EP Review: Pharos by Ihsahn (Candlelight Records)

Black metal icon, and progressive metal pioneer, Ihsahn returns with another new EP. This is Pharos and it will be released on the 11th of September 2020 via Candlelight Records.

Pharos is the second of two intertwined EPs designed to completely contrast each other. The first one was called Telemark and it represented the darker side of Ihsahn’s music. Pharos is the light to Telemark’s darkness. It features three original compositions and two covers. The covers are of Manhattan Skyline, a track by Norway’s own pop progenitors A-Ha (featuring Leprous frontman Einar Solberg on vocal duties) and the haunting ‘Roads’, originally by British trip-hop collective Portishead.

Recorded at his home studio, with additional drums by Tobias Solbakk at Jukes Joint Studio, Pharos is musically and conceptually a reverse image of Telemark.

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Pharos shows yet another side to this polymathic composer, who has already leant his iconoclastic spirit to rule-breaking bands and projects Now he has yet again woven intricate, sonic landscapes that cement his status as a true musical alchemist.

Pharos by Ihsahn

Pharos gets underway with Losing Altitude and you quickly see the differences between this and Telemark. It certainly isn’t sunny and bright. There is still a dark and suffocating undercurrent to the track. What it is though is clean. That shouldn’t be too much of a surprise really though. Ihsahn certainly is no stranger to clean songs within his many solo works. Essentially a nice full guitar melody plays throughout with Ihsahn clean singing over the top. There are some little build ups and some backing atmospherics filling the track out. We do get a little tease of some crunchy guitars and drums near the end but that soon fades back into the melancholy that is the start of Pharos.

Spectre at the Feast has a classical sound to it’s start before a little blues line. Gentle drums, clean singing and clean backing vocals is an easy listen. It builds nicely to a catchy chorus and has some good lyrical content. Truth be told though, it just isn’t an easy listen as it is so far from metal, it’s unreal. To be fair, I don’t think it was marketed necessarily towards us but hey, it’s Ihsahn. We have to check it out. I do like all the orchestral elements to be fair and it is typically well structured. It just isn’t my style of music.

Unlikely but maybe Pharos, the title track, is more our cup of tea. It isn’t really though. It is a bit of a combination of the two previous tracks. Starting like a brooding ballad, turning into a jazzy number but then, it happens. A build up, choir backing, heavy drums and an overwhelmingly oppressive feel. We have metal!. Unfortunately it disappears within 15 seconds but it was there. It actually works really well as a contrast to the gentile sections surrounding it.

So with the three interesting and well executed, but not my style, original tracks behind us, we move into the covers. Both songs are unfamiliar to me so this is a fresh listen rather than a comparison. Roads, by Portishead, does little for me at all. The sombre melody with a hint of synth and wobbling effect grates on you after a few minutes. Ihsahn sings it well, of course, but I can imagine I would hate the original. Manhattan Skyline comes next. Apparently an A-Ha cover and featuring Einar Solberg of the band Leprous. I have very little to say about this one. It is a synth heavy pop song. A few increased decibels here and there are the only saving grace in a cover that probably doesn’t need to exist.

So overall Pharos is a bit of a let down. Two covers I would prefer to have not heard. 3 original songs where I can fully admire the musicianship and Ihsahn’s vocals but I just don’t get any real enjoyment from them. There are moments I liked. Some nice melodies and some interesting vocal work on Spectre at the Feast as well as the brief heavy moment on Pharos but these snippets don’t hide the fact that this is not for me. Ihsahn has earned the right to exercise any creative stirring he wishes to. It wont always be for every listener.

This one is a pass from me, though even I can appreciate that it is well executed and well sung. You should still check it out as it may just be right up your street.

Grab a copy from all different channels, here.

Ihsahn Links

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EP Review: Pharos by Ihsahn (Candlelight Records)
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