IHSAHN needs no introduction. If you've heard of Metal, you've heard of EMPEROR and if you've heard EMPEROR you're familiar with their legendary frontman. His vocals and riffs have been ripped off countless times by countless bands, but one thing sets Ihsahn apart from the pack of Black Metal wannabes: his songcraft. Issues with PECCATUM aside, the man can write a mean tune. And it's because of that fact that I so looked forward to this, Ihsahn's first solo album.
The band on this album consists of Ihsahn on vocals, guitar, bass and keys; Asgeir Mickelson (BORKNGAR, SPIRAL ARCHITECT, VINTERSORG) on drums and percussion; with the mighty Garm (ex-ARCTURUS, HEAD CONTROL SYSTEM, ULVER) providing guest vocals on one track. The album was advertised as a combination of all of Ihsahn's past forays into Metal music and the end result makes good on that claim. There is a great deal of straight up Heavy Metal attitude to be found here, like on the openers "Invocation" and especially "Called By the Fire," the latter of which finds Ihsahn pulling out a perfect King Diamond impression. Really, this sounds like it could have been a MERCYFUL FATE song, minus the Black Metal vocals at parts. "Citizen" and "Will You Love Me Now?" bring to mind latter-day EMPEROR, while "Astera Ton Proinon" and "Panem Et Circenses" have that carnival-esque swagger that makes ARCTURUS so damn adorable. Throw in the atmospherics and soundscapes of PECCATUM with the trademarked EMPEROR vocals and riffs and you've got yourself one hell of an album. From the rocking 80's riffs to the layering of macabre key passages, Ihsahn has hit this one spot on.
At least musically. If I've got a complaint with "The Adversary," it has to be this: Ihsahn's vocals sound forced. His rasps, screams and even clean vocals just don't sound all that natural, as if he's straining to get them out. He tries out some new vocal approaches, however and these work to great effect. The best example of this is on the jaw-dropping closer "The Pain Is Still Mine," in which Ihsahn hits his operatic stride and belts out a tune as epic and theatrical as can be. If ever there were to be a Broadway Black Metal musical, "The Pain Is Still Mine" would have to be a featured number. Sure, it's a cheesy song, but it rules like no other.
"The Adversary" is a wonderful release and shows Ihsahn at the top of his musical game. Of course, if you're one of those that think that EMPEROR lost it after "Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk" or even "In The Nightside Eclipse," there isn't going to be much for you here. On the other hand, if you're a fan of latter-day EMPEROR, rest assured - "The Adversary" stands side-by-side with "IX Equilibrium" and "Prometheus - The Discipline Of Fire And Demise." If you've no opinion on EMPEROR but like bands such as ARCTURUS, BORKNAGAR, SIGH and SOLEFALD, you'll find this album to be another in a long line of quality Post-Black goodness. (Online May 29, 2006)