Album review: Ámr by Ihsahn

Ihsahn’s latest album, Ámr, is characteristically Ihsahn—progressive without getting too fancy, catchy without getting too clever (usually), all the while treating the restrictions of what makes metal metal not as something which confines but to be toyed with. That is not to say that this is one of his more experimental albums, such as 2013’s Das Seelenbrechen* or Peccatum’s early work.

This can lend to a sense of repetition at times, such as when a good riff can outstay its welcome in a song, such as in “Lend Me the Eyes of Millennia” and “Arcana Imperii.” This feels a minor complaint, however, when one considers that none of the songs are very long, with the longest just going over the five minute mark. Ihashn also varies the sound of the music throughout the album through different vocal styles as well as a heavy use of synthesizers interchanging with guitar parts (as opposed to filling out the sound with ambient effects or “orchestral” voices). A perfect example of these variances are in the song “Twin Black Angels,” which starts off with a mild synth part and clean vocals, progressing to a soaring bridge accentuated by Ihsahn’s distinctive blackened death metal vocals.

If Ámr is your first Ihsahn album, then it’s a good place to start as it’s the culmination of the best elements of his work so far. However, if you’ve been listening to his work from the beginning, even just as a solo artist, then you may find it a bit lacking as it sounds like yet another Ihsahn album but not his best work overall. Still, it’s certainly worth a listen or two in its own right. In fact, Ámr comes across as one of Ihsahn’s more accessible albums since his sophomore release Angl. Ihsahn has matured as a songwriter and producer, applying what he learns throughout his carreer towards each successive release and Ámr is not exception to that rule.


*Which I still argue is his most successful solo album artistically, if not commercially.


[Delayed post] In town for “Metal Night.”

Portland, ME 5/12/17 4:43 PM

I’m in Portland on a Friday yet again to head to the weekly Goth/Industrial night at a nightclub in town. I skipped last week but I had to make this one out of curiosity. Once in a while they have a sort of theme night (as if the usual dark music wasn’t enough). Tonight is “Metal Night.” I find this to be a bizarre one. I spent the better part of a decade identifying as a metalhead—some longtime readers may remember that once upon a time I was a frequent concert-goer and would post concert and album reviews. In recent years, however, I have been transitioning from a metalhead to a Goth, or at least I’ve been embracing my Gothic side more. I haven’t quite made it to the point in which I feel comfortable applying the term to myself. Anyway, tonight feels like a sort of nostalgic bridge for me.

The other curious aspect of tonight’s theme is that the theme is happening in the first place. When you already put together an evening once a week dedicated to one type of music, why would you take one week to play something else? Granted, the promoter of Plague doesn’t promote it so much “Goth/industrial” as much as “dark alternative dance.” Still, it seems weird to cater to a crossover crowd. The night sounds fun, but wouldn’t it only appeal to a limited crowd?

Clearly I’m one of those people. I’m also taking advantage of the fact that I can come to Portland right after work in a band t-shirt and my work jeans instead of stopping at home to clean up, change my clothes and put on make-up. Plus, it’s a nice day and it will be nice to wander around downtown for a while. Aside from bars and restaurants, most places around here close after seven. Plague doesn’t start until nine. The art museum is free on Fridays between five and eight. maybe I’ll stop in there. of course, on the other nights that I get here after they close I’m more appropriately dressed for it.

Self-discover #2: I no longer call myself a metalhead.

Friday night I went to the Rock and Shock Festival at the Worcester Palladium in order to see Sabaton, Dope, Demolition Hammer, Kataklysm, Carach Angren and Huntress (I missed the first band to go on the main stage, left before Trivium and totally skipped the second stage bands). Overall it was a pretty good mix of different styles of metal. I wouldn’t say that each band was the best example of their genre but I felt like I got a good taste of everything. Which is why this was probably good for my last metal concert… at least with any regularity, and very possibly at the Palladium.

I don’t like to use the phrase “it was just a phase” to describe the ten years that I was really into metal. Rather, I think of it as a stage of my development as a person. One could argue that it went on too long or that maybe it went to far. But I’m not going to think about it that way. I probably spent too much money on CDs, but that’s okay. If I really want to get picky I can always sell a bunch to a local music shop. But I don’t really want to. It’s not that I like the music any less. I just don’t love it anymore.

The point is that I’m not longer identifying as a “metalhead” like I used to. Truthfully, I never felt like I fit in anyway. Setting aside the themes of misogyny, racism and general right-wing ideology that—while this may not be true for the metal culture in general—come across as prevalent, at least in terms of the impression I get. I’m just not that aggressive a person. I have no interest in a band’s desire to kick my ass, as they so often say.

Something interesting happened during Kataklysm’s set. The singer introduced one of their songs with something along the lines of “If you’re a metalhead, wherever you go you’re a black sheep.” Standing back in the elevated portion of the main hall I could see the crowd on the floor in front of the sage all headbanging and jumping in unison at the direction of the music. The thought occurred to me that even a black sheep is still a sheep.

Am I putting down anybody who does take part in these activities and call themselves a metalhead? Absolutely not—or at least, I’m not trying to. I get it. For crying out loud, love the music that you love and behave how you see fit to express that love. I’m just trying to point out how this isn’t for me anymore.

It could be that I’m just reading too much into my misplaced status as a metalhead. When it comes down to it I just to have the passion for the music anymore. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of good stuff coming from the metal world. I’m still a fan of Moonspell, Behemoth, Ihsahn (and related) and a lot of black metal bands. Celtic Frost’s swansong Monotheist is one of my favorite albums of all time, not just in metal. But metal is now just another genre of music that I pick and chose from, depending on the artist. I no longer wish to go to a CD shop and buy metal albums simply because they’re metal albums.

So, am I replacing this with anything? Anybody who has been following my blog recently may be aware that I’m embracing my more Gothic side in fuller capacity than in the past. I’ve always had that part of me but always pushed it back. But the music finally one me over and in this period of self-discovery that I’m going through, I realized that it’s time I start getting more involved in Goth subculture. I already have Shadows of Immurement, which came about because I found a lot of Goth rock and the like helped me through a rough period of my life. It’s time to embrace my inner Goth. Or something like that.

Oh, and why am I not bothering with the Palladium anymore? I still have a list to write for today. Maybe I’ll list my reasons there as a sort of follow-up to this post.

So what’s with this “self-discovery” series? Well, for one thing I needed a topic to write about on Saturdays—yeah, I know, this one’s a day late, whatever—to replace the “Nerdy Saturday” theme I had for a while. I figured that this period of “finding myself” would provide at least a short series of blog posts while I find something more permanent. But that doesn’t really answer where this is all coming from.

About a month and a half ago an event happened in my life that caused me to re-examine a lot of things about myself. I can’t go into details as they involve another person, but I will say that I had a very stressful week as a result of it and by the end of that week I finally came to terms that I’m asexual. I have been living a lie to myself for the bulk of my adult life so far that I’m a heterosexual male and always setting myself up for failure… in other words, going on a date with a woman but not following through with anything romantic.

This rattled a few things loose in my head and I started questioning other aspects of my identity. So far, the two big things have related to my being asexual and a Goth (at least, in transition to becoming one). There’s a lot of letting go of the past, hence donating a lot of my stuff to thrift stores. Who knows what else is coming? I don’t want to force the pace. But so far I feel a lot more comfortable with who I am than I have been in a long time.

Bands I like versus bands I respect. #music #metal #blackmetal

I’ve been thinking lately about the difference between bands that I respect versus bands that I simply like. That’s not to say that I don’t like any of the bands that I respect; but at the same time I don’t like all of them, or at least everything that they do. In fact, that’s the key difference that I’m looking at with this blog post. One of the main reasons that I respect any artist is the variety of their work. This signifies to me that he or she is willing to experiment in expressing himself or herself.

I also can respect somebody’s technical ability as well, however for the sake of this blog post I’m referring only to respecting somebody’s artistic merit, not playing ability. This post could also apply to writers, painters and so on, but I’m going to focus on musicians. For one thing, I’m such a music lover that I have some idea of what I’m talking about. For another, the commercial influence on musicians demands that those in certain situations produce albums on a fairly regular basis, which makes my job here easier. The metal world really exemplifies this, so I’ll specifically look at metal bands this time.

Let’s start with two bands, Darkthrone and Amon Amarth. Darkthrone is considered one of the classic Norwegian black metal bands, putting out several records since the early nineties that sometimes stray from their roots but never too far. Yet some albums are better than others. I especially don’t care for the latest album, The Underground Resistance, which pays several homages to the band’s influences. Yet just because I don’t like listening to it doesn’t mean I don’t respect it, as it is what the band wanted to do. I’m glad that they’re in a position to release such a project.

I like what Amon Amarth does. They’re a fun band to listen to as they tap into a powerful sort of energy that matches the viking-themed lyrics while keeping a strong melodic sense throughout. Unfortunately, it feels like they put out the same damn album every time. That’s not to say that I can’t tell the difference between specific songs but they’re so close in style that if you like one, you’ll like them all. The band is quite popular, which suggests that they figured out what sells well and stuck with it.

Therefore, while I like Amon Amarth more consistently than Darkthrone, I respect Darkthrone more than Amon Amarth. That’s not to say that I dislike either band, just that I regard them differently.

Let’s look at a band that I consider one of my favorites, Emperor. I know it goes against popular opinion but I don’t like the releases before their first full-length album In the Nightside Eclipse. I love the next two albums. The last album, Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire and Demise has some excellent songs but for the most part it feels stale. (Although I tend to consider Prometheus more as Ihsahn’s first solo album than as Emperor’s last album, anyway.) Yet even though I don’t really like the first two releases, one can hear the progression towards the first album (including some songs that were re-recorded and in some cases, re-written). That combined with the quality of the first three studio albums makes them one of my favorite bands: a band that I both like and respect.

Other bands that I would throw under that category would include Moonspell, Celtic Frost and Behemoth. Musicians that I would include that aren’t part of the metal world: David Byrne, Frank Zappa and King Crimson (all incarnations).

What about writers? The sad truth is that because there’s so much out there, I try to read as much as I can by different authors. This results in me only reading one or two books by each. I’m catching up but it’s too soon to tell. I get the feeling that I would throw Cormac McCarthy in this category, as well as Karl Ove Knausgård.

Of course, I hope to add myself to that list.

The podcast of the radio show I was on is up.

In case you missed my guest d.j. spot on Black Night Meditations on Friday, the podcast is now online here. If you’re interested, here’s the playlist that I put together that made it to air:

Carpathian Forest: “Everyday I Must Suffer” from the album Fuck You All
Bathory: “For All Those Who Died” from Blood Fire Death
Anal Nosorog: “Rectal Spit Into The Soul” from Condom Of Hate
Arch Enemy: “Silverwing” from Burning Bridges
Azrael (U.S.): “Seeping Into The Wound” from Act III: Self
Enslaved: “As Fire Swept Clean The Earth” from Below The Lights
EbonyLake: The title track from On The Eve Of The Grimly Inventive
Behemoth: The title track from The Satanist
Cannibal Corpse: “A Cauldron Of Hate” from Evisceration Plague
Dark Funeral: “Open The Gates” from the Devil Pigs split with the band Von
Darkthrone: “Unholy Black Metal” from Under A Funeral Moon
Hate Eternal: “The Art of Redemption” from Phoenix Amongst The Ashes
Excrecor: “Fortune Fall” from Hypnotic Affliction
Dodheimsgard: “Final Conquest” from 666 International
Emperor: “Gypsy,” a Mercyful Fate cover found as a bonus track on In The Nightside Eclipse
Moonspell: “Sacrificial” from Omega White (the bonus disc found with a special edition of Alpha Noir)

The songs that I set up but didn’t get to:

Therion: “Arrival Of The Darkest Queen” and “The Beauty in Black” from Lepaca Kliffoth
Hypocrisy: “Time Warp” from Hypocrisy
Danzig: “Long Way Back From Hell” from Danzig II: Lucifuge
Ihsahn: “Hilber” from Das Seelenbrechen
Keep Of Kalessin: “Dark As Moonless Night” from Reptilian
Devin Townsend Project: “Juular” from Deconstruction
Magane: “Crawling From Blood” from Mortes Saltanes
Marduk: “Warschau 2: Headhunter Halfmoon” from Iron Dawn
Mayhem: “Whore” from Chimera
Nachtmystium: “No Funeral” from Addicts: Black Meddle Part II
Nattefrost: “Mass Destruction” from Blood & Vomit
Vader: “Para Bellum” and “This Is The War” from The Art Of War
Unleased: “Your Children Will Burn” from Hammer Battalion

I’m guest d.j. on a local metal show tonight.

This might go out a little late, but as the saying goes….

Tonight I’m guest d.j. on Black Night Meditations, a metal show on a community radio station in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The  station is on the FM dial at 106.1 or you can listen online at I imagine that most of my usual readers, should they be interested, would pick the latter option but I figured I’d be thorough. Speaking of which, if you miss the show live it will be posted as a podcast on I’ll let you know when that drops. If you don’t feel like downloading a podcast you can still stream the show.

This time I focused primarily on metal that is both extreme and “weird,” for lack of a better term. I suppose most of it leans towards extreme but hopefully I’ll be able to sneak some crazy stuff in there as well. I’m writing this just as the show is starting so I don’t know how many of my selections I’ll get through. The host is giving me about half the show. To be on the safe side I programmed a playlist well beyond my time limit just in case. I’ll post the complete list later once I know what made it to air.

One thing that I kept in mind when programming tonight’s show was the types of music that I’ve been listening to lately. That sounds obvious but there’s a larger point. For years I tried to have the most comprehensive metal collection I possibly could have, trying to take everything in. My attitude was “if it’s metal, I’ll listen to it.” Now I’m noticing that I’m much more picky. Listening to more resulted in me listening to less. I can appreciate power metal and traditional metal but my tastes run more along the extremes of death and black metal and some thrash. Thrash metal is hit-or-miss. Gothic metal is as well but when it’s good I can get really into it. Moonspell, for example, is one of my favorite bands. They’re another band that I threw on my list that might not make it tonight. Trust me, do yourself a favor and pick up Alpha Noir/Omega White.

I’ve done this before but it’s been a few years. When my work schedule changed I could no longer hang out at the radio station on Tuesday nights. The show started after my bedtime. Fortunately it airs on Friday nights now. Sure, I still had to get up at three-thirty this morning and I’m tired going into the show. But it’s easier to stay up late and sleep in the next morning than to stay up late and only get two or three hours of sleep, followed by a rigorous work day.

By the way, just to continue the topic I’ve been stuck on all week—I did pick up the box set of the complete series of the Batman TV show from the sixties. Anybody who knows me won’t see me for a while.

Some thoughts after the metal festival (on Friday).

Friday was fun. I went to the bank before heading down to Worcester and it looks like they finally fixed my card. I wasn’t particularly happy with the way one of the tellers was talking to me. I could tell he wanted to give me more attitude than he was allowed to. He kept telling me to enter my PIN more slowly. I know that it was something wrong on their end but somehow when they reset the PIN this time it worked. So there’s no point in complaining about it. I took out a hundred dollars for the day and headed down to the festival.

As usual it started off with a few metalcore bands that I had no interest in. I went back and forth between the two stages to give everybody a listen. I thought that I could occupy myself by browsing the vendors. There was no such luck there. In years past the balcony for the second stage was full of different groups, mostly record labels, selling mostly CDs with some other merchandise as well. This year there were no metal labels present, and only one guy was selling a small selection of CDs. Otherwise there were other sponsors of the festival with their tables up but the coolest thing that I found was some jewelry that I wouldn’t wear. Not only was there not a lot of quality goods but it looked like there was only half of the vendors that there have been in years past.

I knew this should have pleased me in a way because I could justify not spending money after all. This was especially useful because parking cost me fifteen bucks when I’m used to free street parking on Saturday night shows. But I could live with it. I was still riding that low when I saw the vendor area so the disappointment of no good vendors bummed me out more. I had to reason with myself to get myself out of it. Besides, I was at the festival to have fun.

I forgot Inquisition was on the Metal Alliance Tour going through that got attached to that fest. For those unfamiliar with them think of Immortal but without the bass. I thought it was funny that halfway through the vocalist/guitarist announced themselves as a “two-piece black metal band.” I think by that point, after seeing two guys play black metal, we didn’t need to be told that. But hey, they were one of the few good bands that I saw that day so I’m no complaining.

Skip ahead a few bands and we finally got to 1349, one of the other good bands on the bill. Sadly, because they were stuck with a five o’clock time slot they didn’t get a very long set. They still managed to win the audience over. I know that seems like an odd statement to make, as they’re well-known in the black metal world and I could tell that there were people there for them. But considering they were stuck in the late afternoon surrounded by crap metalcore bands I got the impression that most of the people who were getting into them weren’t familiar with their work. At one point a kid in a Spider-Man costume came down to the pit area and everybody started changing “Spider-Man! Spider-Man!” between two of the 1349 songs while they were tuning their guitars. He crowd-surfed towards the stage and was put back into the crowd before the band turned around. I have to wonder if they had any idea as to what was going on.

Then Goatwhore came on the main stage. I’ve never been a huge fan of theirs. If they played before 1349 I would have enjoyed them but when they go on afterwards I didn’t really care. Besides, I was getting really hungry. I took advantage of the all-day re-entry and walked down the street to Uno for dinner. I’m not one-hundred percent sure that their cheese is vegetarian but I flew caution to the wind this time. While I was there I noticed that all of the servers wore t-shirts promoting the Worcester Sharks, the AHL club down there. I was trying to figure out what to do because the next band I wanted to see was the headliner, Behemoth, and they weren’t on until 10:45. I walked by the DCU Center and discovered that there was indeed a game at 7:30 and they advertised tickets as low as ten bucks. That settled my plans for the evening until Behemoth went on stage (although it turned out the lowest-priced ticket was actually twelve. I wasn’t going to complain but it seemed odd). I had taken my Kindle and iPod with me so as I sat in the nosebleed section I listened to an old episode of the podcast “Harmontown” during the game and caught up on The New Yorker between periods. It was a good way to pass the time.

I’m glad I didn’t root for either club, though. Worcester lost 6-0. It almost looked like their goalie wasn’t even trying.

I got back just in time to sit down in the balcony for the main stage with a beer while the next-to-last band finished up their set. Not being familiar with them I actually thought there was one more band to go before Behemoth, but once I saw the familiar symbols getting set up on stage I rushed down to the floor. I wasn’t going to sit down for them. I was right that they were worth the forty-five dollar ticket alone and any other good band that day was a bonus. For once I took out my earplugs. I knew I wasn’t going to see another metal band for a while and besides, they’re one of the best. With the bombastic death metal and insane light show Behemoth gave us a sensory overload. I’m glad that I trained myself to stay up late so I wasn’t falling asleep during their set.

Tomorrow’s my first day back to work. It’s going to suck.


Okay, so I know that I’m now four blog posts behind. My mind went on vacation without the rest of me before this past week. But now I’m starting to get back into the groove of things like I thought I would. I was going to try to write five blog posts today to get caught up but I now doubt it. Aside from any worries over being able to write that much in one day, I just realized that it’s Easter. I thought it was next week when I was planning on what to do for today. It wasn’t until I got online this morning and saw everybody on Facebook wishing everybody else a Happy Easter did I realize that I’m supposed to get together with family for lunch today. That’s always fun—getting together with people I see all of the time anyway in honor of a holiday that I don’t celebrate and watch those people eat meat, an activity that I find morally offensive. But anyway, I have all of these chores to do around that visit so I’ll try to write as much as I can and make up the rest throughout the week.