Review Summary: angL is way too safe to be interesting.
This is going to sound weird so bear with me for a minute. When Emperor ceased to be and Ihsahn announced he was going solo, the famed frontman was put in the very same situation as the not-so-metal Justin Timberlake. I know, I know, it’s like comparing apples and ora…cabbage, but my point is that at some point, he’d probably have to survive off more than his name alone. His solo debut, The Adversary
, was to him what Justified was to Justin Timberlake; good, not great, but certainly brimming with potential. But that’s where comparisons end. Surely we can’t expect Ihsahn to get sexy on his follow-up. What we can expect, apparently, is more of the same.
From the moment I read that Ihsahn’s sophomore solo release was to be titled angL
, I struggled to keep a straight face. Call me shallow, but I just couldn’t expect an album with such an atrocious title–akin to some sort of bizarre post-modern nightclub circa 1998–to be anything but loleriffic. I gave it a few listens, and it was certainly not as funny as I’d expected. But after I gave it a few more, I kind of wished it was. While The Adversary
was a continuation of Emperor's curtain-closing Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire and Demise
with an added infusion of King Diamond goodness, angL
might as well be a compilation of Adversary
b-sides. Where The Adversary
was dynamic, angL
is emotionless. angL feels as though it doesn’t exist because Ihsahn has anything interesting to say; it exists because the fans expect it to. And while it’s surely adequate, adequate is hardly something someone with a track record as respected as Ihsahn should aspire to.
Before I imply that angL
is a disjointed, unlistenable mess, it should be known that fans of The Adversary
will certainly enjoy what the album has to offer, at least on the surface. This is because, as noted, the songs on angL
sound almost exactly like the songs off of The Adversary
, but this time around it somehow feels different. If possible, it almost feels like Ihsahn has gone solo again, which is to imply that he broke off another chunk of his sound and ran with it. What he ran with was the swooping, symphonically shaded "progressive" black metal The Adversary
thrived off of. What he forgot was that extra effort, that effort listeners could feel on his earlier work. angL
is a flat, stagnated continuation of The Adversary
, and evidently I can’t say this enough.
Perhaps the biggest issue with angL
is that the album is centered entirely on Ihsahn’s vocals. This seems obvious; Ihsahn made his name front-and-centre stage behind the mic. Here’s the problem: Ihsahn’s vocals kind of suck. Once known for his borderline shriek, Ishahn’s harsh vocals have withered and decayed into an overly strained remnant of what they once were. Seemingly stuck in a perpetual state of "about to cough", Ihsahn’s half-scream-half-shout will make your throat hurt vicariously. His screams are still instantly recognizable, but this time around they’re recognized as a startling reminder of how far off course he’s drifted. Much like the music it accompanies, Ihsahn’s rasp feels forced. While his clean vocals have seemingly improved over time, they can’t come close to making up for the disappointment you’ll feel when he makes his entrance 20 seconds into "Misanthrope". No amount of post-production can salvage his performance and believe me, from the sounds of it, they certainly tried their best.
Picking apart each song on angL
simply isn’t worth the effort. The album very rarely threatens to be interesting and other than the nearly
flawless "Unhealer", a track that features Mikael Akerfedlt at the top of his vocal game, there are no real standouts. The songs do very little to distinguish themselves, in fact "Misanthrope" and "Scarab" might as well be the same song re-written. Simply put, angL
is adequate, but at this point I expect more from Ihsahn.