A compact set of melodic, rock/pop songs
Ihsahn is a Norwegian composer who is best known as the founder, lead vocalist and guitarist of the black metal band Emperor. This year, he has released two solo EPs, Telemark and Pharos, with Pharos being the sequel to Telemark. In contrast with Telemark, Pharos lacks the same burst of energy and possesses darker, more melancholic sound qualities throughout. While the newer EP may sound uninspired due to some of its songs’ more milquetoast characteristics, listeners have to keep in mind that Pharos is the antithesis of Telemark and vice versa. Pharos is a thought-provoking record filled with rich musical articulations and expressions, and may just seem slightly less compelling as a result of their juxtaposition with Telemark.
The lead-off track “Losing Altitude” is a slow rock song, built on ominous guitar riffs, and contrasted with clean vocals and a piano accompaniment. It is a great introduction to the EP’s singular feel and atmosphere. The inclusion of strings—played in the upper register—towards the end of the song is admirable as they imbue a new and different kind of energy. This arrangement not only serves as a way to diminish the dullness that can stem from a repetitive chorus, but it also allows a sensible transition into the next track, “Spectre At The Feast.”
In “Spectre At The Feast,” the familiar piano and strings introduce the listener with a delightful melody, until Ihsahn has a change of heart, and the atmosphere abruptly turns mysterious. After transitioning back and forth between solid verses and a chorus, the combination of a guitar solo and the reprising chorus reinforces the sense of closure. Structure wise, the song is straightforward, but it still manages to sound full and complete without excessive embellishments.
The eponymous track provides a mystical feel through pristine vocal harmonizations. The heavy and apocalyptic guitar riffs and background choir is a nice contrast to the serene opening. It feels drawn-out and exudes a sense of dreariness, but has excellent musicianship. The last two songs are covers. Ihsahn’s rendition of “Roads” (Portishead) is more upbeat and utilizes diverse instrumentation (when compared to the original) like psychedelic guitar, bass and strings. On the other hand, “Manhattan Skyline” (A-ha) is faithful to the original. Primarily limiting their updates to refinements, Ihsahn has done a very respectable, and respectful, job of covering the song.
Although Ihsahn’s compositional approach to the album is somewhat commercial, he manages to deliver an artful album regardless, indicative of his ability to craft a wide range of musical styles. Overall, Pharos is a solid EP despite its shortcomings.