Ihsahn - angL
Candlelight
Progressive Metal
9 songs (48:18)
Release year: 2008
Ihsahn, Candlelight
Reviewed by Goat

Of all the figures in the Norwegian Black Metal scene, Ihsahn is arguably at the top of the list in terms of respectability, yet it’s worth taking a moment to examine exactly why this is. As far as musical legacy goes, only the first two Emperor albums can be said to be perfect, both building on the foundations of classic Norwegian Black Metal to provide an epic, orchestral blast of utter darkness. Since then, it’s much less easy to pick flawless moments. Both of the latter Emperor albums had clear and consistent faults, and you can hardly hold up Peccatum or Hardingrock as examples of pure, unalloyed genius, despite the promise that each of these projects showed.

Bringing this examination completely up to date, even Ihsahn’s first attempt at solo glory, 2006’s The Adversary, was fault-ridden, coming across more as a struggle to fit separate and highly diverse influences together rather than the varied statement of musical expertise that it should have been. So just two albums, presumably composed with the input of others, have created a status on which a musician can trade for the rest of his career. Keeping this in mind, expectations for Ihsahn’s second solo album, again with Mr Tveitan on everything but drums and bass (provided by Borknagar’s Asgeir Mickelson and Spiral Architect’s Lars Norberg) are anything but high.

Everyone has an Emperor album that they hold in high regard, even if from the band’s later period. If you go back to that album and, after a good listen, compare it to angL, it’s quite shocking just what a step down Ihsahn has taken. It sounds more like the work of another band trying to replicate the last days of Emperor than anything else. Much of this is thanks to Ihsahn’s vocals. Being fair, he’s always been a better guitarist than vocalist, and where the primitive productions of the early Emperor releases guarded his voice from over exposure, in later years it became obvious just how rubbish his harsh vocals are. This album, alas, is no exception, and the tired squawks on show are little short of pathetic, considering the vast numbers of bands out there that employ frontman that are capable of screaming or growling. On the other hand, his clean vocals have improved vastly, and there seem to be few of those godawful moments from past years where he tries to imitate King Diamond and fails in every meaning of the word.

Ironically, the one moment designed to destroy all opposition – the guest vocals of Opeth frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt on Unhealer – only serves to highlight this. Both Åkerfeldt’s gorgeous clean singing and his demonic growls completely overshadow Ihsahn’s efforts, and although the song works on a superficial level, when you realise that it has been based completely around the concept of the two vocalists performing together, the urge to simply give up and go and listen to Opeth is almost overwhelming.

Having said that, the songs themselves on offer here are pretty damn good. Both guitars and drums are phenomenally played by these two master musicians, creating an array of technical and subtly catchy Prog Metal songs that are a fun challenge to listen to. You have to actually listen, mind – this is anything but background music. Highlights come thick and fast, from the melancholic guitar weeping on Emancipation, to the Tech-Death styling of Scarab. Songs vary between four and six minutes in length, and all show the mark of an excellent, professional composer. The backings keyboards, all of the epic orchestral variety, are brilliant, and could well be the work of an actual orchestra.

The above-mentioned concerns over vocals may well be a personal consideration, and if you have no problems with Ihsahn’s vocals then by all means feel free to add 10 to the below score and rush out to buy this at once. If you find his vocals to be the most annoying thing on the face of the earth since before Paris Hilton came onto the scene, however, then take 10 off and treat with caution. There is much that is ‘good’ here, and many will declare it to be ‘great’, but overall it’s impossible to recommend wholeheartedly without a word of warning.

MySpace
Killing Songs :
Scarab, Unhealer (for Mikael), Emancipation, Alchemist, Threnody, Monolith
Goat quoted 78 / 100
Aleksie quoted 89 / 100
Other albums by Ihsahn that we have reviewed:
Ihsahn - Arktis. reviewed by Goat and quoted 80 / 100
Ihsahn - Das Seelenbrechen reviewed by Goat and quoted 76 / 100
Ihsahn - Eremita reviewed by Charles and quoted 90 / 100
Ihsahn - After reviewed by Goat and quoted 89 / 100
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