‘Bring me my wine’, Ihsahn screams at the start of angL, like a tyrant celebrating dominion over all he sees. It’s a fitting sentiment for a man who’s remained part of black metal’s elite even long after vacating the throne he once conquered with Emperor. And in a reminder of his still-potent might, he launches into “Misanthrope,” a soaring war-anthem that recalls the IX Equilibrium days – all churning riffs, symphonic grandeur and that inimitable, snarling croak.

“Scarab” opens in similar fashion, with a progressive riff that lurches back and forth, as if climbing an endless succession of staircases in an MC Escher drawing. Then it reaches a vista, shifting to a gorgeous, almost Mediterranean rhythm of clean guitar that’s almost Opeth-ian in its grace – quite a nice surprise before we’re plunged back into the original riff. It’s exciting to see Ihsahn blending unexpected colors into his palette – a bit of light to offset the thunderclouds and hell-blasted sunsets that his music usually conjures. A 70s progressive-rock keyboard mantra, paired with Ihsahn‘s most confident, least-theatrical singing to date, brings another surprise. “Scarab” is probably the most expansive and appealing song he’s done since Prometheus, and one hopes that the rest of the album follows suit.

“Unhealer” comes close – a morose, mid-tempo swoon which not only features the honeyed vocals of Opeth mainman Mikael Akerfeldt, but pits both men’s snarls and growls against each other in the chorus. Two of metal’s great composers/icons, working together at last. Given the stunning melodies that Akerfeldt creates for his own albums, I would’ve wished for something more captivating here, but this is Ihsahn‘s show, and it seems he’s just in a more sour mood.

Unfortunately, that sour disposition colors a good chunk of the album, as angL churns out a number of drab, almost willfully amelodic tracks. “Emancipation” mopes in circles before building to a screamed peak during the chorus, and while it seems like it’s aiming for triumph or epiphany, it’s dragged down by an uninspiring choral vocal. It’s just an unappealing track; “Alchemist” and “Elevator” are afflicted by similar issues. The latter features a surprising clean interlude with Ihsahn doing a striking David Bowie, but it’s not enough to make up for the rest of the song.

While these are not bad compositions by any means, I simply found them unexciting, and they failed to generate anything but a detached interest in the writing and craftmanship on display. Cleverness without catharsis does not inspire repeat listens, and given the history here, I would’ve preferred something much more savage and stirring. And I know this is not an Emperor album, though I’m not sure why Ihsahn wouldn’t want to recapture the barely restrained fury of his work from those days – Emperor is still one of my favorite bands, and I count their compositions among some of the finest and most inspired that metal has ever produced.

That all being said, angL does close out on two impressive notes: “Threnody,” a moving, largely acoustic ballad shot through with bluesy soloing, and “Monolith,” a track that finally delivers the ferocity and majesty that some of the previous tracks were missing. It’s a satisfying wrap-up to an uneven listening experience, and so my feelings about the album are ultimately mixed. It certainly delivers some new thrills and there’s much to dissect, but those listeners looking for an overwhelming assault may have to wait until the next release.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
May 21st, 2008


  1. Commented by: Chris Dick

    Great review!

  2. Commented by: Dimaension X

    I found “The Adversary” a bit more exciting and daring. “angL” is good, but it just seems to be a bit, … bland?? Ihsahn is perhaps suffering from “sophomore slump”. Well, it’s still much better than most of the other big bands out there (Soilwork, In Flames, Dimmu, etc.)

  3. Commented by: swampthang

    TEETH OF THE DIVINE REVIEW = Most In Depth Review

  4. Commented by: Erik Thomas

    My review?

    BTW Gabaghoul-thats a GREAT review-nice work.

  5. Commented by: gabaghoul

    cool thanks guys – I enjoyed your review as well, always interesting to see a different perspective – so was yours posted in Metal Maniacs, ie the one that Swampthang mentioned above? ’cause it was damn poetic.

  6. Commented by: Desperado

    All I know is that this cd moves me in ways I can’t describe.Powerful and majestic.Calming and powerful.One of my favorites released this year.

  7. Commented by: axiom

    totally agree gabaghoul. There talent aplenty here, but it just isn’t grabbing me. I think that “snarling croak” doesn’t work so well with the leaner production.

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