Sunday Old School: Black Metal History Month Part 3. Emperor
Band Photo: Emperor (?)
As many people are aware, February is Black History Month in the United States of America. Always one to respect cultures and take part in something, we here at MetalUnderground.com are dedicating this month to the history of Black Metal. We will be looking at some of the biggest names in the genre, those who helped to shape it, and some of the promising younger black metal bands in the underground.
The Emperor is dead, long live the Emperor! Or at least that’s how the rallying cry goes these days, and with good reason. Bands like Immortal and Marduk may still be churning out albums in our current decade, but if there is one name synonymous with black metal, it is Emperor. In honor of black metal history month, we previously looked at two bands that influenced early black metal (Sodom and King Diamond), and now we’ll delve into the heart of the subject with a band that represents the core ideals and sounds of the genre.
Despite having only recorded four main studio albums, the last of which came out a full decade ago, Emperor is still one of the most widely known, widely respected, and widely requested black metal bands in existence. The group of kids from Norway who became Emperor probably had no idea what they were going to eventually birth when they started putting together rasping screams and freezing cold atmosphere. Emperor has left a lasting mark on the world of extreme metal, and not just for fans of Norwegian black metal.
It all really got started with the “Wrath of the Tyrant” demo, which was written and recorded when the band members were still teenagers. The band’s first demo even featured industrial artist Mortiis on bass, not that the bass can ever be heard mind you. While the production is simply terrible by modern standards, and the song writing would change drastically over the band’s career, even material as early as “Wrath of the Tyrant” still resonates with black metal fans today for its atmosphere and feeling. You can check out the title track in the clip below.
Building up from the demo came Emperor’s debut full-length album “In the Nightside Eclipse,” which is still hailed as a classic of black metal. The album is lo-fi, dark, and pretty much the original definition of “Necro.” Although slightly better sounding than “Wrath of the Tyrant,” the music was still pretty dirty and scratchy at this point. The clip below contains the song “Into the Infinity of Thoughts” from “In The Nightside Eclipse.”
To a see more modern interpretation of old material, the next video features the band performing “I Am The Black Wizards” live at Wacken 2006 when Emperor briefly reunited for a handful of live shows.
Ask a group of Emperor fans which album was the band’s best and you’ll get a range of answers, but the second full-length “Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk” is pretty consistently lauded by fans as the epitome of what would later be termed the “second wave” of black metal. You can check out the music video for “The Loss and Curse of Reverence” below, which has a bit of that old school black metal cheese, but overall isn’t nearly as ridiculous as anything from Immortal or the like.
1999’s “IX Equilibrium” marked a serious turning point for the group, and would also be the last time that Emperor could still be labeled as a “true Norwegian black metal” band. The atmosphere is still there, but the specifics were starting to change by this point. The production is leagues ahead of earlier works, although still just slightly rough. More clean vocals also start showing up, along with tempo changes and guitar stylings that weren’t standard to old school black metal. The clips below feature the songs “Decrystallizing Reason” and “The Warriors of Modern Death.”
Emperor’s final album “Prometheus - The Discipline of Fire & Demise” can be a divisive one for fans, as the band dropped many of the standard “kvlt” black metal trappings and went much more experimental, using symphonic elements and more complex guitar parts. The band’s swan song also began to show where Ihsahn would go as a solo artist after Emperor’s demise, using many different influences and leaving standard black metal far, far behind. “Prometheus” is a look at evolution in progress as one of the men responsible for the genre’s early growth takes it forward into the next stage. Below you can hear opening track “The Eruption,” along with “Empty” and “Thorns On My Grave.”
“The Emperor is dead, long live the Emperor!” isn’t just a tag line used by fans and websites. Emperor’s legacy lives on as the members continue different projects. After the band’s breakup, Ihsahn went on to create his own solo project, while guitarist Samoth and drummer Trym created death metal act Zyklon.
After releasing three full-length albums, Zyklon also split up, leading Samoth to create The Wretched End, a band with more thrash leanings, but also utilizing both the death metal aspects of Zyklon and black metal atmosphere of Emperor. I had the pleasure of speaking with Samoth directly about his latest band, and you can check out the interview here.
The Wretched End’s debut album “Ominious” is currently out, with the band already working on a second album. To get a taste of what Samoth has to offer post-Emperor, check out the song “With Ravenous Hunger” below.
Ihsahn himself recently completed a trilogy of albums, “The Adversary,” “AngL,” (reviewed here) and “After,” (reviewed here) with a fourth album in the works. Metalunderground.com’s very own Heavytothebone2 conducted an interview with Ihsahn just prior to the release of “After,” which can be read at this location.
“The Pain is Still Mine” from “The Adversary” shows off the many diverse sounds to be heard from Ihsahn’s solo work, mixing the theatrics of an opera (inlcuding all the orchestra elements to boot) with modern black metal.
The song “Scarab” below is cut from “AngL,” and it has a much heavier vibe while still maintaining a darkly melodic atmosphere.
Also of note from the “AngL” album is “Unhealer,” which includes a guest vocal spot by Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth as the two do what can only be described as a “black metal duet.”
The aptly titled “After” uses saxophone in a way that is just as metal as shredding guitars or rasping screams, as can be heard on “A Grave Inversed” in this final clip.
The Emperor is dead, long live the Emperor! Feel free to leave your comments below discussing what you think of Emperor, how the band’s music has impacted you, and what you think are the band’s highest or lowest points.
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