Norwegian progressive metal pioneer Ihsahn returns with his latest release, Fascination Street Sessions EP on March 24th via Candlelight Records.
Since 1991 Ihsahn has defied expectations and pushed boundaries. More than any other artist to emerge from the fertile black metal scene of the early ‘90s, Ihsahn has firmly established himself as an unpredictable maverick. Frontman and chief composer with the legendary Emperor, he re-wrote the rulebook on epic extreme music across a series of albums that are widely regarded as classics. Launching his solo career in 2006 with The Adversary he has sought to maintain the black metal blueprint that he helped devise with the world-shattering Emperor, while mischievously exploring progressive dreamscapes, avant-garde jazz, electronica, darkwave, ear-crushing tech-metal and ambient meditations. Each full-length album has had an element of surprise and delight, where the architect plays out his creative vision by building on an unwavering zeal for the shock and awe that keeps his listeners on their toes.
With his penchant for collaborative projects and fascination with production, this new three track EP, featuring two new original songs and one cover version. It is the direct result of Ihsahn joining forces with URM Academy’s online educational program for music production, and producer/engineer Jens Bogren (Opeth, Dimmu Borgir, Arch Enemy, Powerwolf) of Fascination Street Studios. Joining Ihsahn on this project was his long-time drummer Tobias Ørnes Andersen and keyboardist Øystein Aadland, who spent ten intense days at Fascination Street Studios recording the songs. As well as playing keyboard throughout, Øystein Aadland also adds warm and gentle lead vocals for the track ‘The Observer’ whilst Jonas Renske of Katatonia recorded guest vocals to the song ‘Dom Andra’, a cover of a track by Swedish band KENT.
Speaking about the project, Ihsahn comments:
The idea was to capture high end recordings of real instruments in great rooms, and we had an amazing setup for drums, guitars, bass and even a vintage Hammond organ with Leslie, Wurlitzer, Rhodes etc, recorded through Fender combos and analogue pedals etc.
This was an amazing experience, and very educational, as I love everything related to music production. Both the Fascination Street and URM teams were incredible, and I believe everyone involved had a great time, in spite of 14–16 hour workdays. I´m very happy with how everything came together and for those interested in the technical aspects of how it was made, there will be a thorough course coming soon at URM Academy.
I think I should point out from the off that I am an admirer of Ihsahn, both from the Emperor days through to much of his solo work. I see the man as an absolute icon, a force in metal that has inspired countless others and that to me is the definition of legend. That doesn’t mean I always love all of his work though – I respect it, appreciate his need to exercise creative muscles but personal taste is personal taste so I have no idea how this is going to go. Coming with three tracks on Fascination Street Sessions, we get underway with The Observer, which features silky smooth clean vocals from Øystein Aadland. And what an absolutely banging track this is.
Kicking off with a catchy rhythm and riff that chucks a little chaos at you, it tails away into Aadland’s deep and silky cleans over a gentle drum beat and bass line.
We transition from that into Ihsahn’s recognisable growls as the instruments explode into life led by a screaming lead guitar. That back and forth continues throughout the song and is immense to listen to. Both vocalists work so well together despite hitting us with such different styles. It still flows smoothly, is jam packed with atmosphere and intensity. Aside from the glorious vocals, we are treated to a smorgasbord of exciting drum blasts, riffs, lead guitars and keys. The production is, of course, top notch in a song that feels epic, and powerful – this is a masterpiece. I am going to playing this song a lot.
The second track on Fascination Street Sessions is called Contorted Monuments and has been out for a little while as the lead single. The lead riff and drum beat throws the progressive element at you with a slightly off kilter rhythm that then gets glued into place by a screaming lead guitar. We get a nice chunky verse with Ihsahn spitting venom over an intermittent riff. Keys join in and add another layer of depth before we drop off into a gorgeous clean chorus. As the clean fades in the chorus, the growls start to take over and we hit a second verse that is chock full of power and groove and just makes you want to bang your head, snarl and maybe also just stop to admire the genius being delivered.
Fascination Street Sessions ends with the track I expect to be the oddity on this short but sweet release, Dom Andra, which features the mighty Jonas Renske of Katatonia.
Being a cover, it helps, I guess, that I don’t know the band Kent (I do live in Kent in the UK, maybe it was meant to be). By not knowing them, I can listen to it as a track of it’s own without needing to compare it to anything. As a track, I can appreciate it as an easy to listen to song with some really cool elements. The keys are pretty neat and of course Jonas Renske’s vocals are silky to listen to and it is nice to hear it sung in Swedish. It’s a gentler song, with a slow tempo but layers of melody and a tapping drum beat and uses the keys melody from the intro as the spine of the song, with it returning constantly to act as bridges between vocals and sections.
It’s not necessarily my cup of tea but as part of a release designed as an academic project, you can understand why it exists. Besides, if Ihsahn says it should be there, who am I to question that?
Overall, Fascination Street Sessions is a really solid release full of excitement and top quality music. I am such a huge fan of the first two tracks and can enjoy Dom Andra too for what it is. The production across the whole works is immense too showing the skill and talent within Jens Bogren and Fascination Street. So a recipe for quality music seems to be just put Ihsahn and Jens in a room together and it will happen. It does seem a bit odd, listening to something designed as an educational piece on an academy rather then music for music’s sake but I’m not going to complain. Any avenue found to get more Ihsahn music out into the world is a worthwhile endeavour.
Be sure to add Fascination Street Sessions in your chosen music service for it’s release on the 24th of march.
Find out more about Fascination Street at this link.
Fascination Street Sessions by Ihsahn (Candlelight Records)
The Final Score - 9/10