Ihsahn - AngL Review
by Mark Hensch
Going it alone takes a lot of guts. The musical world's solo route is quite the gamble---one is either proven capable of standing tall on one's own two feet, or proven dependent on the talent and craft of others.
If there is any composer virtuosic and innovative enough to break free as a singular entity in said world, it is Ihsahn. Though most famous for his role in spawning symphonic black metal with Emperor, Ihsahn is---like it or not---pushing boundaries again on his own.
This individualistic creativity first manifested itself on 2006's well-received The Adversary, an elegant yet ripping cocktail of symphonic black metal, gothic progressive flourishes, and classic metal's arena bombast. Over-the-top in both wildness and evil, The Adversary blistered with raw, furious energy, making it a tough act to follow.
Said successor, 2008's AngL, reels the chaos in a bit for a darker, slower feel. Though much less ferocious than The Adversary, AngL continues along the same groundbreaking trajectory while adding a restrained grace to Ihsahn's sonic identity.
Though AngL might be softer, more textured, and more subtle than its predecessor, this does not mean it lacks the same brutality ---far from it. "Misanthrope," for example, roils with hypnotic black metal backed by darkly symphonic elegance. "Malediction," meanwhile, could be a latter-period Emperor church burner, its blistering assault contrasted by manic guitar fireworks and moving symphonic portions.
As wicked as these cuts are, AngL truly shines when practicing the art of the slow burn. "Scarab" best represents this trend, grooving with skeletal menace in between clever snatches of Opeth-like melodies and blasting black metal.
Speaking of Opeth, their frontman Mikael Akerfeldt appears on "Unhealer." Akerfeldt and Ihsahn gloriously trade shrieks and howls, their contrasting voices mixing perfectly with the gloomy progressive metal starbursts on display.
Somewhere after this, "Elevator" plunges with grim doom into hellish landscapes of night shrouded progressive metal. "Emancipation," meanwhile, echoes with technical riffs halfway between the material and the ghostly realms. Emerging from this schizophrenic groove is a progressive anthem as anathemic as it is stark, as beautiful as it is hazy. This is not the only paradoxical moment of the album---the acoustica metal of "Threnody" is yet another good example.
If the above does not sound like a lot of variety, AngL holds plenty more surprises within its bleak heart. Though it might lack the absolute hatred of Emperor or even the might of The Adversary, AngL is an interesting album from a lone soul with plenty of dark shadows still lingering in his psyche. Fans of symphonic or progressive black metal, Ihsahn, Emperor, or unique music in general will be well pleased with this album.
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