Confession time: I have never listened to Ihsahn before this review of his latest EP Pharos. That’s not to say he’s completely unknown to me; I know of his time in Emperor, and have read about his acclaim, and how the queen T-Swift allegedly jocked on his album artwork. But, even though I’ve previously written about detaching expectations from previous bands, I’m still human and subject to that same pitfall. I popped on the release expecting something gr1m and tr00 but got something far lighter.
The haunting reverb of the guitar on opener “Losing Altitude” accompanied only with some background ambience and clean, melodic vocals didn’t completely suspend my belief that more black metal influence was going to rear its head until about over halfway through the track when I realized that this is not going to be anything like what I had in mind. I’m not such a huge fan of black metal as it is, so no worries, but I kept looking for the point of this EP and tried to figure out what would be my draw to listen to it. Instead, putting on this release felt like answering a phone call from my father: I’m subjected to a few meandering stories with little to no input and even less intrigue, waiting for the reason for the call to reveal itself, only to be found that the point was neither interesting nor needed, leaving me wondering why I picked up the phone in the first place. And, much like my father, this EP has no teeth.
I’m sure a lot of people out there may disagree with me on this release or Ihsahn’s material in general, but after several listens I still could not understand why I should care. The three original songs provided on the release remind me of the light parts of The Ocean without the interesting lyrical metaphors and progressive writing or of the softest parts of Ghost without any of the pop sensibility and ability to create earworms. The songs themselves aren’t bad or poorly written, in fact, they seem like they might be decent background music for your next campaign of Vampire: The Masquerade, but there’s not much else there to keep you engaged for active listening.
To make matters worse, the release ends in two incredibly unnecessary covers: “Roads” by Portishead and “Manhattan Skyline” by A-ha. In my experience, covers can go one of three ways: Either it’s basically genre-swapped but otherwise unchanged, or it’s been completely made new and unique by the band, or it’s “true to the original” which is a nice way of saying it’s basically a carbon copy. These covers fall into that third category. Ihsahn’s vocals on “Roads” are good, but they lack that haunting emotion driven by Beth Gibbons on the original version, while Einar Solberg of Leprous provides the vocals on “Manhattan Skyline,” which is so true to the original, it may as well have been just a re-recorded version by A-Ha.
Clearly, as you can tell, I was not a fan of this release. That’s not to say that Ihsahn isn’t talented as hell. There’s no way you can get as much acclaim as he has without having some substance to back it up, unless your name is Kardashian. I’m hoping this was just a case of raised expectations and that I was expecting something a little too different and a bit more than what this EP has to offer. Perhaps I’ll go into his back catalog at some point and find where this fits. But for right now, I need something more to wake me back up.
Written by Ted Berger
*Edited by Chris Aitkens