When one thinks black metal, they often conjure images of Satan, poor production, and hyperspeed music in their mind. While all those are very valid reasonings, black metal had more than just that. Take Emperor, for example. They possessed all the characteristics of traditional black metal, yet expanded on them with orchestral and harpsichordal compositions, sung vocals, and drums that varied from the blastbeat (not by much, but it was a start).
The group owes it all to Ihsahn, the frontman and main composer. He was with the band from their very conception, present through all of their releases, and generally one of the guiding forces of black metal. However, seemingly bound by the constraints of Emperorís genre (even though he had pissed off ďtrueĒ metalheads around the world for actually trying something different), Emperor just wasnít enough for Ihsahn. He began to devote his time to more and more solo projects, as weird as they come, eventually breaking up Emperor (even though they have reformed for a select few shows, none of which I can go to. :mad:). Included in his large list of side projects and guest appearances are the band Thou Shalt Suffer, a guest spot on the song Radical Cut by Arcturus, session synths and guitar for black metal band Zyklon-B, the eternally weird Peccatum, and the focus of this review, his latest release, The Adversary, released under his own name.
Ihsahn - The Adversary
April 18, 2006 on Candlelight Records
Ihsahn - Lead Vocals/Guitars/Bass/Synths and Orchestral Arrangements
Asgeir Mickelson - All Drums
Kristoffer G. Rygg - Guest Vocals on Homecoming
The Adversary is one of those albums that is unclassifiable, in true Ihsahn sense. It has more to do with the fact that there isnít one set style on this album then the actual music on it (though thereís some classic Ihsahn composing on here as well).
As Iíve read elsewhere, this album is ďa trip through the genres of metalĒ. Ihsahn delves into tons of different genres on here, ranging from the almost Dream Theater esque prog metal of Homecoming to black metal on tracks like Invocation and Citizen, and even the classic rock stylings of Called By The Fire. And, of course, thereís no shortage of the sound he was working towards in Emperor. This album completes what he was trying to achieve, which as best I can make out was an almost gothic style coupled with tons of synth layers.
And, of course, since itís Ihsahn, you know there will be no shortage of musical ability. His ability to change styles at the drop of a hat is uncanny, and he is a better guitarist than most people give him credit for. Although we donít see him solo much on here, the riffs he writes are nevertheless challenging. Ihsahnís music isnít about showing off his technicality, itís about creating a mood in the listener. And he does that with the utmost perfection.
Asgeirís drumming doesnít stand out particularly much, but he handles them well. He appears to be very versatile as well, simply because of the broad range of styles on here. The drums never seem out of place at all, they flow with the music rather well. While heíll never be on the same level as Trym (Emperorís current drummer, and an absolute beast), he does possess the ability to NOT play blastbeats constantly.
Same goes for Kristoffer (also known to many as Garm). Kristoffer is quite possibly one of the best vocalists ever IMO, but on this release he doesn't do much. Ihsahn proves much more versatile here, but Kristoffer pulls out a good performance nonetheless. Heís got a good range, and a nice voice. Nothing too standoutish, but it blends with the music well.
However, I think what really makes this release is the orchestral and choral arrangements. Ihsahn always had a knack for blending an orchestra into black metal without making it sound like the orchestra was doing all the work (Dimmu Borgir could take a few cues from him). Thereís the ever-present strings and piano in most songs, and they give a depressing, yet beautiful feel to many of the songs.
Per usual with Ihsahn, thereís bound to be a level of weirdness in the music. Even though this album isnít as weird as releases heís put out with Peccatum (now THAT is beyond weird, yet it still kicks epic ass), thereís the ever-present state of ďFuh?Ē throughout this album. It will take some time to grow on you; I admit myself that Iím still not completely used to this album, but it grows on me more the more I listen to it.
If you desire, there are some recommended tracks. However, all of the tracks are worth listening to, if only to hear the different styles the album possesses:
- If I am not mistaken, this is the single from the album. The beginning of this album takes us back to Prometheus, the last album that Emperor released. The first half of it is very black metally, but it gives way to a softer sound.
Called By The Fire
- Ihsahn doing rock music? What has this world come to!?!? Itís actually really, REALLY good. Catchy as hell riff, some unbelievable notes he hits as a vocalist, and JUST enough of his trademark flair to make it sound like his own, but not too much like his own.
- Black metal, plain and simple. Aside from a few breaks, this is as black metal as Ihsahn can make it. Blastbeats, trem picking, phlegm-clogged throat vocals...the whole nine yards.
- In a complete 180 degree shift from the last song, we have some prog here. Even though the verse riff is completely ripped off from A Change Of Seasons by Dream Theater, Kristoffer manages to make the song his own. His performance is a break from Ihsahnís strained (it sounds a lot like that) vocals, and what he lacks in power, he makes up for in beauty. Odd time signatures complete this song.
Astera ton Proinon
- One needs the song title in a weird language. Itís a staple. This is the ďballadĒ of the album, and itís one of my personal favorites. The piano and strings take over for the verses in a very pretty, haunting arrangement, but itís the chorus that really takes the spotlight. Everything kicks back in, and Ihsahn cranks the screams back up, but he does it in a way that actually channels more emotion than the verses, oddly enough. The female chorus does a good job of backing him up as well.
- Is this an essential release to have? Probably not, but itís still an entertaining listen. Fans of Ihsahn in any way, shape, or form wonít be disappointed with this, as it has enough ďtr00nessĒ to stay loyal to Emperor, yet it has the flair of Peccatum as well. And, of course, everything in between. Pick this up if you want some original music, or if you want something that style jumps between many different genres.
Final Rating - 8/10