By Jonathan Smith
With a sound and aesthetic that brings to mind frigid nights in a metropolitan city, After is a complex album that demands many listens in order to fully absorb its layers. Those who have followed Ihsahn’s first two solo releases, The Adversary and angL, will hear an album that is familiar but that also builds on his previous work. It is perhaps the “heaviest” of the three records to date. However, those who are ever hopeful for a revival of the immediacy of Emperor’s symphonic onslaughts should approach After with different expectations. Any metallic elements are inseparable from the many progressive moments. The rich details that are sparked by this combination become clear after giving the album a couple of spins, and it ensures that as a listener you want to experience those moments again before too long.
The common thread throughout this latest release is that everything sounds carefully controlled and intricately plotted. In an interesting contradiction, such control ensures that the album is anything but predictable. After‘s twists and turns are one of its stronger elements. The title track, for instance, starts off at a more reserved pace before shifting into machine gun-like riffs with wailing lead accompaniment. On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Austere” almost grinds to a halt in the middle, allowing its more ambient moments to sink in before it revs up again. The songs on After have little difficulty shifting from expected extreme metal sounds to more diverse moments. Good examples are found on “Undercurrent” and “On The Shores,” in which Ihsahn’s icy guitar tones are intertwined with Jorgen Munkeby’s wispy and poignant saxophone. The vocals range from Ihsahn’s calm, clean singing to his more raspier tone during the record’s harsher moments. From the bleak opening riffs to the lingering saxophone notes that close it, After is a fascinating listen that gets better every time it’s played.
After will be released through Candlelight USA on January 26, 2010.