Emperor Retrospective #1 – In the Nightside Eclipse
Expect to see, in the next few arbitrary units of time, a continuation of this series. I plan to do these in chronological order, with a few exceptions – I don’t have steady access to Emperor’s “Wrath of the Tyrant” demo, or the splits with Enslaved and Thorns. I did, however, recently get my hands on the extremely old, pre-Emperor (Embryonic, composed of Ihsahn/Samoth/some other guy) demo The Land of The Lost Souls, which may make its way into this. I might also look at Ihsahn and Samoth’s post-Emperor work AND claim it to be part of this retrospective.
It’s very hard to rank Emperor’s albums in relation to each other, seeing as their output is so consistently high quality, although fans of the more raw sorts of black metal will very possibly be put off by their later work. It’s much easier, but pointless, to rank them in relation to other artists, because frankly, their music is better than 95% of the stuff out there. Objectively better. I used to place great value on subjectiveness, but albums like these are masters of their genres and demand listening from everyone. Even with all this in mind, Emperor’s first album, In the Nightside Eclipse, despite the developments the bandmembers made later, is probably their best work. It contains some of their most complex compositions, great atmosphere, the anthemic “I am the Black Wizards”, and while the musicianship improves on later albums, it’s already hit a high level on here.
Obviously, the listener will have to accept the muddy production (which is actually of decent quality, considering that this is an underground album, not made to produce #1 hits on Norway’s equivalent of the Billboard 200), harsh vocals of frontman Vegard Tveitan (hereafter referred to via his pseudonym Ihsahn) – moderately high pitched, distorted shrieks that are similar to Hat from Gorgoroth, but less ridiculous (and slightly throatier). There are some references to Satan here, but they are in relatively small number, except on the final track, “Inno a Satana”, which is entirely about the red guy. Most of the lyrics are about nature, in fact – mountains and forests and stars and nightside eclipses, oh my!
But disregarding that, we find a monster of an album. It tends towards the more melodic sort of black metal – for more straightforward examples, listen to early Immortal or Mayhem’s LP, “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”. The chord progressions avoid any insane tonalities of the sort you’d generally see in more abrasive sorts of metal (generally, death metal), instead being relatively “normal”, albeit predominantly minor-key. This album is somewhat fast, but Faust shows relative restraint compared to his successor, Trym, who adds increasing hyperspeed blasting to the next two albums. More importantly, compared to anything else in their discography, “In the Nightside Eclipse” contains epic compositions of high complexity and good flow and transitions. It’s worth noting that these are still relatively oriented towards traditional melodic sorts of second wave black metal. By listening to “I Am The Black Wizards”, the major stylistic aspects of this album because apparent. There are riffs, and there are lots of riffs, but the riffs are given time to develop, and other aspects are developed alongside them. Very early on, we hear the main theme of the song, accompanied by Ihsahn reciting the poetry of an interesting fellow named Mortiis (who played bass for the band at the very beginning, then went off to do his own thing). We see various sections return quickly The keyboards are absolutely essential to this album – besides supplementing the atmosphere, they also provide many of the album’s melodies, and fill in some of the ideas suggested by the riffs. The song itself starts out quite fast, but slows down with time, going from fast anthemic riffs, to more midpaced ones backed up by a keyboard-choir, and down to a slow coda where Ihsahn delivers a spoken monologue.
Other notable songs include the first one, “Into the Infinity of Thoughts”, which keeps a relatively steady midpaced rhythm, backed up by lots of blastbeating. In the middle, the tempo picks up somewhat, although the riffing doesn’t move faster. Possibly my favorite is “Cosmic Keys to my Creations and Times” for its overall speed and ferocity. Generally, how I rate these tracks is on the quality of the riffs and rhythms – this album has a very constant, morbid but epic aesthetic, so the songs differentiate mainly in their structure.
Regardless, this album is one to listen to, and is definitely one of the essential metal albums period. It’s also a good choice for someone who only takes the time to obtain one metal album in their lifetime…