Third times a charm or so they say but for Emperor the bar had been set unseasonably high by their iconic debut "Into The Nightside Eclipse" and 97s "Anthems..." which transformed the bands sound with remarkable vigor. "IX Equilibrium" stands in the shadow of its former with little evolution and a tamer set of songs in the second half that don't amount to the same level of musical astonishment. Its a step up in production, tighter, crisper but still a menacing wall of sound that pummels away with moments of equal intensity and lightning blast beat tempos faster than ever. The album crashes open with the thunderous and mighty "Curse You All Men", ripe with melodies of empiric glory entangled in agile, enduring guitar shredding while Nordic group shouts call in the distance and the horns of warfare are sounded.
With "Decrystallizing Reason" the symphonies of war and wonder gleam brightly before the song erupts into mayhem with cascading blast beats somehow finding room to intensify the already blistering wall of sound. The song moves through its motions and the returning war horns signify a climax I feel the song was searching for but didn't quite find. "An Elegy Of Icaros" follows, a song which may be one of their finest. I developed a great appreciation for this song learning to play it on guitar and reading all the instruments. Its a fine example of Ihsahn's intricate musicianship, with every instrument playing a different line of notation to form a woven piece of music that shifts through original and interesting riffs to culminate in a beautiful song laden with splices of melody and aggression, climaxing in a splash of color and wonder in the songs break out moment. With a lack of relenting blast beats and calmer tempo I wonder if this is the direction this album should of looked for as it offers far more in the reflection of "Anthems..."
"The Source Of Icon E" returns us to dizzying drums and spiraling aggression that stands apart with a flair of startling high pitched vocals similar to King Diamond. I believe that perhaps the bands cover of "Gypsy" by Merciful Fate comes from the same studio session given this vocal performance appearing on both. The bands other cover of Bathory's "A Fine Day To Die" also has echos on "Warriors Of Modern Death" with its guitar solo being identical in tone and notably similar in composition and delivery. All had been fairly strong to this point but with "Sworn" and the following tracks the record seems to shift gears and the musical complexity is traded in for simpler power chord shedding controlling the progression of these songs.
"IX" comes close in moments and falls far in others. Some of its arrangements and intricate compositions don't quite hit on the same emotional level. Sometimes its progressions feel more transitional than natural and overall its shortcomings lie in repeating itself. Where it retreads the waters it isn't as remarkable however it is still a dose of extreme music from one of the genres finest bands. It makes for a cracking listen and is a great record in the shadow of greater ones.
Favorite Tracks: Curse You All Men, An Elegy Of Icaros