Ihsahn is one of those artists I tend to neglect for some unknown reasons. I am a huge fan of Emperor’s and thus also Ihsahn’s work but his solo project was not on my radar until the release of “Das Seelenbrechen”. And to be honest, it took me some time to get used to his music as I had a rather narrowed horizon back then. My playlist consisted of the same 20 songs and I skipped to the next one once the refrain was over. I was literally unable to enjoy music. Well, thanks to vinyl I am finally able to discover music I normally would not have listened to.
When I first heard about Ihsahn releasing a new album in april I was interested to say the least. With the reveal of the cover artwork and the release of “Mass Darkness” I was convinced to pre-order. What I love about the whole release is the simplicity. There are only three versions available, no limited mail order colored splatter edition, no colored options, just plain black vinyl. I don’t know if this was intended, but Ihsahn reduced the number of options each year starting with 11 at “The Adversary” (including a few represses) down to three at “Arktis”.
Quality and artwork:
The gatefold is surprisingly thick with a glossy finish. The inner fold-line is maybe the weakest point of the gatefold. It already came damaged and you can push it in in the middle. The record sleeves can get stuck in the fold too, so getting the records out when the gatefold is closed is often frustrating. Once again, this is a release which comes with simple white paper sleeves to hold the records. I know they are not that cheap but I’d gladly pay a bit more in order to not have to replace them myself. The records are up to today’s standard – 180g black vinyl. The spindle hole on the second record was uneven and created a squeaking noise so I had to hone it down. There have been reports of cracks and surface noise on side C and D. Fortuntaley, I can not confirm this and my record plays fine.
As usual Ihsahn’s cover artwork is rather simple, a great photography depicting norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen in black and white with the album title prominently featured in big white letters and the writing Ihsahn in significantly smaller letters. The back of the gatefold depicts the “Fram”, the ship Nansen used on some of his expeditions, frozen in the ice. The inner gatefold is plain white with the lyrics of each song presented with varying typefaces. This somehow reminds me of my old book of poems from school.
The album was recorded at Ihsahn’s very own Mnemosyne Studios and Juke Joint Studios in Notodden, Norway. Arktis was mixed and mastered by the legendary Jens Bogren who worked with nearly every big name in the Scandinavian metal scene. This time the sound quality is as expected. Crisp, warm sound even on lower volume and single instruments are audible within Ihsahn’s seemingly chaotic compositions. One of the better sounding albums this year. The FDR Rating is surprisingly low for the download version so I’m going to measure it myself once I get my main turntable back from service.
You surely know the old saying that “less is more”. Well in this case this is fortunately wrong. Ihsahn managed to include even more facets, complexity and song styles on Artkis without overdoing it. Due to this variety, the red line is missing and the album sometimes feels like random songs placed together. This is my only complain about the music though. I love nearly every single song and with “Celestial Violence” I have a strong candidate for my personal song of the year.
Arktis has some minor flaws when it comes to the quality of the gatefold, the record sleeves and to some extend the placement of songs. When you look beyond them, you get a high quality release with awesome sound quality and some really memorable songs.
For my next post I’d like to introduce a new format. For noteworthy or standout records in my collection which neither fit the category new release or re-issue I will do a series of mini reviews reviewing three at a time.
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