Ihsahn - Angl
After a successful debut effort, former Emperor frontman Ihsahn soon sat about forming a follow-up effort. The material that would come to make up angL was brought together after a brief reunion tour with Emperor and, perhaps as a result, feels much more urgent and heavy in comparison to Ihsahn's solo debut. Writing the entire record and performing the bulk of it, Ihsahn claimed that angL was the 2nd in a trilogy of thematically similar solo records. While one can feel a thread running between the records, the previous comparison makes any musical similarities at a more variable estimation.
Whether or not you end up preferring the more experimental debut, or the more fundamentally Emperor-ish angL is really a matter of taste. Personally, there's much to love about both records. "Misanthrope" is a very apt opener, structurally similar to later-era Emperor but tied together with a cleaner, less chaotic direction. "Unhealer" is one of the album's true selling points, featuring Opeth frontman Mikael Akerfeldt contributing his full range of vocal expression, from the soulful melodic to the guttural violent. Ihsahn does a fantastic job in crafting a song around Mikael's skills, and the vocal-trade offs during the track's more aggressive sections is my favorite part of this whole record. The rest of the album offers an impressive mix of classically-influenced songwriting, haunting melodies, grandoise choruses all held together with a foundation of strongly written metal. Of all the remaining tracks, the closer "Monolith" leaves the biggest impression. Swirling, hyper-aggressive seams of metal and orchestral flourishes build into a particular melodic passage, which is used twice throughout the song's 6+ minutes, that has stuck with me since I first heard it. It's one of those musical moments I live for, where the entirety of a single song becomes a catalyst for a particularly epic and notable passage.
With more meat on it's bones, and a more accessible collection of material, angL can easily be considered an improvement over Ihsahn's initial solo effort. I'm sure there are those who would disagree, but there's much to be said for narrowing one's focus in order to leave a bigger impression. It's either going to be called progression or regression, depending on who's asked. For me, it's simply easier to enjoy, grows on you after a single listen and highlights more of Ihsahn's strengths than his previous stuff.
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