Angel Studios, Islington, London
27th March 2008
Review and pics by HannTu
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend an exclusive listening session for Ihsahn’s upcoming album at Angel Studios here in Islington, London, with Ihsahn himself in attendance. The irony of the location didn’t strike me till later, as the title of his new album is angL, pronounced “Angel”.
Ihsahn is an unassuming person. He has a mild-mannered air that sometimes borders on shyness; some people could mistake his quietness for a lack of confidence. His modest laugh and almost apologetic humour is disarmingly charming. As he fiddled about with the faulty CD player in the studio, I had to constantly remind myself that this man was the leader of one of the most ferocious black metal bands in the genre’s history. His dark eyes, now hidden behind wire-rimmed spectacles, were the eyes that glared out at the audience in EMPERIAL LIVE CEREMONY, when Emperor tore through London in 1999. That low voice with a trace of accent was the same death shriek on IN THE NIGHTSIDE ECLIPSE. That mind, for those who choose to underestimate it, has composed some of the most technical, bewildering, evil and cerebral music ever recorded.
I loved his first album, THE ADVERSARY. It was a mixed bag of ideas – it was very progressive, very eclectic, very experimental, very haphazard (in a good way) in that it felt like Ihsahn was exploring all his musical desires with no fear whatsoever. It wasn’t bound by normality; so you had King Diamond-ish falsettos alongside light jazzy acoustic interludes. You had epic passages mixed in with black-ish screams and shred wizardry. Thrash riffs, prog riffs, BM riffs, everything! It was a very refreshing album, one without much regard to convention at all. Bearing all that in mind, what has he come up with now?
He describes it as “a natural progression from THE ADVERSARY , but with a somewhat heavier touch”. I would not disagree. I feel that it is a more ‘mature’ album. By this I mean that it is less exuberant, but more focused. In THE ADVERSARY, there was youthfulness, a joy at being unshackled by expectation, custom or convention. It made for an at times chaotic album. On angL, I feel he has taken the parts of THE ADVERSARY that worked, and developed them to reach the next level of his musical evolution. Where THE ADVERSARY was a tribute to his musical influences of the past, (and he wore those influences proudly on his sleeve at all times), angL is an unmistakeably ‘Ihsahn album’. It is not as overt. It is subtle. The various facets of Ihsahn’s musical upbringing – and there are many, uncountable – are incorporated into the song; one cannot point to a particular thing and say, that is from x and that is from y.
Fans need not fear that he has lost the prog approach. It was the progressiveness of THE ADVERSARY that made it so refreshing and so enjoyable. Ihsahn has not relinquished the complexity or the technicality. He is incapable of doing so, and has been even since the days of Emperor and IN THE NIGHTSIDE ECLIPSE. The songs are a musical journey each unto themselves – they encompass moods and emotions of all conceivable descriptions; ups and downs; peaks, troughs and in-betweens. You want to analyse, dissect, understand this man’s music, but at the same time, you want to be swept along and just let him lead you by the nose. It is cerebral but visceral.
The album itself is about 50 minutes long, and it is full to the brim of music. It’s not just metal, although there’s a lot of that as well. It is on the whole a less guitar-oriented record than THE ADVERSARY. The guitar as an instrument does not shove itself to the forefront, screaming to be heard. The riffs, whether black metal, thrash or prog, are well-defined but not ostentatious – from fast prog hooks; to technical jazz-death riffs; to straight thrash, low E strumming; to wickedly swirling, discordant dirty open chords. The soloing is tasteful, utilising unorthodox scale patterns; there is variety too, with all-out wah shredding and squealing pinch harmonics, mixed with slow mournful, reverb soaked wails. There are acoustic interruptions to break up songs, from twinkling jazzy piano interludes accompanied by china splashes and loose jazzy drumming, to evocative broken chord, arpeggiated passages set to a background of epic symphony.
According to Ihsahn, he is lyrically inspired by the nihilism of Nietschze and the devilry of Faust. The singing itself has been toned down. The black shrieks and tortured growls are used relatively sparingly, but to great effect – there is beauty and passion from that tormented throat. Gone completely are the over-the-top King Diamond falsettos. Ihsahn mostly sings in clean, but don’t for a minute think that the aggression and evil and anger and emotion is gone. He manages to sound emotionless while conveying emotion, if that makes any sense at all. Mikael Akerfeldt from Opeth contributes lead vocals to “Unhealer”, where the almost metalcore-ish twin vocal style of “growl vs scream” singing is utilised.
Overall, I think this album is very much in the vein of Ihsahn. He maintains his musical exploration while consolidating himself as a true virtuoso. Hardcore fans of Emperor who slated PROMETHEUS and who criticised Ihsahn for doing THE ADVERSARY had better turn away. This album is for anyone who loves music for music’s sake (which is probably beyond the ken of the more “true” section of black metal fandom anyway). Borders are crossed, nay, shattered here; musical boundaries are flouted, abused and mocked. It is a great album, and perhaps upon repeated listens, even a brilliant one.
The album is scheduled to be released on May 26th 2008 on Candlelight Records.
“LONG AWAITED STUNNING NEW ALBUM FROM EMPEROR FRONTMAN IHSAHN:
Opeth frontman Mikael Akerfeldt has recorded a guest appearance on the track ‘Unhealer’ from the forthcoming solo album from former Emperor vocalist/guitarist Ihsahn, entitled ‘angL’. Ihsahn commented: ‘We’ve been talking about doing something for a while and I’m really happy it finally came together. Needless to say, Mikael’s performance is nothing short of amazing!’ Asgeir Mickelson and Lars Norberg (both of Spiral Architect) were responsible for laying down the drum and bass tracks on the CD respectively. Ihsahn said: ‘Asgeir and Lars have delivered a rock-solid foundation for the whole album. Pounding blast beats to slow fretless passages are all performed with great precision.’ angL is tentatively due mid-spring via Mnemosyne Productions/Candlelight Records. Ihsahn previously described the musical direction of the new CD as ‘a natural progression from THE ADVERSARY , but with a somewhat heavier touch.’”
Thanks to Darren Toms at Plastic Head Distribution for the invitation.