Released: 2008, Candlelight Records
Reviewer: The Crimson King
In retrospect, 2006 was a pretty good year for metal. Many long standing artists produced what could be considered career topping albums within their individual genres. In the world of death metal, Kataklysm unleashed IN THE ARMS OF DEVASTATION, Viking metallers Amon Amarth returned with the album of the year in WITH ODEN ON OUR SIDE, Amorphis changed singers, and released their best album in years with ECLIPSE. But looking back, the real hidden gem amongst all the releases may have been the first solo album by former Emperor front man, Ihsahn. To say that THE ADVERSARY was a pleasant surprise would be understating the fact. Ihsahn released a monster of an album that shattered genre defining barriers. In doing so he cemented his legacy in the world of metal as not only the creative force behind arguably the most influential black metal band of all time, but as a relevant solo artist whose music demanded to be heard.
ANGL comes as the follow up to the masterful work done on THE ADVERSARY. The album sees Ihsahn further exploring his progressive influences, but he incorporates these into an album with an overall darker feel and tone than its predecessor. The album opens with the track “Misanthrope” which is probably the ‘heaviest’ track on the album. It is reminiscent of “Invocation”, the opening track from THE ADVERSARY, in that it seems to sit as the track meant to appease the long time followers of the artist by incorporating some of the trademark late era Emperor feel and texture in to track. But where “Invocation” provided the listener a glimpse of things to come with its acoustic and clean vocal passages, “Misanthrope” provides none of that. It is a good song with some real atmospheric keyboard overlays, but ultimately feels like the kind of song Ihsahn could have wrote in his sleep. The track “Scarab” follows and begins to lay the true basis of what kind of journey the listener is in store for. While Ishahn’s trademark growl is present through most of the track, it is placed over a guitar line that would be lauded by many of today’s progressive masters. By the time the clean vocals come in over the top of a solo grand piano passage 3 minutes into the song, you find that you are already lost in the atmosphere and texture he has created. And once the music has you it refuses to let you go. “Elevator” is another musical journey where all the pressure points are pressed at just the right time. This segues directly into “Threnody” which plays an emotional tug of war with the listener, with passages of beauty transitioning into darkness and back out again.
But the true gem on the album comes in the form of “Unhealer”, a collaborative track done with Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth. The overall feel of the track harkens back to songs like “Windowpane” or “Death Whispered a Lullaby” from Opeth’s Damnation album, but when the dual growling vocals hit you realize this would be just at home on “Blackwater Park”. Akerfeldt handles the vocals for most of the song, and does it with his normal aplomb. The song transitions from slower clean vocal passages to heavy growls, in which Ishahn and Akerfeldt trade off lines each using their signature growl. This track in itself makes the album a must own, and ranks as one of the best metal songs of the year.
It is clear after listening to ANGL that Ihsahn is in no way cursed with the infamous “sophomore slump” That being said, I recommend this album with a few minor caveats. First this is clearly not an album for Emperor purists (or black metal purists in general) hoping for something along the lines of that band’s previous output. While, at points, there are clear correlations in style to albums like PROMETHEUS, his solo work is in no way black metal. Secondly, for fans of THE ADVERSARY: while this album is reflective of much of the work on that album, it does hold some significant changes. He has done away almost entirely with King Diamond-esque screams that were present in many songs. Furthermore there are no songs on here like “Called by the Fire”, with immediately memorable choruses, and 80’s Priest like guitar production. This album sits as a darker, more progressive, chapter in his solo career. The songs are almost visceral, and the album begs to be appreciated on that level. It is an album you ‘feel’ more than “listen to”. It challenges the listener, and those willing to take the challenge may find themselves discovering one of their favorite albums of the year.