Home > Music > Emperor Retrospective #3 – IX Equilibrium

Emperor Retrospective #3 – IX Equilibrium

Because as fun as poop sharks are, I can’t spend all my time on bodily juvenilia…

IX Equlibrium is probably the most symbolic name for an album ever, at least under the conditions it was released in. Ihsahn reveals some of this in an interview (Thank you, Internet Archive!) For me to quote or paraphase, or look further into the symbolism would waste TONS of time. But it appears much of this was intentional, some of it was coincidence. One thing they don’t mention is that the album is exactly 44 minutes and 1 second – 4 + 4 + 1 = 9. Kind of pointless, but sure adds up. The music involves an uneasy balance between Ihsahn’s “symphonic progressive” urges, and Samoth’s more direct approach (Zyklon, anyone?). Long story short, IX Equilibrium ends up being more bombastic, technical, romantic, dissonant, imposing, expanding on every frontier, I guess. This is not the same Emperor that released In the Nightside Eclipse (obviously), or any other Emperor that released another album. It ends up being very controversial, too. Some people adore it, some people think it’s unmitigated shit. But regardless of whether you like it or not, you have to realize that Ihsahn and company put a TREMENDOUS amount of effort into IX Equilibrium, and it shows.

Unlike the previous three albums (I include Wrath of the Tyrant), or Prometheus, there’s NO introduction. No Al Svartr, no 50 seconds of ominous strings. You have, at most, 4-5 seconds to prepare for “Curse All You Men!”. This track is definitely one of Emperor’s best, because it has the strengths of old Emperor’s sound (more ambient, less pompous, less conventional song structures), while offering the best of new Emperor (more technicality, better production, EXTREME aggression, dissonance). There’s the equilibrium again. Also, the track lasts 4 minutes and 41 seconds. What fun and symbolism! If the album continued in this vein, it’d probably displace Anthems in most people’s minds as “Best Emperor album ever”.

But the controversy begins on the next track.Decrystalizing Reason seems to have the same approach for a while. Samoth’s rhythm guitar here is awesome – it’s very bouncy and powerful at the same time. You think IX Equilibrium is going to be good, period. At 2:05 or so, the song pauses, Ihsahn screeches something, and then you’re listening to another album. At this point, some people just decide they don’t like IX Equilibrium. The song becomes far more aggressive, with constant blast beating and such. What becomes obvious at this point is that things are just as unclear on the initial listen as they were on “In the Nightside Eclipse”, but in an entirely different way. Nightside had muddier production, and as opposed to an inferno of fury, was cold, ethereal, and so forth. Also interesting is that the lyrics on that album followed a more narrative style, while here they are more direct, probably more incisive, more outwardly aimed at listeners – subtle, but if you’re reading along it can contribute to the intensity of things.

Most of these songs reflect some balance between complete aggression and symphonic grandeur, with a few songs going completely to one side, like “Sworn”, which is probably the hardest driving song on here (and THAT, on an album of such sustained intensity, is an accomplishment), and “An Elegy of Icaros”, which is calm by this album’s standards. Keep in mind the fact that we saw some of this hyperspeed madness on Anthems, and in fact it was quite prevalent. This is usually blamed on then-newcomer Trym, but compared to IX Equilbrium, Anthems definitely shows more restraint. Other notable songs are “The Source of Icon E”, where anyone who hasn’t heard the band’s cover of “Gypsy” by now will get their first taste of Ihsahn falsettos, and “The Warriors of Modern Death”, which stomps along like a Viking metal era Bathory, or more likely some even more primeval metal band, back from the days when you were either heavy or not.

WHat’s funny is that despite putting out quite the monster of an album, Emperor gets compared to Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, mainly being seen as popular, and “accessible” like the other two. I’m not sure why, especially if my unconfirmed hunches about how the other two bands construct their songs are true.
But I assure you that Emperor’s music, even if it is easier to get into for outsiders than other black metal, it’s still worth your time, and definitely one of the high points of the genre. IX Equilibrium probably isn’t on the same level as “In the Nightside Eclipse”, but it’s the closest the band got afterwards.

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  1. 2013/02/28 at 01:49

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