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I wonder what do you think about the phenomenon of Emperor? For many, they were the best and most accomplished black metal band ever! Well, in my personal opinion they were very good, sure, but I must say that I’m not a big fan of everything what Ihsahn and Samoth did in their relatively short career. I mean, for sure “In the Nightside Eclipse” is a classic LP, and “Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk” is even more a brilliant masterpiece – my personal favourite, actually. But everything what happened afterwards – starting with quite mediocre “IX Equilibrium” – was not what I would fully appreciate and the climax of it came with “Prometheus - The Discipline of Fire & Demise” – this LP is almost unlistenable for me. Funny is that these were the times, when Emperor was the most popular and recognized black metal band in the world, but musically they went the wrong direction for me. As we know it nowadays it was maybe all due to the increased Ihsahn’s role as songwriter and obviously his chase for jazzy structures and some avant-garde stuff was not a thing for everybody. Maybe this is also why I wasn’t crying much after Emperor decided to finish their activity… and I wasn’t also so much excited to hear they’re coming back to play some gigs in the mid 00’s, as the whole feeling, atmosphere and sort of mystical, dark aura around them already vanished after “Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk”. The split up of Emperor brought us Zyklon – band, which I absolutely loved (“World ov Worms” is just a KILLER!!!!!). But I wasn’t much into anything what Ihsahn tried to accomplish – whether it was with Peccatum, Hardingrock, not to mention the symphonic boredom of something what should have never been called Thou Shalt Suffer. Somehow though when I have heard the first song off the first solo album of Ihsahn, “The Adversary” (it was “Invocations” on Terrorizer Magazine compilation CD), I was so impressed by the music that soon I decided to get the whole album and give it a listen.
Hmm, and you know what? It may sound strange, but I liked it. Why strange? Because in many ways Ihsahn project is a continuation of what Vegard Tveitan has been doing in the late career of Emperor and even in Peccatum. And if I don’t like the last couple of Emperor LPs and just cannot swallow Peccatum, why would I like “The Adversary” then? I don’t know, but there’s something unique and intriguing about it, not to mention challenging, as the music which Ihsahn composed for his first solo album is beyond anything I have heard so far.
When trying to challenge yourself with “The Adversary” you must do one thing first – don’t expect black metal, don’t even think about this genre or the early Emperor stuff, because it is not what Ihsahn is and this way you won’t feel disappointed. You just cannot look at this project through the perspective of the past works of Tveitan. And if trying to label the music on “The Adversary” one must mention so many different kinds of music… sure, black metal is one of them, as the traces of it are certainly there, in small doses, but are present – and obviously they will mainly remind you Emperor’s “Prometheus” LP. Along it you’ll hear a huge portion of avant-garde music, many jazzy structures and rock, symphonic, classical music, opera… man, there are many layers on this case. For sure Ihsahn turned out to be a very talented musician and composer – than second qualification is very important, as “The Adversary” shows a musician, who’s not just a simple, average metal musician, but a real composer, who can rival many classical music authors. The music is very challenging, due to many complicated structures, untypical, sometimes just weird, arrangements and the mixture of so many genres, what sometimes results in almost unlistenable hybrids, when in one fragment you hear a strong, sometimes even fast (black) metal, which is followed by opera vocals, symphonic passages, rock playing or whatever… “The Adversary” is not an album, which will be understand after the first listening, you simply must give it few tries, to take the full picture of what Ihsahn did on it. It actually is the same thing, which I remember from listening to Dodheimsgard’s “666 International” or Arcturus’s “La Masquerade Infernale”, which on the first impression felt like something just stupid, but once you started digging in deeper you realized how intelligent and exceptional that music was.
I’m not gonna say that I like everything what I hear on “The Adversary”. There are some parts on this album, which sound just too weird for me… But at the same time there are many moments, which give me a goose skin, so brilliant and effective they are. As I already said, this is a unique and unparalleled music. I definitely like the symphonic, classical aspects of it and obviously I also love all those harsh and aggressive moments, which remind me Emperor… and you can top that with some heavy metal influences, circa King Diamond, with those falsetto vocals here and there… Really, every song is different and each brings something exceptional and I would need to describe them all in details, to show you what Ihsahn has done here. Obviously I am not gonna do that, it will be just better if you listen to it yourself, but I can maybe mention some of my personal favourites from “The Adversary”. First of all it will be “Invocations” – the most Emperor-esque song of all, it would actually fit perfectly on any of the later albums of the Norwegian cult! It is actually a smart move, to start the first solo album with a song, which sounds like your old band – only the problem is that many maniacs will hope that the whole album will be like that. But seriously, it is a great track, opened with a very harsh, aggressive part played with trademark riffing of Ihsahn, which you’ll know from Emperor, while later it all suddenly stops and a nice relaxing, soft and melodic theme begins (even the vocals change from the raw growling to clean singing). Yes, it definitely is a good song. “Come suffering, Apocalypse, release the fires of Hell… I call upon destruction and despair…” – pure Emperor, I’m telling you. Then we have “Called by the Fire”, very epic song, melodic and quite slow, but with a very memorable chorus part, which will stick in your head for the whole day. It surely is one of the most diverse and most challenging songs, but I quite like the final effect, really, even if it is quite calm and has so many progressive rock influences. “Panem et Circenses” has some strong King Diamond / Mercyful Fate influences, but again this song is not so one dimensional, so you’ll find there some harsh and fast black metal as well as some calm melodic themes… and I cannot smile, when I hear the beginning of “And He Shall Walk in Empty Places” – classic Emperor theme again, which could really have been taken from “IX Equilibrium”. I like also such song as “Homecoming” – which features Garm on vocals – it almost sounds like kind of progressive rock or whatever type of music, very calm and easy listenable, way different to “Invocations” for instance. It is almost radio friendly, if only they were airing there some more avant-garde, progressive music and not just the meat for the masses. And this is a good track, I surely like it more than say “Astera Ton Proinon” – which is kind of metal / rock opera.
An album like this will always bring various, extreme emotions and opinions – some will absolutely hate it, especially if they would look at it from the perspective of early Emperor (and early Norwegian black metal really) and some will love it for noncommercial attitude, bravery in mixing the styles, sophistication, diversity and uniqueness. Just check the reviews at Metal Archives – some give it 0% while some praise it and give 100%, a perfect score. I must admit that I also like it; not as much as “Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk”, I’m not that fool. But “The Adversary” has some charm, something intriguing and Ihsahn for me just proved to me a great composer (just listen to “The Pain Is Still Mine”)… If you feel a bit more open minded than the average fan of “Wrath of the Tyrant” then you just must listen to it!
Standout tracks: “Invocation”, “Panem et Circenses”, “Called by the Fire”, “And He Shall Walk in Empty Places”
Final rate: 80/100
After an illustrious and now-legendary tenure with symphonic black metal pioneers Emperor, former frontman Ihsahn was thirsting for something different. For quite some time now, Emperor had virtually been an Ihsahn solo project in itself, but he wanted to do something other than the black metal that he had become so well-known for. Using his own pseudonym as the title for his new project, the new face of Ihsahn's music is an extreme progressive metal symphony. 'The Adversary' is not so far from the music of Emperor before they split up, but it has certainly been refined; refined to a point where some black metal fans may declare that Ihsahn has gone soft on them, but also opens up the man to an entirely new realm of possibilities. Now with a successful solo career established, it is clear that this was a good decision for Ihsahn. 'The Adversary' is a masterful display of edgy symphonic heavy metal, as well as a brilliant reinvention of one of metal's most enduring figures.
Mr. Tveitan (Ihsahn) has branched out from black metal, but there are still clear signs of his heritage within that genre. Tremolo picking, blastbeats, and his ever-distinctive vocal rasp are in full play here. That is only an aspect of the sound on 'The Adversary', however; the best way to describe what Ihsahn has done here is 'extreme progressive metal', or even 'symphonic metal'. The first thing that someone is bound to notice here is the technicality of the guitar playing; Ihsahn's tight songwriting is driven by plenty of gorgeous leads, solos, and riffs that would leave most black metal musicians either scratching their heads, or asking for lessons. The only other musician on the record is drummer Asgeir Mickelson, who invites a welcome dose of double-kick into the sound. Possibly the most surprising aspect of 'The Adversary' however are the symphonic, classical elements. On top of the guitars, he also plays a soft piano, and arranges some authentic-sounding orchestrations to run overtop the metal. The result is something that balances perfectly the gentle and heavy.
Ihsahn's vocals are quite strong, on both a clean and harsh front. Much like Opeth frontman Mikael Akerfeldt- who would later perform on Ihsahn's second album 'Angl'- Ihsahn is able to capture the best of both worlds. What particularly impressed me were the vocal harmonies he performs here; Ihsahn is able to overdub his voice to make the performance that much more beautiful, or epic. Ulver and Arcturus vocalist Garm (Krystoffer Rygg) also does a very nice vocal performance on the fourth track, 'Homecoming'; the songwriting is graciously arranged to allow him to explore the range of his voice. Ihsahn also has his moments of vocal glory; 'Astera Ton Proinon' lets him go from gentle vocals, to screams, to choral chanting, all within the space of three or four minutes. The trophy for brilliant songwriting goes to the final track however, 'The Pain Is Still Mine.' It very much encapsulates everything that succeeds with 'The Adversary'; lush orchestrations, vicious riffs, and above all, the perfect balance between black, and progressive metal.
First off, people who think Ihsahn peaked after Wrath of the Tyrant, stop reading.
The Adversary marks yet another exciting chapter in Ihsahn’s already stellar discography. This album works as the next logical step to Emperor’s last album, Prometheus…(2001).
However, rather than taking Emperor into a foreign direction, the Emperors decided to call it quits.
Unlike his work with Emperor, Ihsahn uses The Adversary to demonstrate other musical talents that wouldn’t work in Emperor. For example, his Mercyful Fate influence comes out into full swing during the track, Called by the Fire. The prog influenced Homecoming with Garm of Ulver, features catchy vocal hooks that would have ruined an Emperor album.
Melody is something that was limited in Emperor. Not to say Emperor lacked melody, but rather, was limited to a sinister one (which they pulled off flawlessly). With The Adversary, we have beautiful arpeggio/piano breaks scattered throughout the album. For example, the opening of Astera Ton Proinon and The Pain is Still Mine features theatrical keyboard and clean vocal delivery. This may sound like a bad thing (a cheesy symphonic metal move) but Ihsahn proves to not only be an exceptional keyboardist, but also an extremely talented clean vocalist.
The Adversary is much more focused on melody than brutality. Not saying that this album is a top 40 contender, but for extreme metal standards it’s an easy listen. However, this being said, The Adversary does feature some brutal Emperor like tracks such as Citizen & And He Shall Walk in Empty Places, both of which could have been on Prometheus…
Drummer, Asgier Mickelson’s (ex-Borknagar) performance is technical yet tasteful as compared to Trym Torson’s blast beat heavy work in Emperor. Mickelson’s drumming complements Ihsahn’s technical guitar work, rather than distracting it, which was a problem in Emperor, especially on IX Equilibrium (1999).
One of the biggest pros on this album, like all work featuring Ihsahn, is that Ihsahn has a unique way of playing guitar. Like Chuck Schuldiner of Death, Ihsahn’s guitar playing (and tone) is incredibly recognizable. For further example, check out the some of his online guitar tutorials.
When listening to this album, you get the sense that Ihsahn was held back with Emperor (held back by the rules set by the black metal community). With The Adversary, we have compositions that cater to the artist breaking traditional black metal rules.
For cons, The Adversary feels to have too many ideas at once. This album has proven to be more of a stepping-stone for the two proceeding albums Angl (2008) and After (2010). Like all debut albums, the foundation is still a bit rocky but The Adversary doesn’t really take any awkward steps that merit negative feedback.
Originally published in "The Wormwood Chronicles."
I know I could receive hate mail for this, but upon hearing "The Adversary" for about the 10th time now, I have determined that there really is no other way to put it. Simply put, Ihsahn is beginning to lose his edge a bit.
Many musicians these fall into this illusion that I refer to as "the artist illusion", where putting out good quality material that average potential audience members can get into takes a backseat to putting out self-indulgent, practically masturbatory material mainly in an effort to express artistic integrity...the whole "I don't care if you like it because I do and that means that my artistic integrity is preserved" type of thing. Take a look at the current noise rock, industrial, and raw, under-produced black metal for further reference. With this release, Ihsahn sure seems guilty as charged.
For those of you looking for one of the former members to continue on with the Emperor sound, this is probably as close as you'll get until they reunite permanently. Truth be told the black metal moments on here could probably best be called Emperor-lite. It's more intricate and as a result a bit less heavy than some of us raised on "Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk" are used to. Good reference point: I dunno, make a halfway point between newer Mayhem, Ulver, Arcturus, and Borknagar. But mind you, that's just the black metal spectrum of things. At other times on this disc it seems like Ihsahn is spreading himself a bit too thin trying to expand his horizons. I mean, everything from obvious Judas Priest/Mercyful Fate worship (that admittedly does fucking rock), all the way to atmospheric, ethereal tunes that are more mood-inducing than Pink Floyd in a dark room. Add to this some truly intricate guitar weaving sure to please any Opeth fan and you have a mish-mash that although every element is truly something great, I am of the opinion that it's just too jumpy and without flow.
I could say it's without focus, but that's not entirely accurate. It has focus on a song level, but not on an album level if that makes any sense. And that, I think, is the greatest dilemma that will face any listener that picks up this album. They will probably look at it the same way I did: where most of the components that make up the machine are of top-notch quality, and yet the machine itself still fails to function.
In short, this is terrible music that alternates between boring and annoying. This sucks. This is offensive. If you are not convinced to avoid this crap, then you should read below.
There are some guitar riffs that are technically passable as metal, just there to ensure that this album will be considered metal by people. Technically metal, but nothing that really makes you feel metal. Most of the riffs sound like heavy metal riffs played in a technical way, with some elongated bars and stop-starts, or prog metal riffs. They are very bad, and are delivered in an utterly powerless guitar tone - almost as powerless as distorted guitars can get. Also, I really fail to hear ANY black metal here. There are a few tremolo riffs, but they are hardly prominent, and nor are they really black metal tremolo riffs at all. There is one very noticeable tremolo riff that keeps appearing again and again (irritatingly so) in And He Shall Walk In Empty Places, but that riff is so sugary-sweet that it sounds more like something I would expect to hear outside on a snowy Christmas Eve than anything even remotely resembling black metal. While there isn't any good riff, under-verse riffs in particular are much worse than riffs that are played alone. It seems like Ihsahn put zero effort in them, knowing full well that the synths and his vocals are going to bury them anyway. The problem is, he forgot about his own calculations and used those under-verse riffs even in parts without the vocals, revealing just how bad those riffs are. The bigger problem yet is that his vocals are absolutely annoying.
Now, before I go on about the famous King Diamond-styled falsettos, I will first mention that his harsh vocals, which are really only half harsh, are really annoying. Half harsh, as in what a death/thrash vocalist might sound like, except that he lacks any sort of power or skill or aggression or whatever trait that is metal that good death/thrash vocalists would possess. He tries really hard, too, making the listener feel some sort of sympathy - which eventually develops into anger. I literally laughed my ass off when I heard him go "Uhh!!" before breaking into a half-assed "riff break." The entirety of the harsh vocal business here can only be interpreted as a parody of extreme metal vocals. And the vocals are annoyingly high in the mix and sound very close to the listener, making matters worse.
Then of course, there are the all too famous clean vocals that sound like a parody of Kind Diamond. If all the annoying and boring music were a death sentence, then this is the execution of the said sentence, marking the death of everything that could have appeared to have the tiniest chance of salvaging the album from utter failure. These vocals make you shudder just by being so awfully bad. And he shows no sense of self-discipline at all. While the harsh vocals are still annoying as hell, he decides to use these even worse clean vocals at least as much as, if not more than, the harsh vocals.
And the way in which these vocals are used are the absolute worst one can think of. This is where The Adversary reveals itself as a full-fledged enemy of metal, if the previous hints did not convince you that it is. The slow, mellow sections with synths that attempts to appear epic, but instead sound like... uh... I haven't heard enough pop to actually compare these to it, but these sure as hell feel fucking cheesy and poppy. These parts are not even technically passable as metal when the drums finally decide to fuck off for a moment. In fact, these parts are so un-metal to the point where they cease to be merely not metal, but anti-metal. Of course, not being metal may not entail suckage, but these are bad anyway, viewed from any perspective, and especially offensive to the metal ears. And these parts are abundant; to exaggerate a bit, about half the album is fucking unmetal annoyance. Sometimes these are even used as choruses, and the last song, which is the longest track, is mellow for the most part. Oh, and the fucking "Will you love me now?" part in the song titled just like that. I know that it isn't a "love song" type of thing, but still, it is so damn ludicrous.
This is supposed to be progressive, but it is only "progressive" in the sense that it borrows very superficially from the already quite superficial progressive metal than actually doing anything progressive. This does not bring anything new to the table (not that doing so would have increased the musical value of this album by 0.1%). One could make a case for this album pushing the boundaries of annoyance, but sorry, I don't count that as progress. Superficial "progressiveness," such as technical riffs and attempts at being epic are pretty much as progressive as this gets. The level of superficiality reaches its maximum with a part in Homecoming which sounds like it is lifted directly from a Spiral Architect song. Ripping off a prog metal riff is pretty progressive, right? Not really. And the songs - nothing really progresses; rather than progressing, the songs actually regress into those silly mellow parts just when one thinks the song is making some infinitesimal bit of progress. Most of the parts each irrelevant from another are at least connected in some sort of transition so that there is little abrupt ending which would have brought about a sense of randomness that comes from disjunction. However, this is still not a good thing because even though the parts are connected, the listener feels deceived in a way because connecting the parts does not stop them from being irrelevant from one another. So, the sense of randomness is still kept, and the listener still goes "what the fuck am I listening to?"
To quote a wise man, "either you wish you had a time machine to kick Ihsahn's mother in the stomach during pregnancy, or you will be cast out as an enemy of metal." Ihsahn undid everything good he has ever done, and now with this album he has finally crowned himself as The Adversary of Metal. This should either be forgotten completely, or be remembered forever as perfect example of how NOT to make a metal album.
Emperor was probably the first black metal band I fell in love with. When I started to take guitar playing seriously, I eventually found myself learning Emperor songs from the tab book Ihsahn wrote. The songs in there were some of the most helpful (if not, the most helpful) songs in my development as a guitar player.
However, no album by Emperor can come close to how awesome this album is. Ihsahn outdid himself in every way possible to convey his emotions. Every song is perfect, and even if Ihsahn is full of himself he damn well deserves to be, he really is the genius he claims to be.
The album starts with 'Invocation,' a great black metal(ish) piece (a lot of songs are going to be black metalish due to how many other overtones from progressive, power, death, and thrash metal that are on the album) that sets the mood for the album. It's one of the best songs on the album and a great way to start off The Adversary.
'Called by the Fire,' while having lots of extreme metal overtones, is more reminiscent of old school heavy metal than anything else. 'Citizen' breaks the upbeat mood set by 'Called by the Fire' and tears it down with an angry atmosphere to be interrupted by a disillusioned piano/guitar interlude. 'Homecoming' starts off with a hectic riff, and then changes into a very warm, homely song very quickly. However, throughout the song you can't help but feel that the song itself is not actually as soft as it appears and after about 3 minutes it returns to the hectic riff that started it.
'Astera Ton Proinon' is probably the weakest track on here, but that doesn't say anything because it's still a great, powerful song, with a rather awesome guitar solo near the end. 'Panem Et Circenses' reminds me of classical music for some reason, while never actually sounding like it. You have to hear it to understand where I'm coming from on this.
And now, the best track on the album. 'And He Shall Walk In Empty Places' has a damn catchy riff at the beginning that drags you in and only gets more intense throughout the piece. If every other song on this album was gold, this song would be diamonds.
'Will You Love Me Now?' is a surprising bitter song, as the title wouldn't expect you to believe. And 'The Pain Is Still Mine' is an epic closer track, starting out with some melancholic keyboard work before going into an equally depressing symphonic metal section. It turns more operatic as it goes on, relying heavily on the keyboards and vocals, though it has it's fair share of metal sections, and a pretty cool solo too. It's a fine track, and a great one to close this amazing album.
While Emperor is a damn fine band, and still one of my favorite bands ever, I can't listen to them the same way again after hearing this album. Ihsahn really outdid himself.
I listened to this full length with a great amount of apprehension. I didn't expect to like it whatsoever. That may perhaps sound clichéd, but its the truth. I was a huge fan of Emperor when I first discovered black metal a number of years ago, but as time has gone on, i've become more and more disconnected from the band. I've instead scoured through the underground to find my true home, away from the likes of the second wave of black metal bands everyone has grown accustomed to; Emperor, Darkthrone and others. I was never the biggest fan of heavy, progressive or thrash metal and considering the reviews I had read all stated of a varying amount of genre influences, my apprehension grew and grew. The Adversary is even quite operatic at times, which is a wide selection of genres. However, I was intrigued to see how Ihsahn would fare in a band of his own and whether it would impact the world of metal as much as Emperor did. I hate to refer back to Emperor so much, but I doubt anyone can escape the fact that Ihsahn was a prominent member.
So, after listening to The Adversary in full I came to an overwhelming conclusion. I absolutely love it! Never in my wildest dreams did I expect such an outcome. I was simply blown away. Perhaps the fact that Ihsahn has compete control (apart from the drum factor) over this band has made it what it is. Its incredibly diverse and wonderfully catchy. Having free reign and decision over the band has showcased Ihsahn's many talents. From songwriting, to singing. His vocals are especially good. They range from your standard Emperor distorted vocals to a very catchy clean range of vocals. The addition of clean vocals is pivotal in my eyes. It again adds diversity and depth to the music. They also help enhance moods, tones and give a little something extra and new. They are refreshing. I'm not the biggest fan of Ihsahn's screamed vocals, but for once I can overlook that. What makes this album special, as aforementioned, is its diversity. Not just musically, but emotionally as well. Its hard to find a band who can display a verying range of emotions in the space of one song. Ihsahn does that with seeming ease. This is done by the use of slow sections, the use of keyboards and the introduction of Garm to the proceedings. The latter is especially good for me as I love Garm's clean vocals. Garms vocals have always depicted an underlying pain to me, which I enjoy hearing. They suit the style of music and fit perfectly to the lyrics used, which are excellent. The beautiful and innovative guitar riffs manage to create a mixture of feelings or all at one time. From sadness and grief to a seemingly more upbeat feeling.
The production is spot on for me. Slightly raw and Prometheus-esque. The Adversary is played at a different range of tempos. Slow passages create despairing feelings and offer a brief moment to gather thoughts before the onslaught of the faster paced sections, which resemble the black metal genre. This idea is supported by the use of double bass pedals on the drums, which are controlled by Asgeir Mickelson, who is a session member and apart of Borknagar. Another well known band within the scene. Other genres are well supported, of course. I can sense a distinct Opeth influence, which may only be being made because both bands are playing within the same genre.
As for highlights ... Well, for me it has to be Called By Fire and Homecoming.
Maybe I shouldn’t write a review on Ihsahns first soloalbum. I have to admit it, I’m highly biased. In my opinion there is a reason why Emperor are called Emperor, and therefore in my world of music Ihsahn can do no wrong. Wether it is Emperor, Peccatum, Thou Shalt Suffer or a job on somebody elses album (e.g. Ulver, Arcturus, Darkthrone,Wongraven), I happen to love everything.
“The Adversary” takes us on a journey, or rather a roundtrip, through Ihsahns musical life and influences, covering genres like Black Metal, Heavy Metal, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Progressive Metal and classical music. Diversity is the keyword to this album, illustrating all of Ihsahns talents in songwriting, poetry, singing and musicianship.
All instruments, except the drums, which are played by Asgeir Mickelson from Borknagar, are handled by Ihsahn. So excellent guitarwork, bass, keyboards and programming had to be expected.
But it’s in the singing where his abilities show the most. He can simply pull off everything from his characteristic raspy, harsh Black Metal growls and high shrieks to the clean vocals and the King Diamond-style falsetto.
Productionwise this album doesn’t go too far, staying rather basic and a little bit raw with a good, pleasant mix.
“The Adversary” holds a song for every taste and mood, the connecting element between them being the orchestra and the piano arrangements, that are giving the album a classical, symphonic approach. But there are also those passages of structured chaos that finally lead into one of Ihsahns unmistakable harmonies.
“Invocation” starts where Emperor finished, “Called by the fire” is more rooted in classical heavy metal and rock, whereas songs like the ferocious “Citizen” or “Will you love me now” are influenced by Black Metal. In contrast to that, there is the sombre, almost quiet “Homecoming” (featuring Ihsahns long-term friend Garm from Ulver as vocalist) and the epic “The pain is still mine”, which at times recalls a musical or even an opera.
The highlight of the album though is “Astera Ton Proinon”. A slow, solemn, symphonic masterpiece about all the Fallen Angels like Lucifer or Prometheus. This song just blows me away. It makes me want to drop to my knees and weep out my lonely and desperate heart.
“The Adversary” is an album that is appealing in it’s masterly skill and diversity, staying interesting and captivating even after months. The charm of it being Ihsahn himself, his world of sound, imagination and feeling.
To say it in his own words: “The music is a continuation of my work within the metal genre. [...] Powerful, epic, extreme and straight from the heart.”
The Adversary - Ihsahn
Judging from Emperor's final release, "Prometheus" and Ihsahns other side-project Peccatum, Ihsahn has come under a lot of fire from Emperor fans and perhaps unrightfully so.
He had never intended this to be an Emperor album, and should not be reviewed as such, but it does contain some similarities to his last album with Emperor, especially in the track "Invocation" which is a multi-faceted composition following a "heavy-even heavier-soft-heavy again" style.
The album places a strong emphasis on keyboards for atmosphere and is backed up by guitars which can be aggressive or sparse depending of the context of the song, which can change multiple times within the song itself.
Overall, the music here has taken more influence from bands such as Opeth and Dream Theater and really shows Ihsahn's melodic side as opposed to his probably better known black metal side. The black metal is still there, so for those who crave some head banging here and there, the record delivers, but this record definitely won't satisfy black metal purists, but for those who have an open mind and a taste for tightly composed progressive music; this record will repay many listens.
Also included here is a guest appearance from Ulver vocalist Garm on the song "Homecoming, but while it might be of interest to fans of Ulver, I can't say I'd be able to tell the difference between his vocals and Ihsahn's.
The final cut of this album “The Pain is Still Mine” is a progressive piece that runs through many stages, with Ihsahn’s singing sounding almost operatic above the strings sound of his keyboard and is definitely the most experimental on the album, which in itself is an achievement considering the songs coming before it.
To finish with the album is a very strong release from one of the leading figures in black metal. Today, metal is desperately in need of a man with a vision, and Ihsahn is here to provide us with a fresh statement and a fresh sound in an increasingly stagnant and commercialized genre.
Recently I got to wondering what my old pals from Emperor were up to and I took the liberty of stealing this and the newest Zyklon album off of the internet.
It turns out my good buddy Ihsahn has picked up pretty much where he left off with Emperor and set about making a follow-up to Prometheus, which, as it happens, I was no fan of. It's not that I didn't want to like it, you know – nice to think of an old favorite bowing out with a arty, if more conventional (sic) album – but in retrospect it pretty much just sucked. They didn't go off the beaten path, they got derailed.
Adversary's likely the better album in my estimation, and that it's less keyboard-oriented – or even black metal oriented – than Prometheus just goes to show how badly that album was bogged down by its need to be Emperor-like. But enough about the past. There are some blast beats and some tremolo and Ihsahn's trademark “bleh!” vocals are in full effect, but truthfully, at its heart, this is a prog metal album.
The “metal” in prog metal is short for “heavy metal” - as opposed to death, black, what-have-you. Maybe Ihsahn's been pulling out those old Mercyful Fate discs. Nothing in the album quite proves it, but it seems plausible. One finds offensively anthemic choruses scattered here and there. They're not in every song, but still, yech.
The “prog” in prog metal is short for “progressive.” And what does that mean?
Well, let me put it this way. Have you ever heard some music that really impressed you, and only later, upon further reflection and perhaps multiple listens, realized how complex it was? Maybe it used a lot of weird time signatures, but you didn't notice because the music flowed so well? Or maybe the musicians were much better than you realized, but you didn't notice because their playing didn't draw attention to itself?
Well, basically, that's the opposite of progressive. If Ihsahn uses a weird time signature, then by God, he means for you to know it – there's no mistaking the stilted “technicality” of it. When he sets about about to blend black metal and heavy metal, you're going to hear the seams. And there's no way you're getting away from this album without hearing how well he does a King Diamond falsetto. I don't think anyone, anywhere, actually likes his King Diamond singing, but he's going to do it because he can and you're going to sit there and like it because you're open-minded.
I find the album listenable if not altogether engaging, but to paraphrase virtually everyone who will ever review this album: “definitely not for people who think Emperor peaked with Wrath of the Tyrant or anyone who doesn't approach music with an open mind.” More importantly, steer clear if the phrase “thinking man's metal” gives you hives, as well it should if you're no friend of self-conscious and demonstrative music.
I may be in the minority opinion here, but I actually think I prefer Ihsahn's solo work to anything I've heard from Emperor. I admit it's not exactly an apples to apples comparison, as he clearly wasn't just looking to create a clone of Emperor, but I still like the new style more.
As the two opening tracks make perfectly clear, this album runs from straight-ahead black metal (like the first two minutes of "Invocation") to power metal (like most of "Called by the Fire") and in-between (pretty much everything else). In addition to the more familiar shriek with pounding double bass lines and synth-heavy accompaniments, "Adversary" contains some very Priest/Maiden-like guitar lines with surprisingly strong clean vocals, and even the occasional falsetto wail.
Like I said, though, most of the material falls somewhere in between those extremes, and that's where most of the really entertaining and creative stuff is. The overall feel is more of experimentation than standard metal, with several tempo and mood changes scattered about. Once in a while he even throws in the occasional mellow passage ("The Pain is Still Mine," in particular, opens with a really nice piano intro), as if just playing around with genres wasn't enough.
Everything here is just so well done. There's almost always something else going on besides just normal metal. "Astera Ton Proinon" is particularly epic, and there's some great guitar/synth interplay on "Panem et Circences." It's pretty much impossible to absorb everything in just a few listens, especially since almost everything is progressive; there are almost no choruses or repeated sections. The musicianship may not be as technical or accomplished as some of the other metal that's out there (though it's definitely still up there), but the real strength is in the songwriting.
The one thing I really want to emphasize is how creative everything is. It might take until the fifth or sixth time listening to the album to take notice of a particular passage in one song that only lasts a few seconds, but that passage will almost certainly still be kinda neat. Personal favorite "Will You Love me Now?", in which both the black and power metal influences are in full force, alone is worth the cost of an entire album, and the replay value of the whole thing means you get way more out of the album than just the 50 minutes of total playing time.
I believe that this album was created for Ihsahn himself if anyone. A thorough reflection of his life and his perception of the world. It draws influences from many aspects of extreme metal (whether it'd be black metal, post-black, thrash, or folk), then fuses it all together with an overall avant-garde feel to it. Some might say that this album almost serves as a sequel to Emperor's swansong, prometheus, but I think it is more of a focused version of prometheus and peccatum.
Needless to say, Ihsahn does everything on this album except for the drums, but he programmed all the drums beforehand then had Asgeir play it. The Adversary is a very guitar-oriented album while the drums do little more than giving it a backbone, nearly all of the melodies are created by the guitars with some synth layers here and there. This is a very rare quality in metal these days, since most bands tend to simply slam on the synths and let the guitar serve as a background substance. As for the vocals, well, any fans of emperor would pretty much know what to expect. Ihsahn's vocals are very high even for black metal standards and if you don't like them, don't worry, 'cause they tend to grow on you. The clean vocal layers on this album are probably one of my favorite things about it, they act as a driving force for many parts throughout the album whereas the absence of them would totally ruin the atmosphere. Also Kristoffer Rygg, one of my favorite vocalists, features on one of the tracks (homecoming). That alone, should herd some people toward this album.
The Adversary is a concept album, that means this is one of those albums where you have to sit your ass down and listen to the whole thing to really appreciate it. It is definitely not for someone who is looking for the "black metal" in emperor. Approach this album with an open mind and embrace what it has to offer.
Ihsahn – The Adversary
When hearing about the fact that Ihsahn was recording a solo album, I have to admit I was quite excited and interested to see what he would come up. Ihsahn, The Adversary is a return to his extreme metal roots with a lot of experimenting still intact that he delved into with later period Emperor and Peccatum.
The Album starts off strong with the song “ Invocation”, has a sort of return to Emperor feel to it, like the material off of IX Equilibrium and Prometheus. The real interesting part is how towards the middle of the song it gets softer and has some great clean vocals; Ihsahn seems to be getting better and better with his singing voice. His singing voice is showcased a lot on this album, perhaps more so then any other previous recording effort. There is a lot of harmony and layered vocal parts throughout all the singing parts, which are very well done, and at times very King Diamondish. Speaking of King Diamond, this is most showcased with the second song “Called by The Fire”. Much of the song sounds like an ode to Diamond vocally, which is obvious with his high falsetto parts. “Called by The Fire” is very catchy, the chorus really grabs hold of you and calls for a sing along.
I would say that all the songs have their own uniqueness and individual quality, songs like the slower “Homecoming” with clean singing throughout the whole song as well as some interesting progressive guitar parts. The whole album has some really interesting progressions and guitar riffing, some unique sounding chords and scales being used throughout. The Adversary also features some great black metal parts as well, with straight blast beats and sixteen note riffing. Although overall this album isn’t quite as extreme or as aggressive as Emperor’s later material, it’s almost like an in between of Ihsahn’s Emperor days and Peccatum.
Production wise, it's not the greatest, Their is little rawness to the whole album, but overall well done. I think my only grip is with the extreme vocals, they sound too dry for my liking, the clean vocals on the other hand are superbly done though. The overall mix is good, as you can hear all the instruments well, besides maybe the bass.
This album is probably not for everyone, it took me a couple listens all the way through for it to grow on me. Although I would recommend that people should at least check it out as the stuff Ihsahn is doing is extremely unique and interesting. Overall, “The Adversary” is an extremely worthy outing by Ihsahn and I have a feeling that when the dust settles it will remain one of my favorite albums of the year.
First off, I love Emperor. I like Peccatum as well. Because of these facts I obviously have been looking forward to this release for a long time. It also shows that I could write a biased or fanatical review. However, this is not the case despite the really high score. The production is great on this album. The sounds are very crisp and clear. Even though there is always a lot going on here, none of it sounds buried or washed out.
01 - Invocation
This song is a great way to start the album. It's a really good interpretation of what's in store for the listener. Within the first few seconds of the song, you already know who you're listening to. Ihsahn's trademark riffing style is apparent from the beginning notes, then the keyboards kick in. Not overdone or tacky, instead they are just right -- accenting but not burying the music. The song continues in a mid-tempo, late era Emperor fashion. Then 1:11 into the song, Ihsahn lets out that inhuman scream ala In the Nightside Eclipse. It continues until about halfway through the song, which then changes into something that could have been on the latest Peccatum release. It starts to build up in intensity, then once again explodes into something Emperor-like. By the time the first song ended on my initial listen, I was already impressed. The lyrics are also really evil, here.
02 - Called by the Fire
This song is slower than the blistering opening track, but also very good. It sounds a bit like something from Prometheus, though Ihsahn really makes good use of his range here with a generous dose of falsetto. There's a few short melodic but enjoyable guitar solos near the end of this track.
03 - Citizen
Ihsahn gets right back into things on Citizen. This song starts with some scathing vocals and is definitely more guitar oriented and quite fast...mostly. In the middle of the track, there's a slow instrumental bridge with piano and slow riffing, accompanied by some clean vocals. Don't get used to it though, because it's about to change again...and again...and yet again. It would be very easy to lose all sense of unity and rhythm in this one because the changes come in very rapid succession. Somehow, it doesn't happen though.
04 - Homecoming
This one is a very slow song and utilizes mostly clean vocals. There's the occasional short falsetto and a quick solo with heavier feeling, but still, I'd have to say this one is the low point of the album. Not my favorite track here but by no means bad and a needed part of the album.
05 - Astera Ton Proinon
Astera starts as a soft and melodic orchestral piece. Ihsahn's vocals really shine here. He's one of the best, simply because he's so diverse and does a great job at it all. He proves it here. Clean vocals, falsetto, raspy screams and growling. This is also a very slow song like Homecoming but has a dreadful sort of atmosphere and is very reminiscent of something you'd find on a good doom metal album. There's also chanting bits on this track. While certainly not the most aggressive track on the album, for some reason it's one that really stuck with me. A great song.
06 - Panem et Circences
The album is picking up tempo once again. This one is a mid-paced track but much heavier than the previous two. it also has some softer interludes and a piano solo but more riffs than the aforementioned tracks. This song also has a strong Emperor feeling and some great harsh vocals. This song is a good mix of elements.
07 - And He shall Walk in Empty Places
This one starts off in a completely black metal fashion. It pretty much stays that way too, but with a healthy dose of thrash thrown in somewhere along the way. It transforms into pure black metal again close to the end. I have never heard Ihsahn sound as guttural as he does on this track. I often find this one stuck in my head. The energy and atmosphere in this song is great and though definitely modern this one really reminds me of the early days for some reason.
08 - Will You Love Me Now
Another heavy, faster track. There are a couple of isolated slower parts but is fast over all. This is another one that changes up quite a bit. Ihsahn is very skilled at writing songs that constantly evolve, because no matter how much the song changes, it still sounds like the same song instead of chunks of random noise crammed into a single track.
09 - The Pain is Still Mine
A long orchestral intro, this song is very melodic and atmospheric. Once again though, this song changes up a lot. It's quite epic and a good listen, especially for those that like their songs long. This one's probably an utter nightmare to those with sort attention spans. Ihsahn uses his clean voice here a lot. In certain parts, he also wails in a way I don't believe he's ever done before -- on this track. It's not really extreme or clean but somewhere in between. Quite a bit of falsetto too. A rather grandiose finish.
This is exactly what one could reasonably want or expect from Ihsahn. It's a mixture of Emperor and Peccatum minus Ihriel. All the elements of Ihsahn's art over the years, are present here. Yet, he's also exhibiting growth and evolution with his style, incorporating some of the best elements of black and avant-garde -- and putting a whole new spin on it. An experimental album like this could have been a total disaster but Ihsahn presents this beast of an album with precision and style, in a manner only he could. I highly recommend this album, but it's not distorted blast-beat black metal or your standard progressive release either.
Favorite Tracks - Invocation, Astera Ton Proinon, And He Shall Walk in Empty Places, Citizen.
First of all, I may be a little bit biased. Emperor is my favorite black metal band, and I pretty much love anything that Ihsahn puts out. So a solo album? That's just.... perfection.
Ihsahn does everything himself here, except for the drums, provided by Asgeir of Borknagar and a million other bands. Each of the songs on the album is fairly different, but they all manage to keep the flow of the album.
The album opens with "Invocation." This sounds a bit like a later Emperor song, with some great riffage and some blasting. Ihsahn showcases all his vocals here (grim, clean, and falsetto). The second song, "Called by Fire," is fairly heavy metal, and definitely influenced by Mercyful Fate (one of Ihsahn's favorite bands). One thing that must be noted, is that Ihsahn has cut back on the keyboards. This is mainly a guitar-driven album, with keys providing a backdrop for the music. It's hard to describe it as particularly death or black, just... well.. metal.
"Homecoming," is probably the softest song on here, being mainly acoustic and singing. Garm's somewhere on here, but I didn't really notice him. The two best songs here are "Astera Ton Proino," and "And He Shall Walk in Empty Places." Astera's chorus has a sad, emotive riff, which just bleeds majesty. Empty Places is based on a lead guitar melody, which... bloody rules.
While I was expecting the last song "The Pain is Still Mine," to be a huge epic keyboard and guitar fest, it's.. not. It starts off with a piano, and then goes through several different phases. It's somewhat of a strange song. It's not really heavy or death or black or... anything. The best I can compare it to is probably a short Devil Doll song.
Anyway. If you liked later Emperor, Peccatum, or just what Ihsahn does in general, you'll love this. If you didn't, this won't change your mind.