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Ihsahn is one of these guys that suffer from Tom G. Warrior Syndrome, which occurs when extreme metal artists feel underappreciated as musicians and spend the latter part of their careers trying to show off how unusual and complex they can be. "Hey, I released genre defining masterpieces that pushed the borders of extreme music in ways inconceivable before and literally influenced hundreds or maybe thousands of later bands, but the mainstream critics said it was just talentless bludgeoning, so I'll just have to wuss out to show them what a nice pet I can be!" And before you know, you are getting pointless experiments such as "Into The Pandaemonium" and backfiring attempts at scoring mainstream success such as "Cold Lake". Now, while Ihsahn is far from his personal "Cold Lake", he sure is long past overtaking Tom G. Warrior on the field of pointless experiments to demonstrate to everyone (especially his own apparent massive inferiority complex) how progressive and avant-garde he can be, even though the music resulting from this mindset usually serves no purpose whatsoever. Whether it's the whole deal with "hey guys, look at me, I am being trained in classical composition at the university, so look at my funny little attempts to imitate classical music with synths" that came with Thou Shalt Suffer and the synthetic reworkings of Emperor songs, or that terrible, terrible Peccatum business that was all about "hey guys, I like opera and weird avant-garde (or at least I claim I do), so I randomly throw these elements together into completely useless and unlistenable songs", there is nothing he doesn't try in his despair to have his musicianship appreciated. Of course, we thought that after the wild mishmash of a symphonic progressive jazz fusion avant-garde death black noise metal thing he had going on the last Emperor album that we had heard the last of his literally painful escapades, or at least that's what we were hoping for.
No, of course not. Apparently, his first idea was to do an album on which Arcturus exclusively covered Spiral Architect songs with himself on vocals, but when neither Arcturus nor Spiral Architect agreed to that idea, he simply decided to attempt doing something that sounds just like it all by himself. And he was so excited by that idea that he got impatient enough to release it as early as possible so that he didn't even find the time to give the album any bit of a production. So now we have this formless glob of ruthlessly derivative semi-technical pseudo-prog metal with overly loud "...And Justice For All..."-style trashcan drums, tiring attempts at being "epic", Ihsahn's trademark "the little locomotive that thinks he can"-vocal style, tinged with completely random avant-garde blips. And of course, Ihsahn once again fails to deliver anything remotely noteworthy in terms of composition and musicianship, as he has since the first day he decided to replace actual songwriting with heaps of self-serving pomp.
I really fail to see the purpose in this. This is probably what the next Emperor album would have sounded like. That is, if this was played at twice the speed, rather than this turtle-speed snorefest that turns every song into a giant yawn after less than two minutes at most. Was this supposed to make it sound more mellow? All it does is make it sound like an excruciating exercise in torturous patience for the listener. The songwriting kind of brings me back to the comparison with that particular Metallica album I mentioned before, because if that one was really advanced progressive avant-garde to you, then this will be as well. This is just the same type of pattern, in essence it is really simplistic, just spiced up with randomly inserted token tempo changes and odd breaks, while in essence always following its - like I said - really simplistic standard heavy metal song structure. I do have to admit however that my comparison doesn't really hold too much water - which is unfortunate for my and everybody else's nerves - because said "...And Justice For All..." album at least manages to churn out some decent tunes. This doesn't. Not even anywhere near decent. Not even anywhere near listenable. In fact, listening to this album, you might be best advised to put 911 on speed-dial and have the phone in a handy position, because you might suffer a minor (in the most fortunate of cases) stroke just from how terrible the straight-forward, non-progressive (mainly chorus) tunes on this album are. It kind of reminds me of what Nintendo did to Atari in the early 80s, because what Nintendo did to Atari in the computer game industry, Ihsahn is doing to the dairy industry, providing a thousand times the amount of cheese for a thousandth of the price. Fear for your economic life, Wisconsin! (Same goes for Switzerland and the Netherlands as well, of course)
Boy, does he try hard. Did I mention the King Diamond-style falsetto-vocals yet? Oh I think I should. If the prospect of ridiculously overloud and terrible sounding drums and hilariously embarrassing attempts at being oh so impressively progressive didn't scare you off yet, and if for some reason I couldn't possibly understand or explain ultra-grating cheese choruses minus the slighest bit of captivating quality appeal to you, this should be the final nail in the coffin for this album. I'm not even much of a King Diamond fan, and Ihsahn's performance still sounds like a parody of a parody of a parody to me. When Anal Cunt covered Manowar's "Gloves of Metal" and Seth Putnam made a joke impression of the falsetto vocals in that song's chorus just for laughs it was still closer to a proper execution of falsetto vocals than what Ihsahn does.
Anyway, let me return to a previous point. This album is tiresome beyond imagination. When I heard it for the first time, I was listening to it playing in the background while doing something else, and at some point I took a break from what I was doing and thought the album should be about half over by that time, and I discovered I was only in the middle of the second song. After repeated listening experiences this didn't get much better. Everything just takes forever, and it never seems to stop, no matter how much you really wish for it to finally be over. Or maybe it just takes so long because you wish for it to be over so much. Either way, this album is an excruciating listen, and it seems an almost impossible task to make it all the way through without getting frustrated over how bad and infinitely boring it is after just two or three songs. I don't think I've ever made it through the whole album in one piece a single time myself, I needed to start at the sixth song so I would even get to hear the second half of the album after I never made it farther than the fifth song with my nerves more or less intact. And the second half isn't any better, either. It's - brace yourselves - EVEN MORE OF THE SAME. Argh!! With infinite exclamation marks, actually.
If you value your health, please, I advise you, avoid this! Listening to this constitutes torture. I'm fairly sure there's probably even a mention of this album in the United Nations human rights convention. You wouldn't wish being forced to listen to this album from start to end on your worst enemy, believe me. Cruel and unusual indeed.