Some said that the Adversary was a kind of Mercyful Fate meets Emperor, although in my view it was more of Judas Priest (Sad wings ... era) meets Emperor with King Diamond falsettos. On here, one can say that is Opeth meets Emperor, and the presence of Mikael Akerfeldt on the song Unhealer will not deny this assertion. Adding some weird Alice in Chains impressions that I will not examine any further because it is just me. Now enters the music itself. The first track Misanthrope is quite reminiscent of Invocation (first track on The Adversary) as this one was of Curse You All Men, like if Ihsahn was trying to tell us, hey, it's me again as an introduction. But, Misanthrope is not as ardent as was Invocation, and not as triumphant as Curse You All Men. Misanthrope is more on the brooding side of things, more desperate also, underlined by a vindictive undertone, I would say in a much more darker mood than on The Adversary. And that's what will come out from the full opus as a feeling.
Scarab follows, this one in my ears and perception, being the most epic track of the album. While groovy, heavy and proggy, the piano interlude where Ihsahn lays very tasty clean vocals is followed by a symphonic bridge in a true Ihsahnesque fashion. Very good song. And then Unhealer begins, in a melancholic way, strengthens by Mikael Akerfeldt's angelic voice, then the melancholy leaves to let the chorus spread its menacing tension where Akerfeldt growls and Ihsahn screams. Oddly the song ends with a fade out, which is rare in Ihsahn way of making music. Haunting track. Follows Emancipation, the catchy song, but not in a way one could expect from Ihsahn. It has jazzy verses and some sort of a death/doom chorus, while being still very much progressive. Kind of a earworm for me. Malediction, as Misanthrope has a more Black Metal taste, keyboards are more in front than it was on The Adversary, and it's also much more layered than the Black Metal scented ones of the latter.
Alchemist is a strange one. Progressive embroidered on a power metal canvas, but torn by unexpected song structure. Ihsahn's clean voice recalling a sort of paranoid feeling, and then strangling itself in his trademark screams. The guitar solo being tortured and enjoyable, the whole leaving the listener quite a bit clueless about what he's just been listened. And following this state of mind, the descending Elevator, the masterpiece of the whole album in my opinion. Have I talk about brooding, despair, dark mood and paranoia? You have them all on this one, but musically, what an interesting song, with its descending riff, and that choked, horrifying scream "And the devil takes me down" willing to cling on the high guitar notes, but seeming unable to succeed. This part is very evocative of the whole ambiance. And then the more mellow part where Ihsahn sings cleanly keeps haunting, like a feeling of resignation toward his destiny. Leaving the listener in a dehydration state. Arrives Threnody with acoustic guitars to quench our thirst. Another odd piece of work of a kind never heard before from the man. A melancholic ballad, evoking his eternal inspirational source, the same one as on the ballad Astera Ton Proinon from the Adversary, but it's a totally different ballad, this time. Acoustic guitar, naked clean vocal, displayed in an unpredictable way and wrapped in the same deeply dark mood of angL, Threnody says it all.
The opus ends with Monolith, starting with a proggy mellow groove to turn into another Black Metal reminiscent days of glory, soon tamed by the feeling that is one of angL, would I say despair? All in all, angL flourishes from plenty of weird deconstructed technical guitar solo and riffs, tasteful clean vocals by all the singers involved, keyboards and orchestral injection are more on the front, unifying the somewhat diabolical thread line, and the rhythm part is supplied by fretless bass lines adding a solid texture to this work of art, as for the drumming foundation. angL is more layered than The Adversary and benefits from a thicker and deeper production. On the lyrical side, we cope with Nietzschean themes (Misanthrope, Emancipation) as well as Goethe's Faust (Alchemist and Elevator) influences, his traditional struggling and alienation of being of mortal essence (Scarab), the prominence of the fallen one theme (Threnody). I will not compare the two opus other than what I've already done. If in my perception, The Adversary was an exuberant, angered, romantic and passionate album, angL is a desperate, resigned at once as vindictive, sad and pitiless one. Possibly the opus where Ihsahn lays his best vocals performance, guitar playing and songwriting. Another masterpiece by the man, who's continuing to explore every dark corner of his heart and soul.