Cards on the table (or as a former Polish colleague used to say, “balls exposed”), MonkHammer has never been into black metal. We’ve tried, but the sound of a sexually frustrated teenage banshee humping a rusty angle grinder for attention has never really appealed. As a consequence, we’ve always avoided Emperor frontman Ihsahn’s solo output, despite glowing reviews from both friends and the media alike, until now, and to be honest, we’re kind of pissed off we did, because Arktis is a triumph of atmosphere, experimentation and good old fashioned songwriting. Like the best art, Arktis cannot be categorised by one single genre or mood. The album snakes in and out of extreme metal, hard rock, power balladry and smooth jazz, swinging from bludgeoning fury to delicate introspection at the flick of a dainty studded wrist, often within the same song, and although elements of black metal’s ridiculous vocal histrionics remain, the lyrics are for the most part (shock, horror) intelligible, while the screeching is balanced by actual real-life, hold-a-note-not-your-balls singing. This is further complemented by meaningful instrumentation that deftly, repeatedly and often unwittingly straddles the bridge between instant gratification and prog wankery to create a work of unexpected beauty. On top of that, each and every song has its own distinct flavour, like the act headings in a macabre musical – “Ghost conduct an orchestra of the damned” (‘Pressure’); “Kenny G and Willy Wonka take a boat ride” (‘Crooked Red Line’); “Trent Reznor’s séance goes wrong” (‘Til Tor Ulven’); and best of all, “Opeth jam with the spirt of Randy Rhoads” (‘Until I Too Dissolve’). Surprising, challenging, exhilarating and fulfilling, a SuBo of extremity.