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Wrath of the Tyrant (1992)
 
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I discovered Emperor, back in high school, hearing the song "Thus Spake the Nightspirit" on a college radio show called "The Haunted Mansion". This was not long after Anthems... was released. That would go on to be the first Emperor album I came across. It would be a year or so later before I discovered the earlier works; however, once I did I found myself much more drawn to them.

In 1991, Samoth and Ihsahn left Death Metal band Thou Shalt Suffer. They were joined by Mortiis. Probably being heavily inspired by bands such as Mayhem and Darkthrone, they abandoned their previous style to play primitive Black Metal In May 1992, they recorded Wrath of the Tyrant on a 4-track home studio. The sound quality is very necro, albeit needing some improvement. The songwriting shows a lot of promise and, in my opinion, Emperor would have done well to pursue this style rather than choosing to "progress" with each release.

The album begins with a short, creepy keyboard intro created by Samoth, leading into the first song, "Ancient Queen". The first thing that one notices is that the instruments seem to be down-tuned. Seeing as how Emperor jumped on the Black Metal bandwagon in a hurry, they may have forgotten to stop using the tuning from their Death Metal days. The sound is very harsh and crude, yet it has a deep low end in contrast with so many other Black Metal releases; Ihsahn's guitar and Mortiis's bass (both rather heavily distorted) have enough power to let the melodies break through the wall of static and invade the listener's ears without losing too much power. The drums are the lowest instrument in the mix, while Ihsahn's vocals are very loud and possess a lot of reverb. This song is decent enough, but nothing incredibly special.

"My Empire's Doom" is next, and is much more complex and layered; Samoth does a really nice job on drums, and Ihsahn's vocals follow the rhythm over the opening riff. This song would later find its way onto In the Nightside Eclipse, transforming into "Beyond the Great Vast Forest". Oddly, this version closes with a rather abrupt fade out, which makes one wonder if the closing riff that appears on the later version was added on or already existed at this stage but was cut off for some reason.

"Forgotten Centuries" begins with some indecipherable vocals and a fast tremolo-picked riff, before utilizing something more fitting of a Celtic Frost album. This is a short and complex song; featuring some of the most interesting riffs on the album. It's too bad that the sound quality isn't a little better. There is a nice, cold riff that would sound much better with more focus placed on the guitars and less low end.

"Night of the Graveless Souls" is another fast, straightforward Black Metal song. Again, there are some decent riffs that never seem to get enough room to breathe, due to the muffled sound and the down-tuning. It's not that I would prefer the over-produced sound of later Emperor albums, rather there needs to be more focus on the guitars. Transilvanian Hunger was recorded with similar equipment and yet it sounds far better. Also, I think there is a little too much reverb on the vocals. It only serves to drown out the rest of the music.

"Moon Over Kara-Shehr" has several killer riffs and equally numerous tonality and rhythm changes, though it features some Death Metal riffs that do not belong here as well as a continuation of the reverb overkill. As the album, or demo as it should be called, progresses it becomes more apparent that Emperor had not yet fully grasped what Black Metal was all about.

"Witches' Sabbath" is probably the best song on here. It begins with a mid-paced, oldschool riff and then Ihsahn's screaming actually helps the atmosphere, as well as the doom-filled riffs that follow. The haunting moans only add to this. Then, the song speeds up and one gets the impression that with clearer guitars (or the actual ability to have recorded a second guitar track) this would be a hell of a song.

Next is "Lord of the Storms". This is another short song, featuring only a couple of riffs. There is nothing really special about the song and it is, more or less, filler.

"Wrath of the Tyrant" begins with a horrific scream and decent primitive Black Metal riffs. After plodding along for a bit, there is a very promising riff that is gone all too soon. At this point, the drums seem to be the most dominant thing and little else can be heard. The song ends with an eerie spoken words part.

All in all, this demo shows quite a bit of promise, but it also displays the fact that Emperor had yet to shed their Death Metal tendencies, entirely. There are a handful of riffs that have no place on such a release, as well as several others that should have been expanded upon. This is raw and primitive and, despite its flaws, still more enjoyable to listen to then the last few albums they released.

(11 Sept. 2008)

Emperor (1993)
 

The Emperor E.P. was recorded in December 1992 and released in May 1993, by Candlelight Records. While it may seem like an appealing thing to acquire, upon first glance, it is not. Don't be fooled by the fact that it was spawned during the creative peak of the Norwegian Black Metal scene. This material is entirely sickening and hardly worth checking out, even based on curiosity.

Many years ago, after getting into Emperor, I was going back and checking out the older recordings and connecting with those far more than with Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, which was their latest album at the time. For me, In the Nightside Eclipse was far superior, even if it did fail to match up to other records that were released that same year, like Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, De Mysteris Dom Sathanas, Transilvanian Hunger and Pentagram. Nonetheless, it proved to be a high quality album and also served to lead me to discover Wrath of the Tyrant, which I approved of even more. Thinking that the early Emperor recordings were relatively safe, I next moved on to the band's first E.P. This was soon realized to be a mistake.

Emperor features only four songs and clocks in around twenty minutes in length. Despite being so brief, it is time that would be better spent doing just about anything else, other than listening to this. The material consists of two new songs and two re-recorded songs, from Wrath of the Tyrant. Though the necro production of that release happened to be one of its main charms, there was still a bit of curiosity to hear a couple of those tracks in a somewhat cleaned-up form. In particular, the choice to include "Night of the Graveless Souls" seemed like something positive. However, upon actual hearing it, the true horror of this E.P. was revealed.

To be honest, there is not much wrong with the original version of "I Am the Black Wizards". It features a more primitive production and sounds a little nastier, which is a good thing. It would have been even better, had the keyboards been absent, giving us a more straightforward approach to this classic track. At times, there are odd vocal effects used, to give the impression of some sort of demonic voice, but it does not really fit well with this song. The other track that would later appear on In the Nightside Eclipse, "Cosmic Keys to my Creations and Times", is quite similar though clearly inferior. It includes even more synth and appears to rely on it a little more heavily. Neither one is atrocious, by any means, but they simply don't match up to the later versions and are not different enough to really warrant much attention.

The truly hideous part of this release comes in the form of the two re-recorded songs from Wrath of the Tyrant, "Night of the Graveless Souls" and "Wrath of the Tyrant". In their original form, these two tracks represented Emperor's take on primitive, old school Black Metal with a dark and evil feeling that was emphasized by the necro production. They were perfect, more or less, despite sounding a little messy. Giving the songs another try, one might expect a slightly clearer performance, thus allowing the listener to enjoy the sinister guitar riffs even more. This was not the case, at all. Emperor managed to completely butcher these songs, by adding in synth that was never meant to be present, killing the atmosphere and ruining these tracks and this release, in general. Without the idiotic keyboard use, these songs would sound great. Unfortunately, instead of maintaining their integrity, the band decided to try to modernize the songs by adding the synth nonsense that they had developed such a liking for, since recording the originals. It is somewhat tolerable on "Wrath of the Tyrant", as they at least tried to be somewhat tasteful and to match the synth up with the music.

However, in the case of "Night of the Graveless Souls", it was as if they were listening to something else, entirely. It sounds like they were actually attempting to ruin the song, as the synth is so goofy and cartoonish, not even remotely suiting the atmosphere of the song. This is exactly why the rest of the band should have taken Ihsahn outside and beaten him to a bloody pulp, the first time he showed up to rehearsal with his Casio in hand. Listening to this rape job makes me want to stab my ears with an ice pick, or take a hammer to the misguided hands that did this foul evil.

Emperor truly struck out with this release. While three of the four songs are mildly tolerable, none of them are as good as other versions. As for "Night of the Graveless Souls", this may be the true beginnings of Suicidal Black Metal, as listening to this will make you want to kill yourself. Garbage like this somewhat foreshadowed future lame decisions that the band would make, taking the path toward mediocrity and utter putrid filth. Avoid this E.P. and stick to the other releases, pretending that this never happened.
 
(4 Sept. 2012)

 
In the Nightside Eclipse (1994)

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In the Nightside Eclipse is the definitive Emperor album. It lacks the poor production that plagued Wrath of the Tyrant, while still possessing some of the necro element. This was recorded in Grieghallen during the seventh full moon of 1993. It was produced by Pytten, known for his work with Mayhem, Burzum and Immortal. The cover featured artwork from Necrolord, who did the covers for the first two Dissection albums, among countless others.

After a brief intro, "Into the Infinity of Thoughts" explodes with icy cold riffs that seem to take some influence from Mayhem. In fact, the album is dedicated to Euronymous. The fast tremolo riffs, blasting drums and unrestrained vocals strive to create a soundscape of darkness and evil. The one main drawback is that the keyboards are too loud in the mix, and tend to drown everything else out, to a degree. Also, I think that a lot of the atmosphere created through using keyboards could have been done with the guitars. Actually, that touches on another point: the album would lack a lot of its atmosphere without the synth, which is not good. The synth should add to the atmosphere rather than provide the majority of it. Musically, underneath the synth, a lot of the riffs and drumming reminds me of Immortal's Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism. At any rate, the first song does possess icy riffs and an epic feel. The quiet parts, with the dark guitar melodies and the sound of freezing winds drag the listener into the world depicted on the cover.

"Cosmic Keys To My Creations and Times" begins with a masterful tremolo riff that should have lasted a bit longer. As the blastbeats increase in speed and the keyboards become more dominant, this riff is lost. Actually, everything underneath the synth seems lost for a while, with the exception of the hateful vocals. Once the song slows down again, and the synth allows the guitars to breathe once more, it is easier to be drawn into the darkness being created. However, I can't help but wonder how this would sound if the guitars were much higher in the mix. The tempo slows down, near the end of the song, and this is one of the more memorable moments, as the guitar riff carries it along.

Next is "Beyond the Great Vast Forest". In various places on the album, one will find sections that seem to regress back to the more necro times of Wrath of the Tyrant, creating mental imagery of blackened dungeons. An appropriate sentiment, since much of the music from that demo was rearranged and used here. It is almost difficult to notice as the overpowering synth takes command, early on. The extra lead harmonies added to the slower section really help the atmosphere. During its best moments, this L.P. is like the cold air of winter, blowing down from the snow-capped mountaintops, awaiting the end of the world. The band manages to create an epic, somewhat apocalyptic feeling, at times.

"Towards the Pantheon" follows and begins very quietly, creating an eerie and uneasy feeling. Ihsahn opens with a very lengthy, almost inhuman and breathless, scream that stretches on forever. There is an intense hatred, accompanied by a melancholy for the truth of this life, and a deep sense of longing for a different world... a realm of fantasy. Beneath the layers of synth is a song of pure Black Metal. As with the last song, this one takes the listener deeper and deeper into the darkness and creates a sense of urgency and panic.

Throughout In the Nightside Eclipse, the music itself is arranged in a cyclic style as riffs flow into riffs, then return to their original pattern at times; a kind of theme is established in each song that is repeated, while the songwriting will often move into other more complex patterns, melodies and structures. "The Majesty of the Nightsky" begins with fury and speed, yet a almost calming melody pervades and changes the mood. Emperor infuse a more Wagnerian aspect into their music, a sweeping narrative that is no true attempt at narrative, and lyrics and vocals simply amplify this. Lyrics are filled with a dark mysticism of death, evil and nature, a reveration of the true dark powers of the Earth. As the instruments stop, nothing is left but the synth melody and the sound of cold winds. A thunderous sound accompanies the return of the drums and the sorrowful guitar riffs join with a spoken words piece that imbues the listener with a sense of calm and relief. As if the blood is flowing freely from your veins as you gaze up into the darkness, soon to be liberated from this world. As the song speeds back up, it carried your spirit into the nothingness that surrounds.

"I Am the Black Wizards" begins with a brilliant tremolo riff, that is followed by something slower, reminiscent of Burzum, but only briefly. As the song gets going, the main theme returns and this is probably one of the best melodies on the album. The atmosphere gets even darker as the pace slows down. One gets images of dark towers where beings beyond feeble concepts of good and evil live in a manner that seems vile to any who possess normal "good" values, but a way that in of itself is not evil, simply a way of life. Late in the song, a new riff is introduced that is pure evil. It carries with it doom and the promise of agony. Hellish screams are followed by a serene, if not mournful, melody that finishes out the song.

"Inno A Satana" closes the album by introducing clean vocals, for the only time on this album. They are accompanied by wretched screams and some cold and lifeless riffs, hearkening back to early Burzum. As the riffs build up, the song ends with Ihsahn whispering:

"Inno a Satana"

In the Nightside Eclipse is definitely complex and it requires a decent attention span. This isn't something that can be absorbed by simply turning the CD on and continuing to do other things. This requires the focus of the listener. The music creates an atmosphere of reverence for the dark beauty of the night and the sinister shadows of the deep forests. Emperor manages to find solace in those things that humans dread the most. Ihsahn's demonic shrieks spread hatred as the riffs carry you higher and higher, toward the glowing moon high above, before suddenly letting you fall to the frozen earth below.

(11 Sept. 2008)

 
 

Released by Nocturnal Arts Productions in 1994, As the Shadows Rise is the second Emperor E.P. and features material recorded back in December 1992, during the same sessions as the tracks that ended up on Emperor. This effort is similar in that it includes re-recorded versions of songs from Wrath of the Tyrant, though no new tracks are present. Nonetheless, this mini-album is superior to their first, yet remains strangely obscured by time.

The production for this E.P. is fairly decent and suits the material well. It is not horribly modern or over-produced, but neither is it as necro and ancient-sounding as Wrath of the Tyrant. The sound quality is still rather grim, with a fuzzy guitar tone that is somewhat similar to that of Under A Funeral Moon. The riffs are just clear enough to be comprehended a little better than before, which may help some appreciate these songs a bit more. The vocals are not as loud in the mix as before, also possessing less reverb. The drums are at the perfect level, with Faust pummeling away in the background and not getting in the way.

Musically, these compositions are not much different from the original recordings. The only real alteration is during the middle of "Witches Sabbath", where there is a somewhat melodic doom riff that is not present in the old one. However, in trade, the morbid moans seem to be much lower and less effective, practically removing something that added to the eerie effect on Wrath of the Tyrant. Otherwise, there are not too many other differences, though there was not a lot of time to re-work the songs anyway, since this was recorded later in the same year. Obviously, the sound is a little clearer and this may alter the atmosphere of the songs, somewhat, just because there is less chaos and distortion. It also allows for some of the guitar melodies to be heard better, which may bring out more of the original intent behind the writing of these tracks. As with the versions on Emperor, Ihsahn decided to add synth to "Ancient Queen" and "Witches Sabbath". If there is any present on "Lord of Storms", it is too low to be noticed. As for the others, the keyboards are actually done in a much more subtle and tasteful manner than on the previous E.P. When used, it truly accentuates the dark atmosphere being created by the music, instead of working against it. Another positive is that the synth is not so high in the mix as to overpower everything else. It is rather surprising, as all of the material was re-recorded during the same session, yet the songs that they released first were the worst of the bunch.

As the Shadows Rise is a worthwhile E.P. and is highly recommended for fans of early Emperor. It is unfortunate that these tracks are harder to come by than the ones on the first mini-album, those being later released on the split with Enslaved and on reissues of Wrath of the Tyrant, since this collection of tunes is greatly superior in just about every way. For a bit of a different perspective on some classic Emperor songs, as well as another dose of old school Norwegian Black Metal, seek this out.
 
(12 Sept. 2012)

 
 

Emperor' s second full-length (third, if you count Wrath of the Tyrant) was recorded in Grieghallen, as was its predecessor. It was produced by Pytten, along with the members of the band who, obviously, had a major hand in the sound. It was a drastic departure from In the Nightside Eclipse, in many ways. In late 1996, the Reverence E.P. was released in an effort to prepare listeners for this shift in sound, serving as a transition piece. However, lt is quite probable that many were still shocked, in the summer of 1997, when Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk saw the light of day.

By this point, the popularity of Black Metal had been rising, in the states. With this album, it seemed that Emperor cemented themselves as the reigning kings of Norwegian Black Metal, in the eyes of the American press and fans. The true Mayhem was gone. Varg Vikernes was in prison, rendering Burzum lifeless. Darkthrone had lost their creative fire, sinking into mediocrity. Even Immortal deteriorated, releasing their worst album a few months earlier. And, unfortunately, Gorgoroth seemed to be under the radar for most. So, in this dark age, bands like Emperor and Satyricon (among others) seemed to inherit the throne. Had Emperor released another In the Nightside Eclipse, this may have been warranted. But, in fact, they had chosen to go down a different path; one that would lead them farther and farther away from what Black Metal truly was. While Anthems... still possesses sufficient qualities of the sub-genre to be included, their efforts on this album were in no way adequate enough to justify the level of praise that was received and, try as they might, they certainly were not the heirs of Mayhem.

It was in the wake of the Reverence E.P. that I became fully aware of this band. Going back to late 1996, Black Metal was still defined (for me) by Venom, old Slayer, Hellhammer, Sodom, etc. I was still being introduced to the early material from bands like Mayhem and Darkthrone, both of which seemed incredibly dark and obscure at the time. In an age when the internet was still in its infancy (and still several years before I had regular access anyway), discovering such music was no easy task. However, it was already becoming clear that Emperor was one of the most popular of these Norwegian bands, and that rubbed me the wrong way. In most cases, whatever path the herd chooses, I usually go the other way. The more Emperor t-shirts I saw at school, the less I wanted to give them a chance. Finally, around the release of Anthems..., I heard "Thus Spake the Nightspirit" and something about it appealed to me. However, not long after getting this album, the decision was made to seek out their earlier material and, there, I found the true quality recordings by this band. In retrospect, I can't say that this was a worthless album, as it served the purpose of leading me to Wrath of the Tyrants and In the Nightside Eclipse.

Getting into the music, the negative aspects shall first be addressed. The production is horrendous. The band must have been quite proud of their new drummer, Trym, as his instrument is way too high in the mix. To make matters worse, his style is too... busy. Fast drumming is fine and it suits the pace of the music, yet he seems to be doing too much and it distracts from, what should be, the true focal point: the guitars. However, the drumming is not the only obstacle, as an even more diabolical culprit is standing between the riffs and the ears of the listener. The synth is overpowering, throughout this record. For a good deal of the time, it really feels as if the guitar riffs are in the role of some background effect, only there to take up space. It's the drums, synth and vocals that drive a large portion of this album.

The first problem with this is that synth should never be the focus of a Black Metal song, period. If it is used at all, it must be done tastefully, only being used to accentuate the atmosphere already being created by the conventional instruments. When a band relies on synth as the be-all, end-all of their aura, then there is a fundamental problem with their songwriting, at its core. The thing about Emperor is that they actually have a decent amount of riffs on this album. Of course, there are a lot of pointless riffs as well, quite possibly because the guitars are put in a subservient role to the rest of the instruments. The most confusing thing of all is that, at least 50% of the time, the synth actually works to undermine the atmosphere that (one would assume) that band is going for. More often than not, it serves only to lighten the mood or to create a general sense of confusion, as there is simply too much going on. The production makes this even worse, as it possesses a very claustrophobic quality. While being very clear (and overproduced), there isn't enough room to accommodate everything that is going on. Of course, this leads back to the songwriting, itself, as well as the choice to place the drumming and synth so high in the mix.

Vocally, Ihsahn attempts quite a bit of clean singing on here, and it's done well enough. Thankfully, it is buried in the mix, to an extent, creating a nice effect. One can tell that he's not entirely comfortable doing it, so it possesses just enough sincerity and effort to be appreciated. Later on, his growing confidence only increased the obnoxious nature of his clean vocals. Outside of this new element, the vocal performance is similar to that of In the Nightside Eclipse, while being a bit more controlled. It would be considered detrimental; however, the style of this album dictated that everything be more tight and precise, for better or for worse.

As for the songwriting, there are moments where the band really shines. The slow section of "Thus Spake the Nightspirit" is very well done and captures the right atmosphere. Similarly, there are brief glimpses of skill in "Ensorcelled by Khaos", before the 'happy' synth drowns everything out and ruins the feeling. "The Loss and Curse of Reverence" appears to have the most in common with the material of the previous album, containing some of the best riffs. Again, the synth kills much of its momentum and one gets the feeling that it would have benefited from the production of In the Nightside Eclipse. Eliminating the keyboards and the middle section of the song would have been a major improvement. "The Acclamation of Bonds" has a handful of strong riffs as well, though the most notable one has to be the part lifted from Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls". It wouldn't be a bad tribute, except for the fact that Ihsahn later claimed that they came up with the riff all on their own and pretended not to notice the incredible similarity with the original (even despite the decision to add in the sound of a funeral bell).

All in all, the songwriting is pretty weak. For every good riff to be found here, there are half a dozen useless riffs. And even during the brief moments of would-be brilliance, there are usually a number of factors that prevent the total enjoyment of those as well. Good riffs, often drowned out by bad synth, tied together by intrusive drumming and a multitude of background guitar that never asserts its dominance in the mix. And, perhaps the saddest thing about this album is that the very best riff of the entire thing was written by someone else and ripped off.

When I first got the album, my impression of this was a little better. Because of the handful of decent riffs, I managed to block out much of the rest. As well, 90% of the intro can be ignored as it goes from setting a proper mood to being nothing short of comical. But the one thing that really sticks out is the opening riff of "Ye Entrancemperium". It lasts all of 20 seconds, but Emperor does their best to use that momentum to carry them through the rest of this half-baked attempt of creating a Black Metal album. And who is responsible for that riff? Euronymous. I didn't notice his name in the credits until after several listens and, back then, I simply assumed that he had written it and given it to them for later use. In truth, it was stolen. They merely heard it on some old Mayhem rehearsal and used it for themselves. At least they gave credit where it was due. Sadly, this single riff (that never even made it onto a proper Mayhem release) is the most intense and pure half minute of Black Metal on the whole album. The members of Emperor are very capable musicians. They play with a high level of skill and, any time they record a cover song, it's done incredibly well; i.e. "A Fine Day to Die", "Funeral Fog", "Cromlech", etc. But the inclusion of this Euronymous riff is further evidence that they are much better at recording the material of others than writing their own.

In the end, Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk is not the masterpiece that many hailed it as. On the contrary, it is a monumental failure. The highlight of the record is a stolen riff from a band whose rehearsal recordings are more enjoyable than this. The brilliance of In the Nightside Eclipse had faded, and only a few remnants were left to hearken back to those days. And even still, most of those were so enshrouded in synth nonsense as to leave them difficult to fully appreciate. As is often the case, the integrity of the band was traded for popularity and wider acceptance.
 
(10 July 2010)

IX Equilibrium (1999)
 

Following the success of Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, the members of Emperor became ever more active in their various side-projects and moved further away from the true essence of Black Metal. They took the positive reactions to such a flawed album as meaning that they should continue in the same direction, which only led them to create a record that can only be looked at as an abomination. Released in November 1999, IX Equilibrium saw Emperor return to be hailed by many as the kings of Norwegian Black Metal. This is incredibly ridiculous, as there is hardly a trace of Black Metal to be found on this record.

By 1999, Black Metal had become a worldwide trend and a good number of these bands were taking influence from Emperor's earlier works, incorporating a great deal of synth into their music, often at the expense of actual riffs. Even worse, they were adding gothic elements and making something that was really the antithesis of what it claimed to be. Ihsahn, himself, jumped on this symphonic/goth bandwagon with his side-project, Peccatum. It is kind of humourous that he got swept up in trends that he had some part in influencing in the first place. Meanwhile, Samoth had been moving in a different direction, becoming more interested in technicality than obscurity.

Therein lies one of the greatest differences between Emperor's third full-length album and those that came before it. There is a total absence of the obscure atmosphere that was conveyed by In the Nightside Eclipse, which itself was somewhat of a leap in quality from the necro sound of Wrath of the Tyrant. Still, there was a common thread that ran between them. Even from the band's debut L.P. to Anthems... one can hear some traces of their Black Metal roots, despite how overblown and convoluted that whole record was. They had at least tried to create some kind of atmosphere, even if their horrid symphonic approach failed. With IX Equilibrium, they failed in a different way.

This album fails to live up to the Emperor name, and that takes into account my complete disdain for its predecessor. While the goofy keyboards and Ihsahn's trademark raspy voice have remained, along with an abundance of clean singing, this is a totally different beast. This is the point where Emperor ceased to be a Black Metal band and joined the growing legions of generic 'extreme Metal' groups. The music here is heavy and technical and features a lot of fast riffs and Trym pummeling his drum kit to bits while Ihsahn screams over everything, but there is no substance. Out of the entire album, there are a very tiny amount of actual Black Metal melodies, and even these are used to bridge other nonsensical ideas together. The riffs are mostly a combination of Thrash and Death Metal, drenched in soulless technicality that has replaced the obscure atmosphere of their past releases with a sterile feeling, but hoping to impress listeners with how flawless the playing is. This is the sort of thing that happens to musicians that started out their careers not knowing how to play all that well, but creating nonetheless, and then wanting to show off their developing skills. The trouble is, by the time these types can master their instruments, they have lost the ability to write worthwhile music. Such was the case with Emperor.

What other crime is committed here, other than trading songwriting skill for musicianship? Of course, the rotting and festering, hideous stench of all things modern. The production is as clean as it gets and sounds like the band went to a top-notch studio with all of the latest equipment for completely draining the last few remaining drops of sincerity right out of this. Every element is crystal clear, which would allow everything to be heard perfectly if not for the fact that it is all mixed so loud that things seem to run together, anyway. It is odd to think of something being so clear and yet sounding like a mess at the same time, but that does seem to be the case. A lot of it has to do with the synth, which is severely abused and far too high in the mix. Since the actual music lacks any hope for creating atmosphere, they relied on the keyboards to do it for them. Instead, it just makes the proceedings sound all the more light-hearted and ridiculous, as there is no way possible that was meant to sound dark or menacing.

With this record, the members of Emperor reveal themselves to be posers of the highest order. They began making generic Death Metal and that is what they returned to, once they were no longer hanging around the likes of Euronymous and Varg Vikernes. In this case, the pure Black Metal of Wrath of the Tyrant and In the Nightside Eclipse must have been more of an anomaly, inspired by the scene that they were caught up in at the time, rather than something that was truly burning within them. Along with bands like Satyricon and Enslaved, it became clear that the followers knew not where to go once their leaders had passed on.

If you wish to wallow in the soulless and sterile stench of modern 'extreme Metal', then IX Equilibrium may be for you. If you are more drawn to shameless pretentiousness and egotism rather than a dark atmosphere, you may enjoy this atrocity. This album is filled with the sort of faux-progressive nonsense that easily impresses more simple-minded listeners. If you want to be associated with Norwegian Black Metal without actually having the courage to listen to the real thing, then this is the perfect L.P. to get you such scene credibility. Otherwise, save your money and avoid this like the disease-ridden filth that it is.
 
(10 Sept. 2012)

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