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When I first started listening to this album I really didn't know what my direction or angle would be if I was ever to write a review of it - Emperor being one of those bands where an outsider's words often seem horribly superfluous, if not redundant, and ever since I started reading all the accolades and (let's face it) unmitigated sycophancy coming from the more 'mainstream' extreme metal press, I didn't think I would be able to craft an original review that accurately documented my own opinions or was obviously honest enough to escape the flood of derision that follows criticism concentrating on dissecting a band's work irregardless of their popularity, reputation, etc. But now, since some time has passed and I have listened to this album so many times, really quite out of proportion with my opinion of its importance, I am moved once again to comment on it, striving to summon my true feelings about this work, and forgetting all the other myriad opinions of Emperor that fly ceaselessly throughout the underground.
I think that Emperor are praised so often not because of their intrinsic merits or their skill at handling the functioning of their band, but because they constantly upstage or upset the critics' opinions - they surprise, in some sense, with each release. I am almost convinced that nobody at all, in whatever circle, expected the firestorm that was 'Anthems', their second full-length, and much less did anyone expect the form in which it was released: as a fall and turning-away (in some aspects) from their former avant-garde atmospheric metal exploration allied with a new appreciation of lethal aggressiveness. 'Anthems' is, of course, an incredible album, a masterpiece (one of my favorite parts, the break that occurs at exactly 4:16 in 'The Loss and Curse of Reverence', has to be one of the most powerful moments in metal history), but it was founded on Emperor's unmatched ability to retain a beautiful balance between their atmospheric and rhythmic sides - something this album fails at. Well before the appearance of 'Anthems', Emperor had a reputation as somewhat of an 'art metal' band, meaning that they appealed to a small, decidedly snobby set of aesthetic purists (don't worry, I place myself in that group) - highbrows with set opinions on the direction black metal should take in the future. Emperor have always been about atmosphere, or to put it more precisely: the exploration of aesthetic convictions with all available methods. In that sense, their music was often much more interesting display of what could be, of form, instead of the arrangement of classic melodies. When you listen to the first two Emperor releases, the split LP and first album, what is more important to you: the individual songs, or the immense sound of all the works together? The content or the form? Emperor is about creating an effect, more than anything else, creating an atmosphere and musical world to draw in the listener, and in that interest all the motives of riff-parading or simple musical display are subjugated beneath the effort to create a multi-textured complex soundscape where the different instruments are seemingly going in individual directions while pressing for the realization of a single purpose. It is because of this concentration on composition, on the totality of effect united under a single purpose, that Emperor have gained such a unique reputation: they constantly use every means at their disposal to create individual and highly-stylized atmospheres, and every element of their sound is whipped into line to follow the development of the various themes they put forth. This is why I know that Ihsahn (if not Samoth) considers himself a 'composer' (I have many reservations about metal musicians and their obsessions with classical music), not a song-writer, above all else, and Emperor's music in the future will follow this pattern: more symphonic complexity, more obvious atmospheres, a wider range of sounds used, and a turn from their earlier of exploration of darkness and obscurity to the pomp and circumstance of neo-classicism. This album, 'IX Equilibrium', is the first step in that process. I am wondering now whether or not the latest material they have released - the songs on the 'Thorns vs. Emperor' album and their cover on the Darkthrone tribute - are going to be indicative in any way of the direction they will pursue in the future. Both are so over-produced and saccharine sweet (in seeking to effectively reproduce their clean weight of sonic power in the studio, they have removed almost all the traces of obscure melodicism or occult mysticism that I loved so much) that they indicate, more than anything else, a change in intent for the band.
There is a certain new gloss of pop melodicism on this album that I find at times to be highly annoying - stemming, as it seems, from Emperor's decision to allow death metal or heavy metal influences into the music. Why look back, Samoth? In a number of instances those death metal segments (mainly used to increase the rhythmic intensity of the music) are very catchy and driving, allowing the guitars new mobility and a rest from the weaving of atmosphere. But at their most blasé, these new elements become tired and wooden reminders of outmoded musical genres: what has come before, and what Emperor had supposedly forgotten.
I'm not saying that Emperor have paused in their singular evolution - quite the opposite actually. They were always one of the most progressive of black metal bands, in almost every sense of that musical term, and this album shows that they have put a lot of thought into the guitar techniques, becoming, for better or worse, a very technically-involved musical apparatus (Ihsahn and Samoth appeared as highlights in at least one guitar magazine that I know of after this album's release, I'm sure there are other notices of their playing ability), intent on expanding the sheer complexity of their material. And on record, their monster riff-mongering and the inescapable density of the guitar layering here is at times stunning. To be honest, however, I am not convinced that this is something that is going to be a part of their live set or their rehearsals or the arrangement of the songs that they play everyday. Because Emperor mainly approach the writing of their music now as an opportunity to create textured strata they focus on using the guitars on many different levels throughout the soundscape of the songs, and in the studio they have the ability to record and assemble things that no band would be able to reproduce live. This approach is becoming increasingly more prevalent among the circle of bands that Emperor finds itself among: the Norwegian 'elite' scene surrounding Satyr and Moonfog Records. That is fine (and expected, really), but listeners should learn from Emperor's concentration on the art of composition to expect effects in the music that are placed as identifiers of their conviction that this music should be 'art' above all else: in other words, this album is a work separate from the abilities of the band on a day-to-say basis... it has been assembled, cobbled together, shaped, sanded, polished, and left to stand on its own merits as if it was on display in a museum. In that sense it is dead, lifeless, and without energy: instead of being a documentation of a band's place in its own evolution it is a thing molded, manufactured and mass-produced. It wears the sheen of a work of art that has been so thought-out and pre-planned that it has lost all originality or spontaneity: a product, an object, an item of consumer culture. This is the drawback of the approach the Scandinavians usually take as to the quality of their releases (their are obvious exceptions) - the German efficiency of an album's ability to meet audience demand. Of course, paradox as it may be, part of Emperor's ability to meet it's audience's demand is that it exceeds their expectations. This is a dangerous situation for any band and holds both positive and negative consequences. But if Emperor are the Mercedes of black metal now, accelerating faster and faster with the maniacal vision of Ihsahn at the wheel, is there room enough in the vehicle for true originality, for anything outside of the tunnel-vision of that drive? Where does Emperor go from here?
Following the success of Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, the members of Emperor became ever more active in their various side-projects and moved further away from the true essence of black metal. They took the positive reactions to such a flawed album as meaning that they should continue in the same direction, which only led them to create a record that can only be looked at as an abomination. Released in November 1999, IX Equilibrium saw Emperor return to be hailed by many as the kings of Norwegian black metal. This is incredibly ridiculous, as there is hardly a trace of black metal to be found on this record.
By 1999, black metal had become a worldwide trend and a good number of these bands were taking influence from Emperor's earlier works, incorporating a great deal of synth into their music, often at the expense of actual riffs. Even worse, they were adding gothic elements and making something that was really the antithesis of what it claimed to be. Ihsahn, himself, jumped on this symphonic/goth bandwagon with his side-project, Peccatum. It is kind of humourous that he got swept up in trends that he had some part in influencing in the first place. Meanwhile, Samoth had been moving in a different direction, becoming more interested in technicality than obscurity.
Therein lies one of the greatest differences between Emperor's third full-length album and those that came before it. There is a total absence of the obscure atmosphere that was conveyed by In the Nightside Eclipse, which itself was somewhat of a leap in quality from the necro sound of Wrath of the Tyrant. Still, there was a common thread that ran between them. Even from the band's debut L.P. to Anthems... one can hear some traces of their black metal roots, despite how overblown and convoluted that whole record was. They had at least tried to create some kind of atmosphere, even if their horrid symphonic approach failed. With IX Equilibrium, they failed in a different way.
This album fails to live up to the Emperor name, and that takes into account my complete disdain for its predecessor. While the goofy keyboards and Ihsahn's trademark raspy voice have remained, along with an abundance of clean singing, this is a totally different beast. This is the point where Emperor ceased to be a black metal band and joined the growing legions of generic 'extreme metal' groups. The music here is heavy and technical and features a lot of fast riffs and Trym pummeling his drum kit to bits while Ihsahn screams over everything, but there is no substance. Out of the entire album, there are a very tiny amount of actual black metal melodies, and even these are used to bridge other nonsensical ideas together. The riffs are mostly a combination of thrash and death metal, drenched in soulless technicality that has replaced the obscure atmosphere of their past releases with a sterile feeling, but hoping to impress listeners with how flawless the playing is. This is the sort of thing that happens to musicians that started out their careers not knowing how to play all that well, but creating nonetheless, and then wanting to show off their developing skills. The trouble is, by the time these types can master their instruments, they have lost the ability to write worthwhile music. Such was the case with Emperor.
What other crime is committed here, other than trading songwriting skill for musicianship? Of course, the rotting and festering, hideous stench of all things modern. The production is as clean as it gets and sounds like the band went to a top-notch studio with all of the latest equipment for completely draining the last few remaining drops of sincerity right out of this. Every element is crystal clear, which would allow everything to be heard perfectly if not for the fact that it is all mixed so loud that things seem to run together, anyway. It is odd to think of something being so clear and yet sounding like a mess at the same time, but that does seem to be the case. A lot of it has to do with the synth, which is severely abused and far too high in the mix. Since the actual music lacks any hope for creating atmosphere, they relied on the keyboards to do it for them. Instead, it just makes the proceedings sound all the more light-hearted and ridiculous, as there is no way possible that was meant to sound dark or menacing.
With this record, the members of Emperor reveal themselves to be posers of the highest order. They began making generic death metal and that is what they returned to, once they were no longer hanging around the likes of Euronymous and Varg Vikernes. In this case, the pure black metal of Wrath of the Tyrant and In the Nightside Eclipse must have been more of an anomaly, inspired by the scene that they were caught up in at the time, rather than something that was truly burning within them. Along with bands like Satyricon and Enslaved, it became clear that the followers knew not where to go once their leaders had passed on.
If you wish to wallow in the soulless and sterile stench of modern 'extreme metal', then IX Equilibrium may be for you. If you are more drawn to shameless pretentiousness and egotism rather than a dark atmosphere, you may enjoy this atrocity. This album is filled with the sort of faux-progressive nonsense that easily impresses more simple-minded listeners. If you want to be associated with Norwegian black metal without actually having the courage to listen to the real thing, then this is the perfect L.P. to get you such scene credibility. Otherwise, save your money and avoid this like the disease-ridden filth that it is.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com
I really can't tell you for certain why this album is not enjoyable at all. I really can't. While listening to it I think to myself, you know this isn't half bad. But giving that I've had this CD for almost three years, and I've only been able to listen to it beginning to end one time, I have to say that this album must suck ass.
It's like this, every few months I'll go looking through my shelf for a CD to listen to that I haven't paid attention to in a while. And a couple times I've picked this one. I'd pop it in my CD player, and (exceptions being recently in preparation for this review) get through like three songs and then turn off. Were my ears bleeding from the painful drivel I was hearing? Not at all. I was just bored. REALLY BORED.
And that’s the best reason I can give as to why this album does not deserve your attention. Unless of course you're a huge Emperor fan, in which case this still may appeal to you, Because all the elements are still there, just arranged in a way that makes it just a dense buzzing of symphonic and metal instrumentation that doesn't really lead to anything. There’s no build up to a dramatic climax or epic mood changes and atmosphere to this album. Just a lot of admittedly original keyboard swirls and chugging guitar chords. Throw in some operatic vocals and this album doesn't know or care what is.
Where’s the haunting keyboard break that leads to a crashing finish like on Into the Infinity of Thoughts? The transitions of The Majesty of the Night Sky? Or that bleak black metal trademark that engulfs their masterful self-titled E.P.? It isn't there. To be honest, this album kind of just comes off as wank. The guitars are as technical as ever, with tones of riffs and flitting tap-filled mini solos, and there’s a fuck load of keyboard orchestration, and there’s vocal acrobatics that would make Leona Lewis upset. And there’s just nothing in it for me.
The productions really clean and balanced, but is that what we wanted to happen? Fuck, In the Nightside Eclipse has one of the most lopsided production jobs ever, and that works fine, because it fits the music. I don't want Emperor sounding like some polished tech-prog band! But, that’s pretty much what we have here.
Not to say this album is completely worthless (again, die-hard fans may like this whole package) because a couple moments are there that don't make me smack myself for shelling out the eight bucks or whatever it was. First of all, the first track, Curse You All Men! is really good. The King Diamond shriek in the beginning leading into some guitar scales with a buildup of strings. Very good. The Intro to Of Blindness and Subsequent Seers is pretty good too. And Nonus Aequilibrium has a few guitar fills that I dig. But in the end, even the good aspects of this album aren't what I want from an Emperor album. Not one bit.
But, for a few redeeming moments sprinkled amidst the shit storm, Emperor's IX Equilibrium shirks by with a 31 out of 100 or a 2 out of 5.
Curse You All Men
Uhh... the packaging is pretty....
The one thing IX Equilibrium gets immediately right over Anthems to the Welkin to the Dusk is that it grabs the listener by the throat and then keeps squeezing. While I can't promise that this is some cohesive work of brilliance on the level of Emperor's debut, it's at least far more engaging over the course than its 1997 predecessor. While this album adheres to Anthems level of studio presentation and polish, many of the individual components stand out far more on their own. It's not some wall of force from which the audience should be expected to pluck out individual, memorable strains where there are none. The guitars are more potent, frenzied and pummeling, and the vocals more angered and distinct, or more convincing when they swerve into cleaner territory. The riffs are slightly more charismatic and varied, and the lyrics just as strong as either of the earlier full-lengths.
That said, where this one suffers a bit is in the consistency of the songs' quality. A few of them kick serious some backside, and the rest are competent but undistinguished. IX Equilibrium can seem almost confusing for the first few spins, due to its heightened sense of technical acrobatics, a hyperactive carousel of psychosis. Given some attention, though, it yields reasonable enough rewards and several of the tracks belong on any Emperor highlight reel. It's also worth noting that this is really the final 'black metal' album in the Norwegians' career. Esoteric and artsy to the extreme, Ihsahn and company never had any real intentions of repeating themselves, but stretching the possibilities of what this music could accomplish if flavored with various outside influences. The obvious would be neo-classical composition, but if you've listened to either of the head honchos' other projects (Peccatum, Zyklon, Ihsahn solo material ,etc) you can hear the larger pattern of evolution always at the fore of their creative mindset. And given Emperor's position as top shelf, intelligent entertainers, I think they set a pretty good example for the many black metal acts since who've incorporated classical, progressive, ambient and death metal into their throughput.
IX Equilibrium takes no time gathering its storm together and unleashing it through "Curse You All Men!", one of the more exciting tracks on the album, with loads of intense riffing that never seems to become overshadowed by the backing orchestration. The verse rhythms are taut and punishing, with cautionary horns blaring off against the muted tremolo, yet at the same time playfully threaded with sweeping pianos. Not all the patterns are interesting, but so unified in thundering violence that you never really get to come up for air and complain about it. The same could be said for numerous other tracks here like "Decrystallizing Reason", "The Source of Icon E", or "Sworn", all of which practice the same overwhelming whirlwind aesthetics and prove that Emperor was still one of the most precise, hard hitting acts throughout all of the modernization of European black metal into the 21st century.
But in truth, this is an album which becomes more intriguing in lockstep to its eccentricity. One of the finer pieces is "Nonus Aequilibrium", which makes excellent use of the clean, brooding along with a surgical sequence of rapid fire mutes and gleaning, sparse melodies. "An Elegy of Icaros" measures off smoother contours of progressively infused guitars with some swerves into pure thrash, vibrant synthesizers and more of Ihsahn's howling. "The Warriors of Modern Death" has this great, mid-paced rocking undercurrent which reminded me quite a lot of the late 80s Viking initiative taken by Bathory, only with some bursts of chugging, orchestration and unusual, subtle leads to vary the formula. Yet, even in all these cases, one can trace the straight roots back to Anthems and In the Nightside Eclipse. Emperor had yet to foray too far from their original path, and thus IX Equilibrium earns a measure of respect even from those who loathe its successor.
Ultimately, while it's a more functional and formidable follow-up to Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, the album still lacks a lot of that punch which cast the debut instantly into legend. It may just be the more polished production standards, which leech away some of the malevolence and mystique of the genre, but thematically the songwriting here is more about dextrous wizardry than creating some pervasive, haunted atmosphere. I was personally the most impressed with this band when I could listen to their music on some cold or raining (or both) night and have the skin scared off me by their sonic despotism and desperate, narcissistic hostility. An album like IX Equilibrium is more something I put in the stereo to show friends just how dizzying this trio of Ihsahn, Samoth and Trym had become upon their individual instruments. Talented, technical and complex, I enjoyed the album more than Anthems, though it's still far from essential.
I do not see how any single person can listen to this album in its entirety and not be blown away; beat over the head, and woken up in shock at the excellence of this album. Never before have I heard an album that perfectly combines such lovely forms of music and thrash metal and black metal. This happens to be a perfect mixture and whereas some tracks are simply far to once side and others are a mix of both, they still exist in perfect harmony together. Even such tracks as “Elegy of Icaros” and “Decrystallizing Reason” contain melodic elements. The huge combination of Timbres comes as a shock because rarely do we see bands pull it off, be it Satyricon failing miserably in applying modern rock elements or modern Mayhem… god knows what that is, it is just very hard to do. Through the years we have seen Ishahn annihilate boundaries and consistently create new ideas at a pace that many musicians may find hard to keep up with. In fact, Ishahn may very well be the Alex Skolnick of Black metal.
Emperor took a large risk when creating this album. The alleged Emperor fan at the time would most likely be expecting more blaring keyboards, insane blast beats, and wicked spine chilling vocals. Well, all these came, but in a totally different way than expected. I think at this point the keyboarding of Ishahn has been mastered. In the Nightside Eclipse there were mostly chords and eerie sounds coming from the keyboards to add ambience, then in Anthems he was pioneering using melodies, but played it safe. At this point in the epic masterpiece of IX Equilibrium, the keyboards serve both roles of playing melodies in a homophonic manner and keeping eerie effect at the same time. When dissecting the drumming of this album one can realize: Holy crap, Trym is a god on Earth. When introduced to Trym in Anthems, many were surprised that somebody could play so fast, yet there was a wall of sounds that blocked out much of his playing, and some of the beats were sloppy. This was worked on and as I said, a god was conceived. We are truly introduced to Trym’s capabilities in Decrystallizing Reason. The first half of the song is just medium paced with the double bass rolling through. But once we reach the middle section, this mighty man just takes off, and the lightning fast blast beats just keep going and going for the longest time. It really just adds a mood of “Kick ass” that any metal fun should respect. Trym barley breaks a sweat and jumps up from the man who just keeps the beat to pretty much being a lead position, if you know what I mean. And ah yes, Ishahn’s vocals. I have never really seen him as one of the best vocalists but he really shines in this album. I almost fell out of my seat when I heard the power metal vocals in The source of Icon E. We have his clean vocals which are beautiful, and his wicked black metal growls that are pretty much the same they have always been. Ok I take it back; Ishahn is an amazing vocalist, pretty much because of his range. I know Ishahn has always wanted to try out everything and combine tons of influences, and I guess this album shows he can.
I have given the guitar work its own paragraph because this is where it gets interesting. Being a die hard Emperor fan I just had to buy the tab book and learn every Emperor song possible. This album is the one album that is nothing like the others, or his other work outside Emperor. I don’t know what their inspirations were, but Ishahn and Samoth decided “Dude, we gotta do some brutal thrash stuff.” And hence it was done. There is little layering of chords and melodies like the other albums in this album. The tremolo picking has been taken to a whole other level. I noticed when studying the tabs for this album (the real ones, not crappy attempts on the internet) that the style is completely different. Both guitar parts are relying on one another yet playing different stuff in perfect harmony. For example, in Curse You All Men, at one point a major triad is being played by both parts, however I found it interesting that Ishahn started at the bottom and ascended while Samoth started up top and descended. I have never seen that technique before. And when you listen to it, it sounds totally awesome. The solos are finally in key and not random whammy baring and tremolo picking. Although there is not profound solo playing, the solos that there are existing follow a very melodic and unique form that brings me back to either metallica or, dare I say it, Children of Bodom (don’t worry, its not that bad). There are many thrash relations in the guitar playing, and there is a ton of melodic minor playing, which is a favorite in the thrash world. It may be a little simple, but looking at the fact this is a renowned black metal band and not a death or thrash band, it is excellent.
Let’s take a look at the overall feel of the album. What is it that I take from listening to this album? Well for the most part it is kick-ass thrash to the max but some tracks such as Elegy of Icaros and Nonus Aequilibrium have a more in the air symphonic sense. If played loudly, this album will definitely pump you up. Headbanging and moshing to black metal is not a popular idea, but with some of these songs it is perfectly possible. There are even designated headbanging spots in some songs, the way I see it. There is an indescribable sense to this album, that is, alas, indescribable. It is hard to explain sound and the feelings you receive from it but I can say there is a tangible mood to this album. The way I see it, good music makes you feel something, which is expressed by ambience and musical technique. Emperor is clearly the undisputed master of ambience, thus, it is possible.
I want to take some time to talk about some of the songs. I will point out only the songs that are special and the highlights of the album. Uh-oh. That’s every song. Ok I will pick the most important to the album, and the extremes of each highlight.
We all know and love the mighty song Curse You All Men. This song seriously is amazing. I can’t see any Emperor concert complete without having this one in there. This is one of the crossroad songs with both elements of thrash and black metal in it. More of it is thrash however. The keyboards make the black metal effect. Anyhow, we are instantly woken up as this is the opening track, and the mighty growl and power metal scream grab your attention and then BAM in come the guitars and drums with a rolling effect that jumps right into some powerful riffing. The mighty group scream lets the listener know they are in for a mighty experience. It keeps going at a slightly fast speed throughout with the infamous chorus riff shared by the guitar and keyboard and then at the middle section there is a slight short break and then again there is this BAM and Trym and his mighty arm of blast beats takes over. It is super fast here and carries on like that for a while, with some soloing and really cool vocals. The breakdown is really cool and is one of my self titles “Head banging” spots. This song is mostly about the middle section, but it return to the beginning parts for a little bit then ends out of nowhere with a crash. Then ironically, Decrystallizing Reason kicks in right away, which is my next song of choice to talk of.
Decrystallizing Reason is my personal favorite song on the track, and is mostly a thrash song, though there are some melodic bits that are disguised as thrash. This song follows the same pattern as Curse You All Men, but a bit different. The first half of the song is walking pace and has some cool riffing. The guitar is crushing in the whole song, and pretty much the whole album. We get some cool lyrics and then some vocals but then the guitar finds its spot to hold a chord and once again, Trym and his mighty arms of death take over. The guitar is really cool here though slightly inaudible. As I said before, the blast beats just go on and on in this song, and I wonder how Trym’s arms don’t just fall off. No solo here but overall an awesome song.
An Elegy of Icaros is another kvlt favorite. This song is surprisingly completely out of place on this album. It has a whole different feel, and is one of the only songs about Greek mythology. This theme picks back up in Emperor’s next masterpiece. If I want to listen to this one, it has to be the first song I listen to, because if I listen to it after the other songs, it kind of slows things down. Still it is an excellent song. The clean vocals are beautiful and very expressive, and I love to sing along, when nobody is around of course. The song just keeps getting heavier as it goes and has very smooth transitions until we eventually find ourselves with blast beats. The very long breakdown is very up high and melodic. No vocals, just this wonderful mood of dissonance created by Ishahn’s wonderful musicianship. Then we have an awesome bouncy transition back into the main theme. I noticed this song is ten times as complex as every other song, and most of the ideas were put into it. I guess it’s because this is a different style than the rest of the album, so ideas did not have to be split.
The last track I would like to quickly talk about is Nonus Aequilibrium. What… the… hell. What was Ishahn thinking when he wrote this? I love the song no doubt, but it is really random. The parts just keep changing and none of the parts ever return. I guess he wanted to have fun and mess around, it’s a good listen, but I can definitely see why it was never played live. The crows would be like yea and then ooo and then all of a sudden where the heck are we? But I still like the song, it’s just weird.
Well, I love this album. As I questioned before, why are there no other perfect scores? This album pioneers so many new ideas, the impact is huge, and I rarely give an album a perfect score. You can trust this is an excellent album because I listen to tons of stuff and this goes down as one of my favorites. I guess other people gave a lower rating because they didn’t dissect it well enough or they were shocked at the randomness of Nonus Aequilibrium and totally fell off track. Probably not, but this album is a timeless classic with a good name to it.
There are some albums you admire for their serenity, their subtlety, and their ability to really make you think. IX Equilibrium is not an album that could ever be confused with one of those. What it is instead, boldly and with an utter confidence few other bands could hope to even fake, is one the most formidably constructed sonic batteries ever intentionally summoned up and release upon an unsuspecting populace without a trace of mercy. Virtually every song is a flurry of impossible riffs that sounds more like a blizzard of razors than anything so innocently named as a ‘note’. IX Equilibrium is, to cop a line from a much lesser band, simply a vulgar display of power.
What truly sets this behemoth apart from any of its mongoloid peers is the phenomenal skill possessed by its executors. Where one might refer to the work of say, Vital Remains or Marduk, as a sickening homicide in which some unlucky victim was put to an ugly death by way of an hour's worth of unconstructive bludgeoning, IX Equilibrium is more akin to Jackson Pollack engineering a siege. Over Trym's unceasing battery of his kit, inscrutably shifting tempo and time signature to confuse the defenders, swirling riffs splatter on the walls like so many splashes of well-aimed paints, and massive symphonies of keyboards rise overhead and gradually transmute into siege towers. But while there is beauty in the abstraction, IX Equilibrium is also authentically violent.
As intense as previous Emperor offerings were, in particular the cascading keyboard fanfares of Anthems..., IX Equilibrium pulsates with electrocuted life. Ihsahn plunges from his untouchable ivory tower into the baser waters of human aggression, and tears his throat to shreds in the act. While remaining as mystic as ever in form, what seems to put off many core black metal fans is that there are no deep ominous spaces in which to search for one's reflection. Here Emperor seems to be thrashing about without regard for making contact, beating blindly against the walls that bind them 'til their blood coats every surface, flinging about their limbs and their magics in a primal expression of chaos. But there is no God, Christian or Pagan, who can save you when they lock onto something solid, and tear form and substance from the shrieking void. The most striking example of this occurs at 1:50 of "Sworn" wherein the band suddenly locks step and slaloms down one of Samoth's most priceless riffs before terminating in an absolute headbanger's paradise. It's moments like this that are that core of Emperor's fearful dominance of their style; this is a riff that, on its own inherent quality, even Dimmu Borgir couldn't screw up. But Emperor take it somewhere far beyond, ripping into it with a sheer ferocity seldom if ever seen in classic black metal. It's practically animal.
Even on more sophisticated arrangements, like the nifty solo/bridge of semi-title track "Nonus Aequilibrium", every muscular downbeat is struck with unimpeachable authority. The band takes their multi-tracking to Mutt Lange-levels not simply to emphasize the grandeur of their visions as on previous releases (though the likes of "Of Blindness and Subsequent Seers" can surely challenge the most pompous Anthems... compositions), but rather to increase their 'emperial' might one-hundred fold. The term 'army of guitars' has been used to the point of becoming meaningless, but on "The Warriors of Modern Death" the band comes as close to making the cliché a reality as anyone ever has. It's critical, trench-slogging extreme metal the way they used to do it, but with a teeth-bared seriousness in its craft that would leave Venom or Sodom fearful and aghast at their own comparative weakness. It’s true that neither of those bands had access to the kind of power tools employed by Samoth and company, and that these classic band’s recordings are lent a certain eccentric charm by virtue of their anaemic recordings, but it would be foolhardy to suggest, as many are wont to, that every extreme band should restrict themselves to sounding like the first two Bathory LPs. The grave fallacy of this view is only underscored by an honest comparison of, say, “The Triumph of Death” with a track like “Decrystallizing Reason”. It’s like Polish cavalry versus Panzer divisions all over again.
So many puritans of the black metal underground profess to love the nihilistic extremity of their chosen form above all else. It is a closeted, tradition-bound genre that leads to a lot of highly formulaic dreck that more than overwhelms the handful of undeniable masterworks it has produced. What makes Emperor as a band so special is their willingness to smash to bits any of the expectations of the genre that don't conform to their vision. IX Equilibrium is mightier than black metal in the same way landmarks like Hammerheart were bigger, Goat Horns richer, and Aspera Hiems Symfonia more intelligent. It filters the strengths of the genre through the high level of artistry Ihsahn brings to any project, and bonds it to the sheer strength of will that is a hallmark of Samoth's best work. It does what modern black metal rarely dares to do: it actually kicks ass.
Stand-Out Tracks: "Sworn", "Nonus Aequilibrium", "Of Blindness and Subsequent Seers"
Before I start, I'm going to lay it out there for you. I despise black metal to the highest degree. There's not a genre of metal aside from nu-metal (which I hardly consider metal at all) that raises my ire more than this disgustingly moronic and cheesy genre known as black metal. That being said, it is near impossible for me to give any album released by a black metal artist more than a scoff, and a trip to the Thrashcan. Emperor's "IX Equilibrium" has done the impossible, however, giving a tiny gleam of hope to the uninspired cesspool that is the black metal genre.
Now, I guess I am not being fair to many die hard black metallers out there, tagging this album is as a black metal epic. It's actually more of a blackened heavy metal ballad, which is quite alright with me, seeing as if it got anymore grim and/or frostbitten, I'd probably be giving this a much lower rating. That being said lets get down to it.
From start to finish though, this album kicks ass in so many different ways it's uncanny. Wailing guitars and determined, yet tepid, keyboards seem to mesh perfectly in near virtuoso form. Vocal onslaught from a somewhat possessed and definitely overachieving Ihsahn gives this album a haunted feel and captivates the audience. As you sit there dumbfounded with your jaw hanging open during tracks like "Curse You All Men!" and "An Elegy of Icaros", you are pushed to the brink of aural insanity by the chorus of vocalists expelling phrases in unison. Such, is the difference between this ballad and many of their other unlistenable works.
Emperor doesn't get nearly as massive as "The Warriors of Modern Death" on any other album. This lumbering behemoth of a song has everything, including slow-paced trolling melody, inspired vocal display, and one hell of a thrasher for a chorus. The guitars seem to venture off into the the abstract and really nail this new risk. "Nonus Aequilibrium" and "Of Blindness and Subsequent Seers" however are the breadwinners of the album. With many diverse rhythm alterations and the best guitar display on the album, these tracks ring out as clear anthems for the new, much improved Emperor.
If this album from a black metal artist can turn even my head in awe, I would recommend it for any fan of metal out there. Clearly the turning point and pinnacle of Emperor's long and dull career. Buy the album, and own a piece of classic fucking heavy metal.
Emperor's creative inertia had previously carried them to soaring heights within black metal, but by the time this album was released, that inertia was spent, and the band was rapidly falling back down into the influences from which they initially wrought their style. This album is the sound of them plummeting back into heavy metal and death metal - which would make Prometheus the sound of the band hitting the ground and splattering, I guess.
This is a fundamentally more direct and accessible music than anything Emperor had released prior to it, more focused on recognizably "metal" riffing, possibly catchier, or at least intended that way. It really sounds hopelessly normalized, and far too close to a typical modern "extreme metal" style: thrash- and heavy metal-influenced crunching guitars only with harsh vocals and keyboards and blast beats et cetera et cetera. Classic stylings adapted for modern trends. All but the last of the black metal is gone.
This is generally generally the sign of a band shrugging their shoulders, sighing, and figuring they ought to just give the kids out there a fun show for their money. What's keeping IX Equilibrium from turning into an irredeemable horror like the last Immortal release or any random Dimmu Borgir album is the fact that Emperor, even at this point, seem so damned serious. Say what you will about Emperor, they never gave up... or at least when they did, they did us the favor of actually disbanding instead of gracing us with another six albums.
And so we're treated to the rather peculiar spectacle of thrash-death tremolo guitars dueling it out with some rather colorful keyboards, and to Anthems style melodic digressions breaking up grooving stoccato riffing, with the band multitracking to hell and back, layering guitar on guitar and keyboard on keyboard. A total misapplication of the band's talent, but if they're going down, at least they're going down in flames.
For what it is - which has nothing whatsoever on what Nightside or Wrath was - it generally works fairly well. The first song, Curse You All Men!, manages to earn its exclamation point by being probably the fastest and most violent song on the album, particularly during the exhilirating middle break, with some nice riffing that recalls Morbid Angel's Covenant album to some degree. Decrystallizing Reason is one of the better songs on the album for successfully matching the band's signature pomp and grandeur with straight-up metal riffing (check the guitar/keyboard exchange during the last couple of minutes). Sworn is probably the single best song of the bunch, partially for deftly mixing some classically-inspired guitar flourishes into some of the heaviest music of the album, but mostly for that one riff, which you can't possibly miss.
But there's also more than a little goofiness that just doesn't work at all, on any level. The most imfamous thirty seconds or so of the album would be the short bit of The Source of Icon E in which Ihsahn gives a shot at imitating King Diamond's inimitable vocal style. He did it before in Emperor's cover of Gypsy, and did it rather admirably, but, well... that was a cover, whereas this is an actual Emperor song that sounds nothing like what one would want an Emperor song to sound like, ever. And while we're on the subject of things one would never want Emperor to sound like, I must mention Elegy of Icaros. Ihsahn's moaning "sung" vocals are probably the least endearing part of this album, in all the songs, but the sound of his voice singing that flamboyant melody over those happy guitars right at the beginning of the song achieve a true apogee of awfulness. I hear it and I wince. However, the very worst track on the album, and quite possibly the stupidest-sounding song in the entire Emperor catalog - yes, including Prometheus - is no doubt Warriors of Modern Death, which was apparently intended as some sort of tribute to the more rock-influenced black metal that immediately preceded the modern style. Basically, it sounds like a professional band attempting to write a suped-up version of early Bathory to amuse themselves - which is probably what it is - and the results aren't pretty. It sounds more fun than evil.
Final verdict? I find the disc to be worth having around, and every so often, when I'm of a frame of mind to be listening to music that's not terribly demanding, I give it a few spins with my finger poised on the track skip button. Still, if you go to your grave without having heard this, I can't say you missed out. Not even essential for Emperor fans, honestly.
They really fell flat on their faces. This, is obviously what happens when Ihsahn's Peccatum clashes with Samoth and Trym's Zyklon- you get a shitty progressive-extreme metal albumn that you give to your cousin that just got into Dimmu Borgir for his birthday, because it will blow his fucking mind and he will inevitably become a bigger fan of their older (albeit, much better) material.
I received this albumn as a gift when I told a friend I wanted an Emperor albumn (was hoping for Anthems), and was eager to listen to it anyway, just because it was Emperor, and from my then-experiences with them, they could do no wrong. I was wrong. I was greeted by one of those "What the fuck..." moments when I heard Ihsahn's chorused wail. The riffing was good, the drumming was solid, but keyboards had no place at all in the whole albumn. I can imagine Ihsahn and Trym coming to blows over the fucking keyboards (which were thankfully replaced by an actual string section on the next albumn).
Ihsahn usually writes his lead parts extremely well (see: I am the black wizards) but this was really Samoth's albumn to shine on. His rhythm guitar work is well written, and actually lends more to melody than the retarded guitar and keyboards.
Things finally start to look up when the confusing (retarded) song titles and whimsical, lighthearted songwriting goes out the window with the arrival of Sworn, my favorite track. I am guessing Samoth cunt-punched Ihsahn into submission and forced him into submission for this song, since it's obviously a no-holds barred extreme metal assault (the keyboards are barely heard here, which is fucking awesome). Unfortunately, that moment ends, and it's time to start sucking until the intro hits.
Buy this albumn only if you are a huge Emperor fan, and I regret listening to this when Emperor is one of my top 3 favorite bands of all time.
This album, "IX Equilibrium", is better than most people whom have reviewed it on this site say. Though it isn't as good as "Prometheus", this is still a strong release.
This album's black metal screams are mediocre: In my opinion, black metal screams altogether are mediocre, and on this album the black metal screams aren't exceptional at all. The clean, almost operatic, vocals are OK. The pseudo-power metal extremely high-pitched singing vocals (which appear on track 4) are hilarious; These have to be some of the worse vocals ever in existence.
The guitar work on this album is pretty good. Nothing exceptional, though still good. The acoustic work on tracks 8/9 is good, though. Drums on this album are quite wild, with many blastbeats. Trym is a good drummer, though he does have the tendency to blastbeat every 30 seconds.
The keyboard work is the best part of the album. The keyboards are usually very atmospheric and add a good aura to the music.
In total, this is a very good Emperor release, and it deserves more credit than what it has received.
BEST SONGS ON RECORD: "Of Blindness & Subsequent Seers" and "An Elegy of Icaros"
Emperor's third album, IX Equilibrium, got a mixed reception upon it's release, some said that this is another fantasic album from the Black Metal masters while others proclaimed that IX Equilibrium was the beginning of the end of Emperor's rule. In short, I belong to the former although I can understand the latter group fustrations with IX Equilibrium.
1. Trym's drumming: Granted he's not in the same class as Faust but he has got potential to be a great drummer, his main problem is that he has an urge to blastbeat whenever he can, this doesn't suit Emperor's style at all and it costs the band a few points here.
2. Ihsahn attempting high pitched vocals: sorry Ihsahn but that is not your territority, you just sound twice as 'girly' as that munchkin Justin Timberlake.
3. The Guitars and Keyboards punch up: Emperor pulled off the "wall of sound" effect well with ItNE but it just doesn't work as well here, no thanks to Trym's blastabation.
OK, that's the bad points out of the way, now onto the good points.
1. Atmosphere: The "wall of sound" falls flat on it's face here but the atmosphere in a good BM album makes up for it.
2. Power of the vocals: Bar the high pitched nonsense, Ihsahn can pull off harsh vocals as well as operatic singing, although it's not his best vocal performance on an album, Insahn on his day can still duke it out with the rest of them.
The good parts of the album will get overlooked because of Trym's drum raping (I guess he was that sexually fustrated by the recording of the album) and thus the album itself will be overlooked as a result, but like my review of Aborym's "With No Human Intervention", this is an album that can divide the Metal community. Not really recommended though unless you are willing to look beyond Trym's drum rape.
This one is definitely one of the most brilliant releases in the extreme-metal history. After having released a mile-stone like "Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk" in 1997, EMPEROR did not commit the fault to pray before their own altar but burned it down and created something even more brilliant! Shurely this is no Black Metal anymore - "IX Equilibrium" stands high above it on the conceptional and specially on the lyrical side. Ihsahn has finally become a musician and songwriter who draws his ingenious inspiration from his own thoughts and has not to care for any sort of conventions. In fact the songs like "Curse You All Men", "An Elegy Of Icaros" or "Sworn" have lots of weird harmony-progressions that emerge from the twisting melody-lines created by 4 "voices" (2 guitars, bass and the enchanting melody-glances of the synths). The grandeur and opulence of "Anthems..." appears only in particular moments ("An Elegy...", "Nonus Aequilibrium"), but is brilliantly replaced by bizzare moods that are provoqued by the music's inner power - an effect that can only be achieved with a high level of compositional mastership! Ihsahn's lead guitars are marvellous, (but in fact only a hint on what is to come on "Prometheus" 2 years later...) the drumming is even more impressive than on "Anthems...". All in one: almost perfectly done by an ingenious mastermind, but it may confuse many people who lack the musical understanding and who are more into "polemic" music and don't understand the subtile anatomy of these harmonies and songs. But who is a little bit experienced in demanding music will have to admit that this oeuvre is nothing other than just tremendously brilliant!