Review by Ben for Emperor - IX Equilibrium (1999) Review by Ben for Emperor - IX Equilibrium (1999)

Ben Ben / January 15, 2019 / 2

An album of intensity and complexity, but one that fails to match the emotion and grandeur of past releases.

Emperor’s first two breathtakingly grand albums had set such a high standard that the prospect of matching them, let alone surpassing them, must have been daunting for the band to say the least. Their debut In the Nightside Eclipse had pretty much singlehandedly launched symphonic black metal and while scores of bands tried and failed to emulate it, Emperor went and upped the ante with the immense Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk. In the years following its release, I along with thousands of other fans, were hanging out for another mesmerising wall of sound black metal masterpiece, as though it were just a given that Emperor would eventually produce it. It was just too hard to fathom that they could let us down, with Ihsahn, Samoth and Trym seemingly too gifted and ambitious to produce anything but pure atmospheric gold. The only change in line-up since Anthems had been recorded was bassist Alver leaving the band, but considering Ihsahn was more than capable of taking his place in the studio, and that Alver’s performance was all but inaudible on the previous album, the loss was unlikely to have much of a negative impact. When IX Equilibrium was finally released on November the 23rd 1999, I picked it up and raced home, heart literally pounding in anticipation while I ripped the plastic off.

Did IX Equilibrium live up to my expectations? The short answer is no, but then I wonder how many albums actually could. When you expect a band’s new album to be the best thing you’ve ever heard, you’re very likely going to be let down. To my initial disappointment, Emperor did not attempt to make Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk Part II, and the resulting album is a very different beast indeed. Seemingly taking inspiration from their death metal roots, yet with a completely modern sound, IX Equilibrium is a black metal album that’s more interested in flummoxing the listener with a swirling cacophony of riffs and incessantly mind-battering percussion than creating any sort of meticulously constructed mood . The outcome is an album that lacks the epic atmosphere and consistency of previous albums, yet once you get your head around the sheer madness of it all, there’s still a heck of a lot of genius on offer. If you focus on what these musicians are doing with their instruments, you can’t help but feel a certain level of respect. It’s clear that Emperor, and in particular main songwriter Ihsahn, are no longer able to restrict their creative sensibilities to standard black metal fare, with constant shifts in velocity and playing styles kicking in regularly, rarely allowing the listener to settle in for the ride for long.

The above description likely makes IX Equilibrium sound like a difficult album, and I guess it is to a degree. The main issue I have with it is not the complexity however, but with the lack of emotion that it induces. While there are some tracks that I really enjoy such as Curse Ye All Men, Of Blindness & Subsequent Seers and in particular Decrystallizing Reason, the rest of them are merely impressive without moving me substantially like Emperor’s material normally does. Probably the only track that doesn’t really work for me at all would be The Warriors of Modern Death, which seems to be a throwback to Bathory-like epic metal, complete with Hammerheart replicated dodgy leads. I can appreciate what they were trying to do, but the positive variety it offers is outweighed by the sheer contrast to the rest of the material. Is IX Equilibrium still worth the four stars I’ve given it despite my qualms? Well, it’s still Emperor, with all the class that the name suggests. The majority of the album is still miles ahead of what the bulk of the scene could muster, and the pure intensity and intricacy of it all holds considerable merit despite the difficulties. The negative tone of this review is perhaps given proper context then by knowing that I gave the first two albums five stars with no hesitation whatsoever and place them towards the very apex of black metal masterpieces. IX Equilibrium is just a bit disappointing in comparison.

Comments (1)

UnhinderedbyTalent UnhinderedbyTalent / March 21, 2019

I think this is a well measured review.  There are a few albums by artists who have made absolute classics and then taken some turn or twist on their next release that although may feel perturbing doesn’t necessarily make the release bad, just different.  As you say the previous two releases were virtually flawless but this one still showcases obvious talent albeit in an alternative direction.  I think it is still strong album composition wise just not as memorable overall.