Far more "technical" and "death metal" than the previous Emperor, but still retaining some of the black metal atmosphere which would be gone by Prometheus, IX Equilibrium is (as far as I can tell) no one's favorite Emperor record, even die-hard fans of their "sunglasses era." For music listeners who are incapable of telling whether a record is good or bad, once it falls into their preferred genre, IX Equilibrium is long and boring enough where even the most blockheaded "symphonic metal fan" will find themselves scratching their ponytailed head and wondering what is not right here.
I imagine the conversation going something like this: "I *like* keyboards, and pretentious lyrics, and 'clean' vocals, and noodly guitar lines that go nowhere... and yet... this leaves me cold!" As though what made Beethoven great was his "symphonic" style! Leaving aside the idiocy of metal fans, though, IX Equilibrium's main problem is that it is one of the least aggressive metal albums in existence: neither fast nor furious, the album forces the listener to endure a great number of *parts* without remembering that we are here to rock!! Now, there's no problem with wussy parts and even entirely wussy albums, but in a style ("symphonic" technical death/black metal?!) that is premised on aggression, these weak parts are accustomed to being written and performed as interludes, mood-settings, and are essentially filler. All pretentious black metal (not Darkthrone, though!) has felt the need for boring ambient or orchestral parts--whatever. But to raise this element to the level of one's metal style (as here), is to dilute the music and to bore me.
Later Emperor succeeds when it is most like Morbid Angel's Blessed are the Sick, and is poorest when it is diddling around with keyboards and mid-tempo prog riffs. If the barest inclusion of a mid-tempo prog riff sets your heart a-pattering, then you may overlook the pointlessness of this album as a whole. But from a holistic standpoint, and from the standpoint of repeated listens over the past 7 years, IX Equilibrium is easily Emperor's worst album, and I blame this on "too many parts" and ambitions that fall into mere pretentiousness. This is evident on a first listen and does not improve with further acquaintance.
Score: 2/5 stars (**)
Best songs: "Curse You All Men" is the best song by far