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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