Ámr is the seventh full-length album from Ihsahn’s solo work away from Norwegian black metal band, Emperor. Ihsahn has consistently been putting out quality albums roughly every two years, and Ámr lands 25 months after his most recent, well-received album, Arktis.
Arguably for good reason, Ámr has become a fairly polarizing album among Ihsahn fans. Where some consider this a collection of some of the catalog’s greatest songs, others feel the album is stale, and doesn’t do enough to push the envelope. Perhaps unfairly, it is the charge of the progressive musician to constantly surprise his/her audience where other acts can crank out the same regurgitated crap over and over with full applause. I fall in the middle on this one. Ámr, for the most part, sounds like an Ihsahn album. You will not find anything as innovative as you would on After. Most of these songs would fit in fine on angL or Eremita. For the most part, it’s an entertaining collection of decent prog metal songs, with the unique vocals only Ihsahn can provide.
The album opens with a querky, almost videogame-esque keyboard loop. It is fair to feel skeptical straight off the bat, but give it time. The opening track, “Lend me the Eyes of Millenia,” builds nicely, carrying that techno groove throughout, under cascading guitar parts and heart-wrenching screams. It’s a high-energy, atmospheric opener that promises a lot.
We then transition into the premiere single from the album, “Arcana Imperii.” Ihsahn is not reinventing the wheel with this one by any stretch, but it is a stylish, engaging metal track that pairs memorable riffing with the multilayered vocals Ihsahn hangs his hat on. It is an excellent demonstration of how to achieve a complex, dynamic product through the combination of several simple melodies. This one just works, and it’s the clear choice for a single.
“Sámr,” on the other hand, gives credence to some of the critics who find Ámr too old hat. This song is more or less a classic power ballad. The vocals are big, and nice, but they too closely resemble the 80s hair bands most of us have moved on from. The song feels like a much more boring, much less effective “The Eagle and the Snake” off Eremita. Also, merely calling out “emptiness!” over and over is not enough to make me actually emote. It’s cliché , approaching juvenile. I understand the intention of putting a slower song here after the opening two face-rippers, but it’s not up to expectation.
Track four, “One Less Enemy,” feels a little dated as well. The beat reminds me of Opeth’s song “Sorceress” off the album of the same name. This track is repetitive, and doesn’t quite reach either the grooviness nor the foreboding quality it seems to aim for. Even the guitar solo toward the end feels stock at best. Where “Lend me the Eyes of Millennia” succeeds at orchestrating many simple parts into one great sound, “One Less Enemy” fails to transcend the mundane. Boring plus boring equals boring in this case. Also, what’s up with the cartoonish, ghostly tones at the end of the song?
“Where You are Lost and I Belong,” like “Sámr,” is a slow, softer song. Luckily, it escapes the traps the aforementioned song fell into. My biggest gripe with it is actually its proximity to the previous two tracks. Could have come deeper in. That being said, “Where You are Lost and I Belong” beautifully emits hopelessness and foreboding. It’s not overly complicated, but relies on some fantastically evocative chord progressions and Ihsahn stacking up tracks of vocal harmony. The drums are removed, and echoing, giving the song an isolated quality, beautifully capturing the sentiments the title suggests.
I should mention that Ámr is produced to hell and back. To some, this may be bothersome, as the music would be nearly impossible to deliver live, and much of it was obviously conceived in a studio, on a computer. I’m in the “make the best song you can” camp, and so I applaud how this, and many of Ihsahn’s albums are engineered. Ámr takes it a bit farther, with a lot of split-stereo parts, and a ton of synth. I strongly recommend good headphones for this one.
Appropriately, the next track, “In Rites of Passage,” brings us back with an up-beat, groovy jam. It’s simply an entertaining, fun song with a lot of studio magic. There are distinctly different parts to this one that transition flawlessly from one to the next. Very progressive, and worth your time.
“Marble Soul” isn’t quite as successful. Like the opening two tracks, this one relies on one simple melody repeating throughout. The problem is, it’s too exposed, and not a sufficient foundation to build on. Instead, we are beaten over the head with a three chord melody, as though Ihsahn wants us to carry it with us for the rest of eternity. Ironically, it’s probably the least memorable track on the album. The chorus is alright, and the outro is delightfully creepy.
Damn it, what does “Twin Black Angels” remind me of? There’s an old pop song that I swear has the same chorus. Oh my god, I’ve got it. It’s “Part of That World” from the Little F**kin’ Mermaid! Oh, that’s it, I’m never hearing this song again without thinking “Disney.” The song itself isn’t bad, but the “What would it be? How would it feel…” part will always be “Up where they walk. Up where they run…” to me. Oh well.
The album concludes with another ripping, black metal-infused track, “Wake.” I do appreciate sandwiching the melancholy, introspective meat of the album between two high-energy pieces of bread of evil…and lettuce…bread of evil and lettuce. “Wake” is just a solid metal song. It’s a bit of a throwback to Ihsahn of old, and the chorus is quite theatrical, almost Devin Townsend-esque. It’s a fine finish.
Overall, the album is good. It could have been more cohesive, and consistent. The first two tracks are probably the strongest, and the rest of the album doesn’t quite live up to their standards. That being said, I plan to give this one plenty of listens, and you can’t ignore it’s decadent cover art, with that fantastic antique, wing-back, Cusack chair. Unfortunately, too much of Ámr is as leisurely as the chair suggests, and the whole thing lacks the inspiration of After, Eremita, and maybe Arktis. It will take some more digestion to solidify its position in the catalog, but certainly somewhere in the top half, but not at the top.
FAVORITE TRACK: “Lend Me the Eyes of Millennia”
RELEASE DATE: 5/4/2018
FOR FANS OF: Opeth, Enslaved