Norwegian multi-instrumentalist and extreme metal extraordinaire Ihsahn originally released his EPs Telemark and Pharos last year with grand plans for special performances to explore their themes in the live environment. Sadly that didn’t come to pass, so instead he set to working on a new way to bring these to an audience. What transpired was an intimate livestreamed performance from his hometown Notodden, featuring both EPs played in full along with some deeper cuts.
Opening with the much softer pop-rock of Pharos than the more abrasive work he’s better known for is as bold an artistic statement as they come, even considering that Ihsahn has now spent the better part of his career pushing the boundaries of black metal to almost unrecognisable pastures. Tonight, though, is different. He’s softly-spoken, almost self-deprecating, talking about the EP as his “attempt at pop-rock” before launching into ‘Losing Altitude’.
He’s joined, as ever, by his longtime backing band, made of up guitarist Øystein Landsverk sat next to him initially with drummer Tobias Ørnes Andersen (drums) and keyboard player Øystein Aadland - who Ihsahn later jokes “we’ll make a Telemark guy out of you yet!” given he’s the only member not from the town of Telemark. It’s a tight performance with them all clad entirely in black. It’s understated and the performance of Pharos, which is played in tracklist order, has fairly minimalist lighting.
Opening with softer material is clearly the kind of subversion of expectations he revels in, though and it becomes apparent very quickly that despite the unusual setting, Ihsahn is most in his element onstage. He’s joined by brother in law Einar Solberg of Leprous for their cover of “the pioneers from Norway”, A-HA’s ‘Manhattan Skyline’ where the latter’s occasional glances at the lyric sheet only serve to enhance the feeling of intimacy and closeness.
Tonight’s stream is very much a showcase of the mind-boggling range Ihsahn covers both vocally and stylistically. From the softer material of Pharos we’re then taken on a detour into Das Seelenbrechen, with two songs from the record (‘Hilber’ and ‘Pulse’) seeing a live airing. It’s at this point that they shift from the more intimate seated opening and into the more typical standing performance and lighting also shifts to emphasise the more progressive atmospheres of the work.
Last but certainly not least is the material from the first EP released in 2020, Telemark, an ode to the titular town he grew up in. This section of the show opens with rousing renditions of the Lenny Kravitz and Iron Maiden covers (‘Rock and Roll is Dead’ and ‘Wrathchild’ respectively) which - let’s be honest here - likely nobody else could get away with playing one after the other. But given the Ihsahn treatment, it somehow feels far more natural than you’d expect.
Telemark remains likely the closest thing to new Emperor material fans will see (bar the covers) but it’s an updating, rather than a rehashing, of second-wave black metal that takes everything Ihsahn has learned in the decades since and filters it through a stripped-back recounting of his upbringing in Telemark itself. As the evening draws to its conclusion with the title track itself and the stream fades out (though obviously not for the roughly twenty people lucky enough to be in attendance), we’re left with a reminder of just how expansive and excellent Ihsahn’s musical repertoire is.