Ihsahn – The Adversary (2006)
It’s not quite a successor to Emperor’s legacy, but I don’t really think The Adversary (Ihsahn’s first solo album) intended to be. There’s clear similarities to late period Emperor, but for whatever reason, The Adversary dials down the aggression while retaining most of the extreme metal language, making for an… uh… interesting experience. Let’s get this out of the way – angL, two years later, was basically the same thing except with better execution, sort of making this one obsolete. But if you’ve never listened to either, you probably want to know whether this style is worth your time.
Songs on The Adversary are, despite its ‘progressive’ pretensions, generally fairly short and notably verse-chorus in how they’re constructed, although with lengthy and varied bridges to hide this. On the other hand, they’re chock full of difficult and dense instrumentation, which was a major attractant when I first discovered this album (I think that I first listened back in the earliest days of Invisible Blog, but I’m not sure). There’s a great deal of ornamentation involved, for better or worse, and seemingly more variation in instrumental technique than overall aesthetics. As a result, The Adversary is one of those types of albums where each song is clearly in a different style, whether it be the vaguely traditional heavy metal of “Called by the Fire”, the blasting of “And He Shall Walk In Empty Places”, and so forth. Style shifts are also used to delineate sections, for better or worse.
The pretension just oozes from this album at all times, though. It doesn’t help that the orchestrations behind the metal side are realized through cheap keyboards – similar to those of later period Emperor, but more problematic because the wimpier metal side of things thrusts them into your ears. It’s clear that Ihsahn was trying to create something fairly ambitious, but the general reliance on pop tropes doesn’t do much for it. I guess it’s better than the pseudo-random songwriting that similar acts sometimes go for, but the discord between intents and final product is easily apparent, even when the progressions used to construct these songs aren’t discordant in and of themselves. In retrospect, this problem isn’t far off from what afflicted Emperor later in their career, but IX Equilibrium, for instance, had the mediating efforts of other band members and a more fitting production. All of this adds up to an album that, when I think of it, was never that great once the novelty wore off.
Highlights: “Called by the Fire”, “Homecoming”, “Will You Love Me Now?”