IHSAHN's First Two Albums In Words

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.

Once Ihsahn has come a long way from the primal times of early black metal. Now a respected individual in both the black and progressive metal circles, he is certainly one to impress with this; his second release. While ‘Angl’ can feel a bit pressured at times, a good performance and great songwriting takes Ihsahn’s blackened roots and projects it to a whole new level of creative spirit.

One of the first things that the typical metal fan will notice with this album is appearance of Opeth vocalist Mikael Akerfeldt on the third track; entitled ‘Unhealer.’ As one of my personal favourite vocalists, Akerfeldt does a great job of using a warm, clean voice to counterpoint Ihsahn’s screams. While I wasn’t a fan of Emperor before getting ‘Angl’ (I am now,) hearing that Akerfeldt was on this album was a great way to convince me to buy the album, and the performance works out to be much more than just a sales pitch.

The songwriting is kept under pretty average song lengths and structures, although there are instances- such as in the song Elevator- where the music trails into something soft and different. There are amazing riffs aplenty here, which makes the fact that there isn’t a whole lot of technical experimentation work with the album instead of against it. That said, this is not the most ground-breaking piece of metal in the world. Instead, it takes existing black metal conventions, and transforms it into something fresh and layered. While the majority of the vocals are ‘extreme’ in nature, it’s a nice change for him to go clean for a bit, which adds another dimension of melody.

Ihsahn has done something here that is just short of being a masterpiece. Had it been for a little more detail to album flow and continuity and one or two more highlight tracks (there are already plenty to mention) ‘Angl’ would have surely become a landmark in the history of metal. While the mark might have been hit here, I have no doubt that in the future, Ihsahn has the potential not only to hit, but absolutely demolish the barriers of what black metal can do. A great, rocking progressive metal album.

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