Ihsahn – angL (2008, Candlelight USA)
Ihsahn – Vocals & Guitars
Asgeir Mickelson – Drums
Lars Norberg – Bass
Mikeal Akerfeldt (Opeth) – guest vocals on ‘Unhealer’
Total Time = 47:24
Following the success of his first solo album, THE ADVERSARY, former Emperor guitarist/vocalist Ihsahn is back again with his second solo outing, angL. Emperor is a Black Metal legend and Ihsahn’s THE ADVERSARY (2006) was a Black Metal record within the same formula but with a little more experimetation using progressive elements. On angL, Ihsahn continues the experimentation using a myriad of styles and textures to create a unique wall of sound.
Opening track ‘Misanthrope’ is a song that sounds most like Emperor with frantic riffing and bullet drumming. There are keyboards that add a symphonic element to the song but the vocal keeps things sounding…..evil. The opening riff of ‘Scarab’ is heavy but then leads to a laid back groove made heavy by that creepy growl. It’s almost a tale of two songs: a heavy cruncher that leads into a melodic symphonic rock song. After the solo break 3 minutes in, there is a piano interlude with the cleanest vocal style I’ve ever heard Ihsahn use…..he can growl, scream, and actually sing. Opeth’s Mikeal Akerfeldt guests on the mic on ‘Unhealer’ and does an awesome job blending his clean style with his growl to Ihsahn’s higher pitched growl. I hate to describe this song as being one of the “quieter” songs of the record but I would classify it as a ballad. The song gets heavier with the chorus when the vocals get more gruff and the drums announce their presence. So many different styles used on this song (Death, Symphonic, Progressive) and so many different variations of the instruments. ‘Unhealer’ is one of my favorites on this album and one of my favorite songs so far this year.
‘Emancipation’ opens with another catchy riff added to the vocals to give the song a Gothic/Folk Metal sound. The backing vocals are especially striking when added to the Black Metal/clean vocal style…..everything is a wall of sound. ‘Malediction’ returns to the Black roots of Emperor with more symphonic elements enhancing the sound while ‘Alchemist’ is a hybrid of Prog and Gothic Metal. When I hear the opening riff of ‘Elevator’ I picture something descending…..maybe an elevator? Seriously, ‘Elevator’ is another song that weaves different styles and textures together to create this unique blend of sound. Parts of the song are slow and ballad like and others are driven by the double bass drumming. Piercing guitars, swirling keyboards, haunting clean vocals and screams…..it’s all here. ‘Elevator’ seemlessly moves into ‘Threnody’ with an acoustic guitar and what I can only describe as a beautiful vocal. Ihsahn really branches out with the vocals and I’m kind of surprised at the strength of his singing. During the quieter moments of ‘Threnody’, the acoustics are joined by quiet percussion and piano giving the song a ’70s feel but the track picks up in the middle and becomes more progressive leading back to the quiet side for the end. ‘Monolith’ starts quietly but then drives into Emperor territory again. I would pair this song with ‘Malediction’ as both sound more liek Ihsahn’s Emperor roots than anything else on the album.
Honestly, I expected to hear more Emperor so I kind of sat on this album for a couple weeks because I’m not big into the Black Metal scene. Once I actually sat down and gave angL a serious listen, I was taken aback by the multiple styles that Ihsahn uses. I have THE ADVERSARY so I dug that out and gave that a listen as well to see if I had missed something because what I expected from angL is certainly not what I got. There are Black Metal elements and Emperor influences all over the album (‘Monolith’ & ‘Misanthrope’) but it’s the blend of Prog, Gothic/Folk, and Power Metal to the Black that makes angL more accessible. The power and blast is still present, especially in the drums and growling vocal but the acoustics, keyboards, and orchestrations add a layer of sound that makes the album stand out. I enjoyed this album a lot, especially on the headphones! This is one of the best releases I’ve heard this year.
Favorite songs: ‘Scarab’, ‘Unhealer’, ‘Emancipation’, ‘Threnody’, ‘Monolith’