Former Emperor frontman Ihsahn's third solo album is closer to mainstream rock than its two predecessors, but is also a totally unique statement -- and a brilliant one. Opening track "The Barren Lands" features progressive rock riffing, an almost art-funk rhythm, and guitar solos worthy of Living Colour. Faster tracks like "A Grave Inversed" are impeccably produced, abandoning black metal's ultra-trebly screech for an intricate thrash reminiscent of Rigor Mortis' Freaks -- except for the honking, almost free jazz saxophone (!). The ten-minute "Undercurrent" heads into jazz fusion territory, with liquid, almost fretless-sounding bass underneath delicate, repeating guitar figures and drums that fall somewhere between Tool and Opeth's quieter moments. But it gets heavy, whipping into another furious yet utterly controlled art-thrash hurricane. It's not the only ten-minute track on the album, either; After ends with "On the Shores," which is almost Yakuza-esque in the way its guitars roar in aggressive yet majestic fashion while the saxophone skronks and squeals up front. This is a seriously mind-warping manifesto from a guy who helped create symphonic black metal with Emperor; he's now moved into the progressive, post-black metal territory occupied by artists like Nachtmystium and particularly Enslaved.
by Phil Freeman