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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