Ihsahn - angL

posted by Brian, Sunday June 29, 2008 @ 10:50:30 PM

Contributed by Jeremey

Nemosyne/Candlelight, 2008

In the wake of his profound solo debut The Adversary, surely one of the most orgiastic exercises of catharsis in metal history, Norwegian royal figure Ihsahn returns from his castle keep brandishing this potent, stylistically flawless weapon which both surpasses yet is somehow incomparable to its predecessor. Where that album treated the notion of "genre" as sustenance rather than final objective, and seemed to renew itself with every track, Angl has settled into a firmly progressive metal niche, something not unlike mid-period Fates Warning (think Parallels or A Deeper Shade of Gray). The songs, while not differing one from the other as severely as those on Adversary, more deeply explore the territory which lay beneath the byzantine structures of Emperor's final two offerings. Thus there is much heaviness, but the equally prominent moments of calm are woven into the harshness in that brilliant, Ihsahnian manner -- a talent which sets the compositional bar higher than any other metal band or musician is likely to reach anytime soon. Angl is one of the purest and starkest expressions of dark art to hit the mainstream of the scene in years.

First, the Easter eggs: joining the unbeatable duo that saw Spiral Architect's Asgeir Mickelson handle drums on The Adversary, that same band's Lars Norberg has entered with his widdly-widdlying basslines, turning the experience into an even more dynamic affair, the palette broadened by much low-frequency detail. And track number three, "Unhealer," finds the verses and half the bridge-and-chorus duets sung by none other than Opeth mastermind Mikael Akerfeldt. (I cannot accurately reproduce my glee at discovering this, at least not without resorting to a googol-length string of all-caps AOL-speak.) The bassist fixes what was the one weakness in The Adversary, and Akerfeldt's clean vocals lend a folksiness to an already warm ballad. Further, Lord Opeth's death metal voice shoots the song straight into the stratosphere, paired as it is with Ihsahn's gravelly testifying. (Perhaps such a cameo will be a permanent feature of Ihsahn's releases, as the inimitable Garm handled "Homecoming" last time out.)

For those who preferred the heavier and faster aspects of The Adversary, "Misanthrope" and "Malediction" will not disappoint, but, strong as these tracks may be, they are the least interesting on the disc. (Again I have to say that we're dealing with a very high bar.) This doesn't mean that the Arcturus-like breaks between the verses of the latter, not to mention the soloing, don't provide bags of awesomeness. The more exciting moments, however, come in the form of the anthemic microbursts within "Alchemist" and album highlight "Elevator." The latter situates Ihsahn's vocal grinding against a phantasmagorically undulating cascade of counterpointed guitars only to settle into one of the sunniest and most placid sequences the man has ever written -- complete with a soft chorus intoning, "I've come a long way, now." To say that this song travels and has direction is an understatement.

So too is the case with the superb "Scarab," a tune that effortlessly shifts its guitar work from a lumbering opening riff to an undistorted Opethian arpeggio (enhanced by glowing background string-bending) to a roaring Emperial crescendo, which even then heightens to a body-moving ostinato (and oh, the soloing here, too -- more of this, please!). There's an ensuing interlude that adds still more tension, but I'll try at this late point to limit my ejaculatory praise; suffice it to say that this track will leave no one unmoved.

The production is richer and looser than that of The Adversary, the songs tend to be more animated and fluid, and the performances are sterling. There's nothing to complain about here, so be sure to go buy one of the best albums of 2008.

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