but there’s something about the soaring melodies and Ihsahn’s heightened use of clean vocals that puts that image into my head each and every time. Anyway, I digress. What really stands out above all else for me with these tracks is the excellent lead work on display. In fact, there are quite a few great solos to be found across Eremita that serve to ground the album a bit more in the rock camp than might have been possible otherwise with all of the experimentation and strangeness going on.
The experimentation isn’t just as a result of the greater use of Munkeby’s saxophone either, though it is a contributing factor, but is also due to a more spastic and freeform approach to the song-writing. It isn’t that the songs are without a centre of gravity or make no sense after you’re familiar with them but rather that they are unpredictable and don’t necessarily conform to the kinds of patterns that you might expect them to. This is actually a really good thing in a lot of ways and there are a number of interesting ideas to be found throughout the album but the problem is that there are just so damn many of them.
What stands in the way of Eremita being more than just an above average curiosity is that it is quite disjointed and frequently jarring, never really settling on a motif or sound for long enough to allow the listener to get comfortable and enjoy the ride, in spite of the relatively consistent adherence to the album’s underlying theme. Hell, maybe that was the point, but, even if that is the case, it certainly made the listening experience less enjoyable for me in the process than had there been a little more clean definition, structuring, and consistency of direction than there is here.
Perhaps Eremita’s greatest flaw is that, in trying to explore the concepts of isolation and loneliness, Ihsahn has been too successful and created a musical soundscape that, while contextually appropriate, also features far too many ideas and representations of said context that whatever it is he’s trying to impart gets lost in the process. It’s a shame too because, taken individually, the vast majority of the tracks are all pretty good – some better than others, no doubt, but all pretty good nonetheless. They just need a stronger glue to hold them all together.
I don’t see any way that someone could reasonably call Eremita a bad album but I’d be lying if I said that it really did a lot for me either. This is another example of Ihsahn doing what Ihsahn does which is likely an excellent thing if you’re already on board with his musical vision but perhaps not so much if you’re more in step with my way of thinking on the matter. Like After before it, Eremita is an album that I have immense respect for but one that I’ll likely not see myself returning to with any kind of regularity.