By Samuel Stevens
Release Date: September 11, 2020
Genre: Progressive Metal, Progressive Rock
Label: Spinefarm Records, Candlelight Records
Ihsahn, best known for his work in the Norwegian black metal band Emperor, has returned with his latest EP, Pharos. It’s his second EP release of 2020 that follows Telemark, which was released on February 14th. Unlike on Telemark, which seen Ihsahn return to his black metal roots, Pharos shows a lot more of Ihsahn’s creative exploration into a progressive rock and metal sound with some elements pulled from all over the musical spectrum like classical, jazz, and pop. The EP features three brand new original compositions that are accompanied by two covers, A-Ha’s “Manhattan Skyline” and Portishead’s “Roads.” The EP was recorded before the COVID-19 lockdown at this home studio with additional drums laid down by Tobias Solbakk, of the band In Vain at Juke Joint Studio.
Pharos is both musically and conceptually a complete opposite of what Telemark is and could very well take come off gaurd. While both are the same project, but split into two halves, Telemark was all about the familiar and the close-to-home with the return to his black metal roots. Whereas you see Pharos take a different, darker path of a distant perspective and a more exploratory approach all around. Pharos, while being written/recorded before COVID-19 hit the world, in a strange coincidence, the EP’s three original compositions dive into the societal shifts we have all faced, eerily more in these last few months.
Pharos opens with the mesmerizing orchestral piece, “Losing Altitude.” It’s an atmospheric progressive metal track and it’s a slow start for the EP, but when the track gets going, it then shows a new life as it achieves its full richness of heavy. The song is all about choices. The following track, “Spectre At The Feast,” is something else. Its Bond theme-esque cinematic, pop vibes clash with its haunting vocal harmonies and simple piano section, that really draw everything out together. The chorus on “Spectre At The Feast” is extremely infectious and is stuck with you after just one listen. The infectious guitar solo sits in my mind as well after the initial listen of the EP. The track is a fly on the wall perspective on the superficial aspects of society and all its fictional problems and fragilities. The EP’s title track, “Pharos,” which additionally is the last original composition on the EP slows it down. The haunting vocal harmonies return for another progressive and atmospheric track. There’s some elements drawn all from all various genres on this track of the EP, that creates something special. The track really does throw some shades of Radiohead out along the way. However, once the vocal harmonies from Ihsahn clash with the angelic choir in the background of the track, it’s certain to leave you with goosebumps crawling up your skin.
Ihsahn’s cover of Portishead’s “Roads” sees him stay true to the original as best as possible, but still leaving his own mark on his version. The massive string section is as chilling as ever. The EP’s final track and second cover, this time of A-Ha’s “Manhattan Skyline” takes a slight turn. The cover features Einar Solberg (Leprous) on vocal duties. It’s heavy on the synth, and is one of the funniest on the EP after “Spectre At The Feast.” The cover strangely sounds so eerie close to A-Ha. Ihsahn admittedly has a love for the band, and states that the second Emperor album even has hints of A-Ha present. This may frustrate followers of the orthodoxy present within extreme music, but for Ihsahn, he has never worried about being confined to certain expectations.