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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.