Ihsahn After

Ihsahn After
There are times in certain musicians' careers where they transcend what is expected of them and rise to the point where they are beyond criticism. After two respectable outings that failed to match his output as front-man for Emperor, or his experimental zenith with Peccatum, Ihsahn has clearly attained this level of achievement as a solo artist with After. Boasting much improved production, a staggering scope of vision and a revitalized sense of groove and ambience, it's the sort of album whose effects linger long after its final moments; it's the work of a true metal craftsman with a clear idea of what he wanted to accomplish musically. It chooses to steer relatively clear of the heavy/traditional influence of his prior solo work, retaining his distinctive blackened prog foundation while pushing defiantly forward in a genre not exactly known for its willingness to evolve. Tempos and mood vary dramatically while remaining utterly fluid and technically mesmerizing. Much fuss has been made of the presence of a saxophone on a number of tracks, but it should be said that its placement is not only tasteful, but also arguably necessary each and every time it's implemented. Even if his post-Emperor work hasn't quite hit you the way it should have, Altar comes highly recommended, and stands as a clear end-of-year contender less than a month into 2010. (Candlelight)