Ihsahn - The Adversary - Candlelight Records 2006
Running Time: 50:04
I wasn't sure what to expect from Ihsahn's first solo effort. Would he just mimic the recently-dissolved Peccatum, leaving wife Ihriel to her Star Of Ash project, or would he retread those dark trails he blazed in Emperor, walking in the well-worn footsteps of his musical grandchildren, searching for that trail of breadcrumbs back to the history he helped create? Thankfully, as it turns out, neither assumption proved to be true, The Adversary neither denying the man's past nor refusing to gaze beyond his current musical endeavors to a greater art.
The proto-Viking metal of "Invocation" is peppered with dissonant keyboard flourishes, the heathenistic rampage of drummer Aesgir Mickelson (Borknagar, Spiral Architect) losing no power whether blasting or adding tasteful rhythms to the song's operatic midsection. The guitars here haunt yet soothe, conjuring a false sense of security, ravaged yowl bringing back the original theme for the finale. The Mercyful Fate riffs that begin "Called By The Fire" recall that band's glory years, again pushing the boundaries of what we'd "expect" from one of King Diamond's most legitimate offspring. It's here that (aside from the chorus) Ihsan's delivery most mimic's KD's, but in the form of sincere respect instead of banal flattery. About midway through "Citizen", the heathenistic barrage slams to a halt, stopped by a solo keyboard, which slowly builds along with uber-melodic leadwork to a harsh crescendo, then fades back once more. This somber beauty is puncuated with the furious scree of Ihsahn, leading into the hellish carnival music that is the intro to "Homecoming". Soon enough, though, the most melodic vocal moment of The Adversary is heard, the multi-octave pipes of Garm (Ulver) blending and colliding against the more resonant tone of Ihsahn, resulting in one of the most aurally captivating male duets in recent memory. The music of "Astera Ton Proinion" builds, and builds, and builds, Ihsahn's feral howl rising above the angelic choral arrangement, declaring "I will exalt my throne above the stars of God.". The lurching stomp of the groove around the three minute mark will send many of the badger-faced legions running back to In The Nightside Eclipse, bemoaning the loss of their musical diety, but it's simply another case of Ihsahn being willing to let his muse bleed through in whatever form she desires. Parts of "Panem Et Circenses" are the most reminiscent of Emperor that you'll find here, others evoke a keyless Peccatum, Mickelson displaying his rhythmic virtuosity almost as the second nature it is. Pinch harmonics and jagged chordings scar the landscape of "And He Shall Walk In Empty Places", and "Will You Love Me Now?" asks the question earnestly, but with a wry lyrical smirk that isn't as invisible as the song's subject would like it to be. It's The Adversary's Mona Lisa, as anything beyond a cursory glance at the lyrics will reveal, and leads into the subdued keys of album closer "The Pain Is Still Mine". Whereas the rest of The Adversary is a pendulemic swing between unfurled aggression and pensive introspection, "The Pain Is Still Mine" lays back on the hysteria, ending the album with a mini-opera of sorts. Yes, it's still subtly twisted, but this song seems to open the gates, allowing the listener easy departure.
For all that was expected of Ihsahn's first solo effort, that it would contain in just under an hour the musical diary of a man willfully thrown to the lions of art probably crossed few of our minds. As it stands, The Adversary is less a man concerned for how his art is viewed than for the fact that it simply be art. The quintessential marriage of beautiful and bestial.