Ihsahn’s latest effort, After is a make or break affair for the long term die hard fan. While this album has gotten heavier with lots of heavy palm muting and crushing tone, it has gotten more experiemntal as well, with lots of saxophone playing included in the songs. Ihsahn introduces the utilisation of an 8-string guitar for the recording of this album, making the overall sound of the album even heavier than before.
The opener, The Barren Lands start off with what sounds like a riff taken off the previous albums, reminding listeners where Ihsahn left off in the first 2 instalments of this trilogy, also showcasing his influences. There are even Dream Theater moments in the song between the 2 and 3 minute mark!. A Grave Inversed is a good example of Ihsahn showing his ecleptic side of his musical ingenuity. Mixing heavy guitarring with erratic saxophones playing in the background, coupled with the furious drumming, it can either make a listener be attracted or be perplexed by the weird contrasting sounds. Note the last few minutes where the saxophone commands the listener’s attention with lots of saxophone (shall I say, riffing?) parts. Weird? This is but the beginning.
The title track gives the listener a break at the beginning of the song, with the signature sound that Ihsahn has created for himself in previous albums, Adversary and angL, with a heavy atmosphere which gives way to the heaviness that is so prominent on this album halfway through the song. The soothing chorus with Ihsahn’s clean vocals with the keyboards towards the end of the song then slows to an acoustic ending to a track that displays what Ihsahn’s music is all about. Frozen Lake on Mars is perhaps one of the more straightforward and heavier numbers, all the while keeping the erratic time signature.
Undercurrent, the 2nd longest track on the album clocking in at 10 minutes. Starting off with an acoustic passage with clean vocals and a nice bass line in the background, it displays Ihsahn’s appreciation for progressive rock and his influences. At around the 3:00 mark, a foreboding riff in the background breaks the calm that has been set by the introduction before breaking into a full-fledged saxophone solo at the 4:15 mark, which heightens the tension in the music before breaking into the next track, Austere. Just as you think that Austere is going to be a filler track with its soft melodies, soft instrumentation and clean vocals, Ihsahn once again throws listeners a curveball by again including a 70s prog influenced/Per Wiberg-sounding (don’t ask me why him, it just sounds like something that he does!) keyboard solo in the middle of the track followed some clean guitar playing, an apt introduction to the next track indeed. The technical show-off continues throughout the next track, Heaven’s Black Sea, with extended guitar and saxophone solos.
The final track, which is the other epic on this album, starts off with a riff taken from the previous opus on the album, Undercurrent. The saxophone really shines on this track, more often than not taking the role of the lead instrument all the way to the end of the track. The track ends with the same riff that started off the track, only slower and more melancholic, marking the end of a trilogy that started with 2006’s Adversary.
Fans of Ihsahn’s work in Emperor and black metal be prepared to be disappointed. This album is a heavily progressive metal influenced work and there is barely, if any, black metal influences present besides Ihsahn’s trademark shrieking. This album shows Ihsahn’s ability to mix his various influences into one big melting pot and come up with something that showcases his influences yet not be a clone of them. My only gripes are the shortage of guitar solos on the album, and at times the buildup to the climax can take too long, which could get slightly boring.