Sound — 7
Ihsahn is a solo artist better known for his previous work with the black metal band Emperor. This album, however, goes far beyond the realms of black metal and touches on many different metal sub-genres such as symphonic, progressive, and death. The entire album is bristling with innovative and interesting sections, infectious riffs, and some pretty sick solos.
Lyrics — 9
The lyrics of this album, like most of Ihsahn's work, center around the occult. There is a strong theme of individualism and Atheism in his writings, especially on the tracks "Unhealer" and "Monolith." The lyrics fit the music very well, as they are both dark, aggressive, and emotional. I should also mention that Mikael kerfeldt of Opeth fame does guest vocals on the track "Unhealer," and as usual his singing and death growls are top-notch. In the chorus of that song kerfeldt and Ihsahn trade off and go back-and-forth with the phrases, creating an interesting contrast with Mikael's death growls and Ihsahn's black metal shrieks. Both are surprisingly easy to understand. Ihsahn also employs clean singing throughout the album, and in my opinion his clean voice is perfect for bringing out the mystic, occult imagery of the lyrics.
Overall Impression — 8
This is a very multi-layered album which takes a lot of listens to fully decipher. After listening to the album a few times the words that came to my mind were "innovation," "talent," "meaningful," and "epic." Ihsahn is a very experienced artist and he knows how to make good music. The catchy harmonizing guitar lines are often peppered with passages from instruments such as the piano, acoustic guitar, violin, and cello. The songs can switch from chaotic and dissonant to beautifully melodic in an instant. It's just very well-structured, intelligent metal music. My favorite songs are "Unhealer," "Emancipation," "Scarab," and "Elevator." On the song "Elevator" Ihsahn uses something called a Shepherd Scale, which is like an optical illusion for your ears. It creates the feeling that the pitch is constantly going down even though it is not. It's somewhat unnerving and feels like a descent into hell, but it creates a really unique and notable song. The fact that he even knows how to use stuff like Shepherd Scales sets him high above the sea of mediocre metal artists that populate our record stores. There are a few tracks which are more straight-up chaotic metal than anything else which I don't like as much, namely "Misanthrope" and "Malediction." I also didn't like how repetitive some of the songs got, especially the two tracks mentioned above. They seemed more like filler songs which were just put there to appease the old-school Emperor fans. But all-in-all it's a wonderful album which showcases the kind of quality music an intelligent and dedicated mind can produce. If it were stolen I'd just burn a new copy since it's ripped on to my computer, but if for some reason I couldn't I would still buy it again. I am going to try to find Ihsahn's other solo album soon as he is definitely worth the time it takes to listen.