If Ihsahn, the erstwhile Emperor frontman, hasn’t been on your radar of late, you really are missing out on one of the most interesting voices in contemporary extreme metal. Not only does he bring the legitimacy and history of second-wave black metal to the table, but he’s also one of the few artists willing to let go and break that mould wherever it may be required. And while Telemark, his latest EP release, isn’t quite as avant-garde as his flirtation with synth-ridden electronica on 2018’s Àmr (read our review here) it is still an exciting and innovative selection of music. And, in the same breath, one that is likely to be better received than Àmr, which was almost too much of a departure for many fans.
Coincidentally releasing on the same day as his collaboration with Behemoth frontman Nergal’s side project, Me And That Man, “By The River” (discussed here), Telemark is a genre-spanning and thrilling ride. Consequently, Ihsahn’s decision to release this as an EP makes sense: you can almost liken the shorter, more impactful EP format to an episode of a television series or serial that has you eagerly awaiting more, rather than an epic, but drawn-out feature film.
There’s a strong representation of the extreme metal flavour long-time fans may hope for on “Stridig” and “Nord,” but both of these are still offset by abstract, dissonant stabs and jazzy brass sections – followed by the narrative, sprawling and the almost folksy title track. This simple melodic approach is in itself appropriate, as Telemark is the Norwegian county where Ihsahn spent his early life, a very traditional region – also informing his choice to use Norwegian lyrics, a first for Ihsahn as a solo artist.
“Stridig” sets the predominantly bare-bones metal tone for the first half of the Telemark EP.
Following these songs with two cover versions is another departure for Ihsahn: the latter, a revisiting of Iron Maiden’s “Wrathchild” makes a lot of sense in terms of the EP’s nostalgic theme – as well as its eventual planned live performance. Plus, it’s a great showcase for Ihsahn’s impressive and often under-appreciated guitar chops. It’s the first of the two covers that really raises an eyebrow, though: Lenny Kravitz’s “Rock and Roll is Dead” is, like much of his back catalogue, hugely catchy and overall a fun, grooving example of guitar rock – but it does seem just a tad mainstream for an artist of Ihsahn’s background. Admittedly, it does spring from the mid-90s (1995, to be painfully exact) so it is relevant from a chronological point of view, stemming from the same period as Emperor’s genre-defying In the Nightside Eclipse, even if it does represent a far removed end of the rock spectrum. On both of these cuts, however, Ihsahn’s stylistic decision to incorporate a tasteful sprinkling of horns still makes itself known.
Overall, Telemark achieves exactly what Ihsahn set out to do: an homage to his roots, musically and geographically, that is tailor-made for live performances while still showcasing Ihsahn’s quirky sense of the avant-garde. Here is a musician who truly knows his own mind and is constantly pushing against his own boundaries, growing in skill and style with every subsequent release.
Telemark Track Listing:
04. Rock and Roll is Dead (Lenny Kravitz cover)
05. Wrathchild (Iron Maiden cover)
Run Time: 25:32
Release Date: February 14, 2020
Record Label: Candlelight Records