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Trickster F.
4 stars A work of art.

The Adversary is the long awaited debut solo album by the Norwegian mastermind Vegard Sverre Tveitan, much better known as simply Ihsahn. The effort is the culmination of the man's career, showing his talent as a composer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, as well as his past experiences in such groups as Emperor and Peccatum. Although it may seem that Ihsahn is one of the many groups with various musicians handling their own instrument, this is not the case here, as the genius takes care of every instrument on the album besides drums and vocals on one single track, thus making it a solo album in the literary sense of the word.

Prometheus - The Discipline of Fire & Demise was the last Emperor release before the group disbanded and is still considered to be the first Ihsahn's solo album, as he was entirely responsible for its songwriting and lyrics and additionally played most of the instruments. In any case, it can be safely claimed that it is relevant to regard The Adversary as Prometheus's successor. Many similar elements are present and associations with that album are bound to spring, however, the five years since the album's release are noticeable, as we see a completely different Ihsahn. The Adversary sees the man approach Heavy Metal, which he has been playing since a young age, from a progressive, complex perspective. Owing to that, the release will be especially interesting to fans of modern Progressive Music, even those who generally are not enthusiastic about the idea of Extreme Progressive Metal. Yes, it is 'extreme' enough, there are riffs reminiscent of Black Metal and harsh vocals. Speaking of the latter, there are less of those than on any Emperor release in relation to clean vocals, and the vocals also lean towards a softer, more accessible side (if you have been following his output with Peccatum, it is that style he uses on their last recordings). Not only does it manage not to sound over the top and redundant, which not everyone enjoys, but all of the lyrics are audible and that is a refreshing change. More importantly, while one can say that his clean singing, which has clearly evolved and is now as enjoyable to listen to as never, is derivative of other singers (Garm, King Diamond), his shriek remains classy and unparalleled.

As it has been already mentioned, Ihsahn shows confidence in his skills by handling all of the instruments, except drums (which are handled by the guest drummer Asgeir Mickelson), supremely. His songwriting relies heavily on duelling guitars that guide the album in its direction, and his technique, while surpassed by many, proves to be absolutely satisfactory in terms of precision, emotion and originality. There are many great and memorable riffs, leads and solos to be found. Keyboards lack the cheesiness that early Emperor was guilty of and are usually played in the background rather than for masterful soloing purposes. The orchestrations he has written for this creation are just as brilliant, whereas the bass work is adequate and more audible during the quite parts. Asgeir's performance behind the kit is flawless, as you would expect from a musician from Spiral Architect. Furthermore, his contribution is different to that of Trym on late Emperor efforts, as he is significantly more versatile and diverse, when compared to Trym, who relied too heavily on blastbeats (which, let's be honest, were appropriate for that kind of music). Of special note is Garm's (who is the favourite singer for many listeners and an influence on Ihsahn) appearance on the fourth track, which is more mellow than the surrounding songs and features a Dream Theater-esque tech riff. The album consists of nine compositions, all of which aside from the magnificent epic "The Pain Is Still Mine" are between four and six minutes in length, yet manage to be captivating and substantial. The quality of the songwriting can be discovered by giving the record repeated listens, which reveal things and layers you haven't noticed before. The last song should be given a particular emphasis, being just over ten minutes long and having more significant progressive, classical and opera influences than the other tracks in the album. "The Pain Is Still Mine" is the record's most dramatic and grand number and the culmination of the album.

In the end, Ihsahn manages to create another masterpiece in The Adversary and prove that he has still a lot of creativity left in him for more fascinating work. The effort is vital for any person who already appreciates the man's talent, and is a perfect starting point for those who find Emperor's output to be too extreme and on the noisy side of things.

Report this review (#96876)
Posted Thursday, November 2, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Amazing debut.

I'm going to keep this short and sweet, seeing that Trickster just about covered it.

Ihsahn should be a familiar name to fans of Emperor or Peccatum, and for those wondering how he would fare with a solo project, you can stop worrying. Ihsahn stunned me with this new album. Marketed as "Emperor meets King Crimson", The Adversary is everything you've come to expect from this Norwegian genius. Ihsahn plays every instrument but drums, and he plays them well. This album drips pure emotion, and Ihsahn puts his heart into every track. Two personal favorites are "And He Shall Walk In Empty Places" as well as the towering epic "The Pain Is Still Mine". Everything clicks on this record, the production is superb, and Ihsahn blows his critics out of the water. Near the top of my list for prog-metal album of 2006.

Report this review (#97284)
Posted Sunday, November 5, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars Being a fan of many genres certainly helps this album become more palatable. Spanning from Death/Black metal passages to operatic moments and (surprisingly)quite a bit of classic heavy metal instrumentations, this album is a solid first release. It is important to state that i do not think this album stands up to Emperor's final release "Prometheus -The Discipline of Fire and Demise," but at the same time, it contains more alternation between heavy and soft, which at times on Prometheus could give a headache in the wrong mood. Overall, reccomended to give a listen, at first I thought this album wasnt going to offer much, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Report this review (#106669)
Posted Monday, January 8, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Pretty much following the progressive vein of Emperor's Prometheus, this album adds something new to the nearly drained out black metal scene. I wasn't expecting a masterpiece like Prometheus and did not exactly get it, but this album still amazes me with the pure joy of creating that shines trough all the material with very little exception. Having less atonal and more classical approach than on Prometheus, I think Ihsahn is one of the most capable and determined composers of the present.

The overall mood of the album is pretty aggressive and harsh since most songs are basically black metal, but being completely straight-forward only occasionally (of which the best example could be the first track, Invocation, still having an unexpected calm section in the middle). Lots of complex riffs, tricky chord progressions and some odd-time signatures keep up the interest while the album is still maintaining cohesive song structures and compositional quality. Melodical beaty also strikes there and here creating a good contrast and balance without any sign of forcing it into the realms of black metal, and actually this side of Ihsahn is much more apparent here than on Prometheus and makes this Ihsahn's most diverse work up to date. The only fusionish (and perhaps early Dream Theater-influenced) track is Homecoming which begins with a heavy jazz riff in an odd-time signature and then suddenly progresses into a calm, dreamy section with Garm's multi-layered vocals (not the most impressive work from Garm, but fitting the atmosphere very well). Citizen, Panem Et Circenses, And He Shall Walk In Empty Places and Will You Love Me Now? are the heaviest and craziest songs off the album, offering pure black metal insanity, so any Emperor fan should not be at least let down with this album. I think the only boring song is Astera Ton Proinon which doesn't offer any interesting musical explorations and is played in a very slow tempo, making me just waiting the song to end (now I use the skip-button of course).

Ihsahn being a multi-talented musician, handles all vocals and instruments except drums. I'm positively surprised that he, besides a composer, still keeps improving himself also as a musician (unlike most metal artists who just keeps bashing the same stuff until they're completely drained out of energy and inspiration), both as a guitarist (just listen to the solo of Called By The Fire) and vocalist (the second section of the last track, the epic The Pain Is Still Mine, shows how dynamic and strong his voice actually is, even having some sense of classical technique which fits this kind of music just perfectly). His harsh vocals, having some actual depth unlike in the case of most screamers and growlers, continue to be one of my favourites, even though they have lost some strength. But it is incredible that he has kept his clean voice in such a good shape for a harsh vocalist and even strengthening it as I already mentioned. He also does a fine job with keyboards. Asgeir Mickelson does some pretty original drumming, especially on the calm sections but also does prove himself to be a proper extreme metal drummer doing a good bunch of blast-beasts and double-bass showing a good stamina and self-discipline which often seems to be lost among many metal drummers who just blast out some five second stupidly fast parts at a time and then do some lousy fills or half-speed beats before continuing the original speed. My only complaint here is the snare drum which is buried too deep in the mix when playing blast-beats, and of course the triggered bass-drum sound which on the other hand is understandable with such speeds.

The lyrics are a positive step from Emperor-era material to a more thoughtful and reasonable direction. Still having some satanic and social darwinistic influence (though Ihsahn does not exactly think of himself a satanist anymore, as far as I understand), there are some good and spiky notions that should not be over-looked, for example Citizen's critic towards conformism in a society that is determined to silence the ones who do not accept the common way of living and dare to stand their exceptional views. But more than anything, the passion is still here.

Report this review (#125247)
Posted Saturday, June 9, 2007 | Review Permalink
2 stars Ihsahn is a Norwegian composer/multi-instrumentalist. His work with black/death metal band (don't ask me what the difference is) Emperor, and with a more adventurous and experimental Peccatum (his best work, if you ask me) has not been overlooked by metalheads. I am friends with one such metalhead, who lent me this aggressive piece of work. I have to say, it generally is a made-for-metalheads album. With the dissonant vocals (which is reduced to screaming at times), the apocalyptic and demonic lyrics, the blast beats and twin pedal abuse, and...orchestra? This is really an scalp-scratcher album. I really don't get this guy. The most aggressive, deathly song I've ever heard will fold right over into a slow piano led composition. And, though the orchestra sounds very synthetic, the melodies are quite nice.

But after a brief glimpse of personality to his music, it will fold back with the dissonant vocals again. The flat and static riffs are very generic death metal, and the metal side of the album is not overly original (or even energetic). However, these few moments of touching, almost uplifting music are really great. But there are more variations to the music than metal-to-orchestra. There's a few soft metal tunes, and even some classic rock riffs to even things out. I even swear I heard some Styx vocals in there! Once again, all this confuses me. And as, the vast majority of the album is this unsophisticated form of metal, the album still leaves me feeling rather unsatisfied. Without a doubt, this is worth checking out for you death metal/black metal fans!

Report this review (#129649)
Posted Saturday, July 21, 2007 | Review Permalink
The T
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars IHSAHN's music is true progressive black-metal, straight from Norway. I had been looking for such a band for a long time, and now I finally found it.

IHSAHN, mastermind and leader of black-metal legends EMPEROR, plays all the instruments on this album with the exception of the drums, which are played by Norwegian musician Asgeir Mickelson.

The music in this CD contains all the usual elements of black-metal: blast beats, high-pitched guttural vocals, ultra-fast tremolo picking, invocations to the dark forces. Add big orchestral effects to these and you have EMPEROR.

But this is not EMPEROR. This is true progressive metal. We have here outstanding musicianship, irregular, longer song structures, sudden tempo changes, amazing dynamics, an alternation of clean and black-metal vocals, atmospheric effects, and all with a great sense of melody and direction.

That wouldn't be enough to give this album a good rating if it wasn't for the fact that all of that is accomplished perfectly, creating a cohesive, coherent, epic body of music that constitutes probably the best non-pure black-metal I've ever heard. IHSAHN knows when to alternate violence with passages of musical delicacy, with pianos playing piano and keyboards adding magic to the scene. The tracks are never repetitive or boring, and all of them, even being multi-sectioned, never lack coherence and always sound purposefully written. The songs flow smoothly, from the beginning to the end of the album, with great balance between noise and melody.

Another factor that adds enormously to the experience is IHSAHN's high sense of musicianship and great skills, whether he's playing the guitar or the keys, or even the bass. His singing is good, his shrieking never damaging the ear and his clean vocals never sounding bland. But it is the drummer who really rounds up this successful album: Mickelson, of SPIRAL ARCHITECT fame, plays with such a level f accuracy, precision, with such a great sense of momentum, with amazing skills and impressive creativity, that his performance turns into one of the highlights of "The Adversary".

If you want to check this band out and want to have an idea of their (his) sound, take black metal music, mostly EMPEROR; add some DREAM THEATER, SYMPHONY X, a little bit of MERCYFUL HATE, even some OPETH, some atmospherics a la PINK FLOYD, throw some elements from other music genres in the blender (like theatrical Broadway-like music as in track nine) and then you have an imperfect idea of what IHSAHN sounds like, imperfect because to really create the IHSAHN sound you have to add the enormous amount of originality the Norwegian master incorporates in his music.

This is an excellent album, one I don't have any problems giving a 5 star rating to. A must for fans of black metal who like other genres of metal, a must for fans of progressive-metal than can take black- metal vocals, a must for fans of extreme music with lots of melody and technical prowess. In a word: essential.

Report this review (#170179)
Posted Wednesday, May 7, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "The Adversary" is the debut full-length studio album by Norwegian progressive extreme metal artist Ihsahn (Real name: Vegard Sverre Tveitan). The album was released through Mnemosyne Productions in April 2006. The former Emperor frontman/guitarist busied himself with the Peccatum project with his wife Ihriel (real name Heidi S. Tveitan) after Emperor disbanded in 2001, but then opted to pursue a solo career and decided to name his solo project after his stage name Ihsahn.

The last couple of Emperor albums were increasingly progressive and less black metal oriented compared to the band´s early material and it became more and more obvious that Ihsahn was the member of the band, who pulled Emperor in that direction. While the other members of Emperor went on to form the death metal act Zyklon, Tveitan maintained his progressive approach to writing music both in Peccatum and in Ihsahn. To call the music on "The Adversary" a continuation of the music on "Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire & Demise (2001)" (the last Emperor album) is maybe stretching it too far, but some of the progressive elements from the latter mentioned album, have been refined here and put into another context.

Stylistically the music draws on a number of influences and black metal is just one of them. Of course Ihsahn´s raspy vocals will always lead the listener´s thoughts toward black metal, but there are clean vocals on the album too. Mostly sung by Ihsahn but Garm (Real name: Kristoffer Rygg) (Ulver, Borknagar, Arcturus) performs lead vocals on "Homecoming" (which also features Tore Ylwizaker on vocals). Ihsahn create both raw extreme metal parts, epic keyboard heavy parts, beautiful melodic parts and manage to make them work together. The songwriting is very adventurous and it´s obvious Ihsahn has put a lot of thought into creating something unique.

The musicianship is not surprisingly, if you are familiar with any of the output that Ihsahn has been involved in earlier in his career, on a very high level. Other than Garm´s and Tore Ylwizaker´s guest appearances, and the drums which are played by Asgeir Mickelson (Borknagar, Spiral Architect, Vintersorg, ICS Vortex, Sarke), Ihsahn plays and sings everything on the album. At times the sound production and especially the drum sound is a bit thin, but it´s rarely a major issue, and overall the sound production (which Ihsahn is also responsible for) is professional and suits the music well.

"The Adversary" is probably an album that for most listeners require more than one spin to sink in (myself included). This is not full speed ahead bang your head type of metal, even though it´s powerful and raw enough when that is needed. The compositions are generally a bit more clever thought out and performed than the material on your average extreme metal release. So that´s what you get when listening to "The Adversary" (and to Ihsahn in general). A challenging, intriguing listen and a 4 star (80%) rating is fully deserved.

Report this review (#176837)
Posted Monday, July 14, 2008 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
5 stars 'The Adversary' - Ihsahn (9/10)

After an illustrious and now-legendary tenure with symphonic black metal pioneers Emperor, former frontman Ihsahn was thirsting for something different. For quite some time now, Emperor had virtually been an Ihsahn solo project in itself, but he wanted to do something other than the black metal that he had become so well-known for. Using his own pseudonym as the title for his new project, the new face of Ihsahn's music is an extreme progressive metal symphony. 'The Adversary' is not so far from the music of Emperor before they split up, but it has certainly been refined; refined to a point where some black metal fans may declare that Ihsahn has gone soft on them, but also opens up the man to an entirely new realm of possibilities. Now with a successful solo career established, it is clear that this was a good decision for Ihsahn. 'The Adversary' is a masterful display of edgy symphonic heavy metal, as well as a brilliant reinvention of one of metal's most enduring figures.

Mr. Tveitan (Ihsahn) has branched out from black metal, but there are still clear signs of his heritage within that genre. Tremolo picking, blastbeats, and his ever-distinctive vocal rasp are in full play here. That is only an aspect of the sound on 'The Adversary', however; the best way to describe what Ihsahn has done here is 'extreme progressive metal', or even 'symphonic metal'. The first thing that someone is bound to notice here is the technicality of the guitar playing; Ihsahn's tight songwriting is driven by plenty of gorgeous leads, solos, and riffs that would leave most black metal musicians either scratching their heads, or asking for lessons. The only other musician on the record is drummer Asgeir Mickelson, who invites a welcome dose of double-kick into the sound. Possibly the most surprising aspect of 'The Adversary' however are the symphonic, classical elements. On top of the guitars, he also plays a soft piano, and arranges some authentic-sounding orchestrations to run overtop the metal. The result is something that balances perfectly the gentle and heavy.

Ihsahn's vocals are quite strong, on both a clean and harsh front. Much like Opeth frontman Mikael Akerfeldt- who would later perform on Ihsahn's second album 'Angl'- Ihsahn is able to capture the best of both worlds. What particularly impressed me were the vocal harmonies he performs here; Ihsahn is able to overdub his voice to make the performance that much more beautiful, or epic. Ulver and Arcturus vocalist Garm (Krystoffer Rygg) also does a very nice vocal performance on the fourth track, 'Homecoming'; the songwriting is graciously arranged to allow him to explore the range of his voice. Ihsahn also has his moments of vocal glory; 'Astera Ton Proinon' lets him go from gentle vocals, to screams, to choral chanting, all within the space of three or four minutes. The trophy for brilliant songwriting goes to the final track however, 'The Pain Is Still Mine.' It very much encapsulates everything that succeeds with 'The Adversary'; lush orchestrations, vicious riffs, and above all, the perfect balance between black, and progressive metal.

Report this review (#591763)
Posted Monday, December 19, 2011 | Review Permalink

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