"IX Equilibrium" (Century Media)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

Emperor set forth eight tracks of elegant and furious passion whilst raising the bar on black metal's evolving achievements. Emperor's no compromise approach affords the band its inner strength; Emperor's adventurous spirit allows the band to push the genre further than any other black metal band. "IX Equilibrium" is the band's third full-length CD and its expansive quality is undeniable. The band has remained remarkably consistent in its high level of accomplishment. It's not hard to see why most black metal bands aspire to the greatness achieved by Emperor.

Emperor hails from the fertile grounds of Norway's black metal scene.  Unfortunately, this is also an area where most black metal bands live and breathe the lyrical subject matter - one must forget the legal troubles that current and former band members have accrued over time.  Focusing purely on the music allows one to fully appreciate the technical superiority that Emperor has developed over the years.

The music is brutally elegant and magically fluent; the music will annihilate your senses. The intertwined tapestry of the keyboards, guitars, bass, and drums encompass a variety of tempos and jagged rhythms as well as ornate passages that convey the fury of nature, elemental unknown of the dark, and the vulnerability of society to the struggle of good and evil.

Lyrically the subject matter ranges from pagan rites, mournful tales of destruction, prophecies of sorrow, eminent warfare, lamenting nature's fury, and slight paranoia. The vocals are neither growled nor purely sung - somewhere in the middle the vocal lines are delivered with sorrow, desperation, longing, and fierce conviction - incorporating the two extremes makes for an interesting mix.

"Curse You All Men!" sets the tone for the disc by bringing all the black metal elements into sharp focus. "Decrystalizing Reason" follows and is simply one of the better songs produced by a metal act regardless of genre in recent memory. "An Elegy Of Icaros" makes a clear example of how classical movement has deeply affected the black metal genre; the complex melody over the top of rhythmic turbulence conveys a sad end to valiant struggle. "The Source Of Icon E" appears to derive its vocal inspiration from King Diamond while carving new ground by merging the black metal and traditional metal communities; the presence of traditional and subdued riffs makes this song a possible candidate for introducing the band to legions of new followers.

The first four songs are amazing enough in their own right; the next four songs take the listener even further into the dark. "Sworn" is another complex track in which the musical interplay the song breathes life with a classic metal riff that makes a short but unforgettable appearance - it provides a solid launch for a guitar solo that permeates the very heart of darkness. "Nonus Aequilibrium" is a blistering track that just may set new standards for arrangements in the black metal genre; the steadfast nature of the song's main character yields sinister results suitable for a haunting spirit. Psychological warfare gets its fair share of time with "The Warriors Of Modern Death"; the tolling death bells, the piercing guitars, and serrated rhythms all build toward a terror-laden thrust of horror. "Of Blindness & Subsequent Seers" and the brief classically-tinged instrumental outro extends asymmetrical musical passages and sinister lead guitar brings the disc to a chaotic and natural end.

"IX Equilibrium" was produced by Thorbjorn Akkerhaugen with Emperor; mastering credit going to Tom Kvalsvoll. As you may have guessed from reading this review, the music is distinct and precise. I have not heard better production on any other black metal CD.

Emperor are Ihsahn on vocals, lead guitar, synth, and bass, Samoth on guitar, and Trym on drums and percussion.

For more information visit http://www.emperorhorde.com.

Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

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Copyright 1999 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.