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Hail the Emperor! - 98%

Mystic_Ice, April 12th, 2006

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.