Emperor Retrospective #4 Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire and Demise (2001)
It’s been a very long time since the last installment, hasn’t it? Emperor’s final studio album is very hard to write about in an intelligent fashion. On the surface, it’s not very different from its predecessor – the symphonic sounds have received an aesthetic upgrade, the overall levels of intensity are approximately equivalent, etc. The production is superior – with bassier guitars than IX Equilibrium‘s generally trebley sound and better sounding drums. However, if you look beyond the sounds to the underlying songwriting, as well as the circumstances under which the album was written and recorded, things get dicey.
Firstly, Ihsahn handles most of the songwriting on this album – apparently his bandbuddies Samoth and Trym were much more interested in working on Zyklon than otherwise. Anyone who’s listened to his first solo album (The Adversary) might notice songwriting similarities. Both have more dissonant riffs and tightly integrated symphonic elements compared to Emperor’s previous works. Obviously, this doesn’t reach the extent that it does in Ihsahn’s solo work proper – he must’ve felt the desire to keep the overall Emperor ‘feeling’, so at its most intense (for instance, the middle of “Empty”, and “Thorns on My Grave”), this rivals Zyklon’s output for the year in terms of sheer mania.
Secondly, Prometheus is a concept album, of sorts. It’s a fairly vague concept album that’s been interpreted in various ways, each vaguer than the last. The lyrics depict such things as the world being depraved, bearing witness, setting worlds ablaze, and so on. Real helpful. The way I see it (and this is by no guarantee a useful interpretation, although it is at the very least a subjective one), the concept here is Emperor itself, especially as it relates to Ihsahn. As the album progresses, Ihsahn becomes disillusioned with the world, crafts Emperor in an attempt to express himself, becomes disillusioned with it, and finally lays it to rest in the final song. It sounds good, but with an album so vague, the only people who can really shed light on this are the members of Emperor themselves. Outside the lyrics, there is some repetition of motifs and sounds – for instance, the introduction of “The Eruption” makes an appearance at the end of the final song. This is relatively minor – each song has a markedly different set of riffs from the last.
Anyways, this album is often described as “progressive” and “complex”, and those are arguably accurate terms. Compared to previous efforts, polyphony and dissonance are through the roof. “The Eruption” provides an excellent example of this, in that the key of the first major riff (starting about a minute in, after the brief harpsichord/string intro) is deliberately made ambiguous, and if you accept that it’s supposed to establish F# minor, the second riff forms an augmented 4th. Most of the increased polyphony comes from the symphonics – technically the pure amount of them is the same as it ever was, but they play more and more complex leads/counterpoint to the guitars. Even with some very dissonant songs, this album still keeps a good deal of consonance and melody – “Depraved”, “In the Wordless Chamber”, etc. have clearly defined tonalities and melodic riffing. While any given phrase is dense, complex, multilayered, song structures have become very simplistic – the amount of sections in a given song is down from that of the debut or Anthems. The amount of riffs in a given section is relatively high, but songs generally have two or three major sections that are markedly different from one another.
These changes (some of which apparently made it into Ihsahn’s solo work, as well as Peccatum) have basically made this Emperor’s most controversial album, although IX Equilbrium comes close at times. Clearly, if you’re interested in the more technical, extreme side of metal, you’ll find this to your liking, although people who couldn’t tolerate the last two albums probably won’t be able to listen to this.
Anyways, I’ve probably made this clear throughout the “retrospective”, but I rank Emperor’s studio output thusly:
1. In the Nightside Eclipse
2. IX Equilibrium
None of them are bad, but ITNE has the best songwriting of the group in general, as well as an atmosphere the band has never really recaptured (or tried to) , and IX has some of the band’s most inspired riffing/soloing/etc. This is most likely the conclusion of the series, although if you’re lucky, I may do a writeup for some of the demos, the Hordanes Land split, etc. If you’re not… well… it’s not like nobody’s ever discussed them, so don’t dwell on it.