Review of “Das Seelenbrechen” by Ihsahn (2013)
“Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.” Sigmund Freud
And let it be so. I love Ihsahn. I respect Ihsahn. The legacy of Emperor, experiments of Peccatum, melodies of Hardingrock, his work on “Somnium” by Thou Shalt Suffer and on “Blood Must Be Shed” by Zyklon-B charm, bewitch and fascinate, leaving nobody indifferent. For many metalheads around the globe – including those already worshiping “Das Seelenbrechen” – these words will be the ultimate truth. But on the general background of extensive praise to “Das Seelenbrechen” I still feel the need to pour some cold water on this work of Ihsahn.
From 2006 on Mastermind has been contributing heavily to his solo project. With the first two albums being reminiscent of the days of Emperor glory, “After” (2010) saw a drastic positive change in Ihsahn’s approach to music. The next two releases did not continue the “After” line, but were supposed to take the music into even higher – avant-garde – dimensions. That’s where Ihsahn started to depart from the realm of metal into something, which is quite difficult to clearly describe with words.
With “Das Seelenbrechen” release (October 21st, 2013 through Candlelight records) Mastermind clearly entered the phase of his avant-garde voyage, when you start subconsciously asking yourself questions like “Is this really so extremely sophisticated and cool and I am deaf or is it something weak and empty, but packed into beautiful music genre names and covered with musician’s glory and charisma?” With all respect to Ihsahn, I am ready to admit to be deaf. But looking on the release without any bias, I must confess I do not know.
I consider this album to be much weaker than its predecessors. The CD lasts almost 50 minutes, consisting of 10 mid-tempo and slow songs, with most of them lacking any comprehensible structure. In the end it does not really make any difference: one could easily write one 50-minute long song instead of 10 we have here. Listening to this patchwork of riffs, passages and abrupt tunes one could ask if these are songs at all or just put-together sets of stand-alone riffs and tunes. Sometimes the CD reminds an illogical and lacking any sense stream of consciousness in surrealism tradition, transformed into music framework. Some will admire and worship it, pointing it out as the distinguishing feature of the release. But as I noted above, you can never be sure if you are not cheated on. At some point of time you might even catch yourself thinking that “Das Seelenbrechen” somehow sounds like a mixture of early Ihsahn solo stuff with Peccatum from “Lost in Reverie” era, but without female vocals. In this light, the ideas, expressed by this “music”, seem to be not so new or innovative, actually.
I would divide the CD in two parts and I believe the observation of mine above may be a suitable example for the first part of “Das Seelenbrechen”, consisting of the tracks “Hiber”, “Regen”, “NaCl”, “Pulse”. In a nutshell, all four songs are the examples of quite beautiful music. The opening track “Hiber” with its broken rhythm structure and guitars-keyboards interchange of passages provides you with the first impression of what kind of album this must be. Ihsahn’s aggressive trademark screams sound as fresh as always, naturally interchanging with charming clear vocals throughout the following songs. “Pulse” features only clear vocals, with the main melody line being somewhat reminiscent of “Nykken” from Hardingrock. The undisputable stand-out track among the first four is “Regen”. I would call this 5 minute long song a quintessence of Ihsahn’s creative work of the last years: the interplay of clear vocals and screams, keyboard intro, tense guitar work and pompous chorus create a beautifully sounding epic. “NaCl” was released on a single earlier this year. This is a “Hiber”-type song that fits perfectly the general framework of “Das Seelenbrechen”.
The praise stops here, because the picture drastically changes at this point. The track “Tacit 2” serves as a dividing line on this CD. The songs to follow are “Tacit”, “Rec”, “M”, “Sub Ater” and “See” and any attentive listener will surely notice what contrast they create to the first four tracks. The more or less melodic approach gives the way to something uncouth, something ill-matched, leaving an impression of randomly put together riffs and keyboard passages. This is especially true about “Tacit 2” and “Tacit” tracks, with the first piece sounding like outright cacophony, noise, giving you a hint on what to expect after. The rest of the songs of “Das Seelenbrechen” seem to be just a filler for the CD, lacking any comprehensible and memorable melody lines or interesting composer’s decisions. They are lame and sound foreign to this album. “See” should give you a clear understanding of that as the last track of the album. Now, look back – what a contrast you see from the first to the last song!
And the final remark to sum it all up – this CD is not metal. There is no metal here. Not a second. Is it good or bad, one should decide for themselves. I am not here to judge the CD as to how it must sound. I just state the fact.
I believe Ihsahn overcomplicated himself in his desire to escape from some formulas and stylistic patterns he can or could be trapped in. But now you as a listener find yourself trapped: questioning yourself what Ihsahn actually plays will quite puzzle you. I can only hope that Mastermind will realize that he is still more or less metal performer and will not record 50 minutes of “avant-garde” hissing and noises for his next release.
Originally written for “Metal Archives” and published there on October 30th, 2013.