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Ihsahn - "AngL" (CD)

Ihsahn - "AngL" CD cover image

"AngL" track listing:

1. Misanthrope (4:58)
2. Scarab (5:17)
3. Unhealer (6:17)
4. Emancipation (5:27)
5. Malediction (4:19)
6. Alchemist (4:19)
7. Elevator (5:07)
8. Threnody (5:08)
9. Monolith (6:27)

Reviewed by on May 29, 2008

"All of the best parts of the last album, 'The Adversary,' have been tempered in the fires of smoldering hate and re-forged into a more sinister and furious vessel of destruction."

“AngL”, the second solo album from Norwegian black metal mogul Ihsahn, takes all of the styles that Ihsahn has used in former works and continues to perfect them and move them closer to their musical conclusions. All of the best parts of the last album, “The Adversary,” have been tempered in the fires of smoldering hate and re-forged into a more sinister and furious vessel of destruction. Although “AngL” has its share of piano interludes and intermittent clean singing, it never loses its blackened edge of power and anger.

The opening track, “Misanthrope,” immediately charges out of the gate like a wild beast hungry for blood in a blur of heavy, fast, and aggressive sound. The keyboards slide alongside the guitar in a spiraling storm of pure symphonic metal, refusing to either be left behind or to eclipse the accompanying instruments. A sudden slow down occurs early in the song that takes a seriously dark turn, far more dark than anything heard on “The Adversary” or even any of the Emperor albums. This is not the postured darkness of a rebellious band attempting to be evil, or the pale imitation of darkness from a group that wants to show the world how depressed they are. This is the very real darkness of a man exposing the stains on his soul through the medium of music.

“Scarab” attacks from a very different angle than the first song. Hearing it is like watching reality fracture off into terrifyingly twisted new vistas of sight. Every note seems to be just a half step out of sync with how sound is supposed to resonate. Even when the heavy, distorted guitars give way to softer acoustic sounds there remains an underlying sense of corruption, as though music is not supposed to be able to produce these noises. Midway through “Scarab” is the first of several surprisingly rock-oriented guitar solos present on the album. “AngL” sees Ihsahn playing with several guitar techniques that aren’t normally considered to be a part of extreme metal and that never would have had a place in the incredibly cold and brutal works of Emperor or the more experimental albums of Peccatum.

The third song, “Unhealer”, boasts a guest appearance by Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth fame on lead vocals. The lyrics seem like they should start with Akerfeldt growling, as they are similar in nature to some of Opeth’s growling lyrics from the “Deliverance” album. As the first lines of clean singing begin, it becomes clear why the growling is saved for later. Akerfeldt’s singing has somehow unbelievably found a way to improve from previous Opeth albums and acquire an even wider range than has been heard before. His voice channels a sorrow-filled and mournful essence that with any luck will be making an appearance on all of the new Opeth albums. Almost as soon as the trademark Opeth death vocals pummel their way through the speakers, Ihsahn throws in his own mid range snarl in what may be the world’s first ever black metal growling duet.

Almost every song on “AngL” introduces a new element that isn’t heard in the previous songs and takes the album in a new direction. “Alchemist” goes off on a trippy and progressive ride, while “Elevator” has chugging guitar riffs that actually induce a feeling of moving downwards. The one and only real downside to “AngL” is the song “Malediction.” While it is an amazing track, it is intensely similar in tone to several of the songs from the previous album, and sounds as though it could have been lifted directly from “The Adversary.”

“AngL” is the culmination of a diverse range of musical experimentation that is simply mind blowing in its scope and implementation. It is hard to imagine black metal finding a way to progress any further than this, but if “AngL” is any indication, the next album should take the genre into even higher greatness.

Highs: Furious black metal, melodic keyboard and piano interludes, and amazing musicianship

Lows: Some parts sound like they could have been lifted from the last album

Bottom line: A mind blowing black metal culmnation of Emperor, Peccatum, and Opeth

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)