Hang on, didn’t he just have one out last year?
Turns out no – the excellent ‘Arktis’ was 2016. It just feels like absolutely no time at all.
But then as I’ve said before of his excellency, you can’t keep a good man down.
‘Arktis’ had some top quality material.
It began Ihsahn’s move (further) away from the underground and toward a more Devin Townsend style role: a daring, Huge Metal wall of sounder, for whom not everything always works, but from whom everything is always at least interesting.
That last album had everything from classic Van Halen to chilly black metal remnants. It also had strange modern lyrics that didnt always sit right (‘Finger on the trigger / back against the wall’ and the like) – something that’s continued on here. But we’ll get to that.
What’s the character of this album?
Well, if anything it’s metropolitan, modern, monied and quite slinky: as though he’d composed it in the lobby bar of the Hilton Doubletree.
That cover art is not an accident. It’s velvety and mood lit, suggesting wealth, luxury and ease.
Now, that metropolitanism is something I detected in his music many years ago in Peccatum’s ‘Lost In Reverie’, and somewhat in ‘Eremita’ too.
But this is it writ large.
‘Lend Me The Eyes Of Millennia’ is a ballsy opener, in as much as the eagle-eared one has picked up on contemporary fascinations – in this case Synthwave – and capitalised on it. He’s a smart man.
It sound good, with those 80s echoed keyboards booming out their arpeggio so teasingly (and every time is a tease with this one) before that consistent blastbeat that gives his fans of old exactly what they want.
‘Samr’ is one of the more luxuriant songs on here, a ballad from the duck-egg blue 60’s suits school of string section cool – again that hotel lobby – but yes, it speaks to the Wall Of Sound he’s crafting rather nicely indeed.
I am much less convinced about ‘One Less Enemy’, whose jaunty riff is just a bit crap, and- something that has plagued his prior albums – exposes the drums as weedy sounding. As with ‘Disassembled’ on ‘Arktis’, I just don’t get him talking about bad guys and Jason Bourne style chases. It just doesn’t work.
The are moments of real guitar solo tastiness in here, of a kind that he’s never really reached before. We know of his rhythm guitar prowess, but ‘Where You Are Lost And I Belong’ really has some quality fluid soloing in an expansive song – like ‘Twin Black Angels’ at the end of the album – that recall the masterful ‘Until I Too Dissolve’ from Arktis.
The basic story of this album is strong start, dodgy middle, and superb finish – but always Ihsahn, experimenter, tryer, doer, and elegant musician always.
Emperor is a very long time ago at this point, and his diversification is a continuing treasure trove.
So as with everything from Peccatum onward: it doesnt always work. But when it does, it really does.
4.1 / 5 – Earl Grey ::: 19/05/18