The world’s metal scene is heavily loaded with side projects and secondary bands. In a somehow rough statistic ruling, it is quite obvious that most of them don’t elevate to the level of the whelping mother band. Naturally, the expectation arising when there’s new mysterious project, courtesy of prominent and influential artists like Vegard Tveitan. To those who breathe their share of black clouds, the man known as Ihsahn, the leader of the best black metal band ever, Emperor. I think that the man is a genius – limit breaker musician and amazing lyricist, even a poet. With his vision, Emperor defined anew the genre with each new album, with its complex and expressive music. Despite the temptation, this review handles Ihsahn’s other band and the most meaningful one – Peccatum.
Actually, Peccatum is a family band. Beside Ihsahn stands the other prominent and balancing figure – his wife, Heidi Tveitan, AKA Ihriel. The third figure is Ihriel’s brother, Lord PZ (didn’t have his real name), vocalist of the goth-metal band Source of Tide. This fact, as later examined, contributed to the album the wrapping feeling that the music was created by people very close to each other, as they are very close to the music and to the worlds behind it.
Peccatum was formed by Ihriel in 1998, as an expression to her ambitions to translate her inner world to sounds. To my interpretation, this data is placing the band in constant tension between its leading figures. Between her meaningful contribution in arousing life and shining, and his proven ability as an erudite musician, there’s somehow a concealed struggle which leaves her, carved in our minds as less important figure, under his reputation. As goes the first paragraph in this review, the attitude towards Peccatum is like another fruit from Ihsahn’s tree, and Ihriel follow his trail.
Peccatum’s debut album, dating from 1999, was conceived through a tight cooperation of the married couple. She created the concept and wrote all the lyrics, he composed the songs and played all the instruments. They both sing – Ihsahn with his majestic voice, sometimes screeching, sometimes low but mainly clean, revealing clear Placet tendencies and operatic attitude. To this attitude, Ihriel is playing a partner, delivering the songs in a tender Soprano voice, sometimes cracking into screams and whispers. Lord PZ, also a clean vocalist, is the weakest of the threesome. Although his voice fits the music well, it’s not as impressive as his counterparts and therefore he disappears in the back. Musically, Peccatum is squeezing itself to the somewhat vague category of avant-garde metal. In practice, the band represents Ihsahn’s open perspectives, as expressed since the middle Emperor period: not just black metal and its satellites, but also progressive, ambient, classical and symphonic music, as well some electronic sparks. Consequent upon this, Peccatum is a bucketful of quite a few musical genres, under his vision. The basis is black metal, travelling through gentleness to aggressive breakings and has given unrest melodies. Also accompanied by synth work, defined by classic escort and ambient sprinkles, within progressive song constructions. Over this concoction lies a feeling one can get by a careful listening to a profound doom metal album: the same feeling of enlightening corners with a little torch, of the deep penetration into the artist’s inner depths. The album is abundant with emotions, in writing and in performance and it’s capable of cancelling schematic declarations that are not cohesive of metal and of pure emotions display. Despite its creator’s experience, the album shines of precedence, the rejoicing of primal creation.
The album contains 9 songs of changing diverse, keeping the high Peccatumian standards: complex craftsmanship, varied singing and refined playing, wrapped in great beauty. The opening song carries the scorched wonderment that accompanied the entire album as a ghost: “Where do I then belong?” – violins, pipe organ and ethereal vocals against Ihriel reciting the lyric as a silent elegy. A howling guitar will strike the listener with the second song outburst, “Speak of the Devil (As the Devil May Care)”, and leads to a maelstrom in which the three are singing, one into another, inside and outside to breath, shrinking under a neo-classical cloak that reminds of a horror movie soundtrack, crippling behind one’s back. Throughout the album, waves of guitars crafting them unto the listener – like the vocals, sometimes they’re breaking or run wildly to melodic solos, hardening and calming, and one cannot chase the threesome as they run down the abyss. In addition, the main riff in “The Change” reminds us that the black metal roots are too deep to be forgotten. The progressive structure of “The Sand Was Made of Mountains” is stirring and proves that complexity and beauty do live together. Nonetheless, the best song on the album and my favourite is “The World of No Worlds” – almost 9 epic minutes, so fragile, breaking with guitars that almost touch the climax and the heart beats, and the song repeats that to the next effort.
The album exalts a concept of self-seeking journey of a human being (sometimes mentioned as an angel), torn between life and reality, and the worlds beyond, lack of pertinence cast upon him like the hands of the burning sun. The concept is split into two parts: the first is named “The Black and the White Meant for Nothing. The Shadows Meant for All”, includes the first 5 songs and binds a process of death and rebirth into a new shape and foreign destiny. The second part, “The Carrier of Sorrow Transforms”, describes the inner decay, the consuming darkness, the emptiness. It’s obvious that the lyrical side of the album was conceived through a lot of thoughtful work: the lyrics are well-written, abound with metaphors and still navigate clearly through the protagonist’s feelings. Over the words lies a poetic magic, giving tenderness and dark grace.
In some contradiction to the the fact that the album is a concept album and in sharp contradiction to the song “The World of No Worlds”, each song is a world of its own, another step in the eternal quest of Peccatum to reveal the secrets of the human soul – the laden and silent cosmos. The combination of the endless musical abilities of Ihsahn, as a musician and as a co-creator, and of the unusual interpretation of Ihriel gives the band two hands: creating and anthropomorphizing.
Another interesting issue, dealing with the previously mentioned tension, relates to the selection of the album’s name. Although it’s a line taken from the sixth song, it illustrates well the atmosphere, and even so, in light of the bursting of creativity, an ironic exclamation is needed. On the one hand, one can wonder whether it’s the hidden sides of Ihsahn, which he cannot express in his mother-band, or a statement with a wink to his audience – my creation wellspring will never cease to gurgle. On the other hand, it is appropriate to spotlight Ihriel, for she formed the band and created the basics of the album. It is possible that choosing the name is her personal utterance, men’s aside. An optional reinforcement of this choice can be found on the album’s cover, where she appears alone, on a dark green background, directing wide open eyes and tight lips to us. She might be the strangled one, maybe because her husband talent gets eternal hails and her talent stays in the shadows, and Peccatum is her way to daylight.
In my opinion, the album is very unique thanks to the cooperation of these two. Although it’s colored much with Ihriel’s outlines, his valid most in favor of the hearts and minds who created, and not only for Ihsahn’s brand name. At the same time, Ihriel proves her talent – not just “the wife of…” – in an overwhelming display, which is not disposable, but it’s only natural that the band finds it a bit hard to reconstruct the primal flame in its future albums, continuing the experimental line but suffering from what sterility and over polished sounds.
In 2001, during her Peccatum activity, Ihriel formed her solo project “Star of Ash”, displaying experimental electronics with metal and rock influences. Lord PZ has left the band, which took the direction of the further realms of avant-garde, of electronics and jazz, until the split-up in March 2006.
01. Where Do I Then Belong
02. Speak Of The Devil (As The Devil May Care)
03. The Change
04. The Song Which No Name Carry
05. The Sand Was Made Of Mountains
06. I Breathe Without Access To Air
07. The World Of No Worlds
08. And Pray For Me
09. An Ovation To Art