Review Summary: Absolutely beautiful compositions with a variety of riff tempos and clever drum patterns that merge seamlessly with the gorgeous symphonic work
Not many bands can claim to have had an impact on the extreme metal scene as lasting as that of Emperor. The band are a highly influential Norwegian band that were formed in 1991 by Ihsahn and Samoth who met at a metal seminar, and are regarded as one of the most influential bands in the genre. Their sound consisted primarily of contrasts: the contrast of absolute manic brutality in the form of their black metal side and the symphonic side of the band. Their debut was entitled In The Nightside Eclipse and was released in February 1994.
As one of the albums of its genre held in the highest regard, one would expect a release that captures the heart of the listener from its opening through to the end, and it does this in stellar fashion. This release is just short of an hour long and not once does it let go of the listener's heartstrings, with many of the songs eclipsing the six minute mark and still remaining interesting throughout. A brief introduction that lasts less than a minute sets the dark tone for this release perfectly and after that it is non-stop beauty that is almost guaranteed to amaze. Black metal is a hard genre to perfect due to the fact that what one band does, another ten have done before-the high pitched tremolo picked riffs and the blast beats-but Emperor were completely unique for their time. The band utilizes a wide array of constantly adjusting tempos that helps their steadily-evolving song structures to never sound dull. Each song changes its tempo many times whilst the drumming appears bi-polar in nature, the way it dips and dives through various different patterns. This is a technical black metal release in its purest form, with the band showing off their musical integrity perfectly with some rather long compositions.
The riff craft on In The Nightside Eclipse is among the best in its genre. It rarely steps outside of the black metal band's comfort zone of tremolo picked riffs played faster than the speed of light, but what it does do is set up a dark atmosphere. The eight minute epic that is the first proper song, Into The Infinity Of Thoughts, is a marvellous example and perhaps the strongest composition on the entire album. Throughout its entire duration, this song constantly warps and morphs and carries itself through so many changes in riff that it is hard to believe this was composed by just four people. The break at around four minutes may come as a little shock to some who are used to hearing blast beats constantly in their black metal, and if this DOES surprise then you will not believe what comes next. Some spoken word vocals signal the shift into a more groove-based section with a lot of symphonic work in the background, although it still never takes the foot off of the accelerator. This is the sort of album where you have to take the time to stop and marvel at the genius behind the writing of it.
The vocal performance on In The Nightside Eclipse is nothing short of amazing. Many times throughout your first listen your jaw will drop at Ihsahn's terrifying, demonic screams that sound like Satan howling in the wind. It should become clear that this album is something quite special when you hear how well the brutality in the music blends in with the off-kilter vocal performance and the gorgeous symphonic work in the background. Sections such as the incredible introductory drumming to The Burning Shadows of Silence and the heavy-as-Hell riff that accompanies it will make your mouth water with how well put together they are, and the symphonic work only serves to add to this. Also it is worth pointing out that, unlike later albums by Dimmu Borgir and Cradle Of Filth, Emperor actually know how to balance out the symphonic work with the black metal instrumentation so that the mix is not too heavily weighted in favour of the former. The Burning Shadows Of Silence and Beyond the Great Vast Forest in particular carry a very heavy feel to them but still allow enough room for creativity on the symphonic frontier.
Emperor's debut album is a masterpiece of its genre and stands testament to how creative black metal really can be when a band takes a little time to think of an ingenious new idea. This album never once threatens to outstay its welcome, and remains interesting and enjoyable throughout and it truly does elude me how a collection of four men could craft such a triumphant work of art that seamlessly blends brutality with beauty in ways many bands could scarcely comprehend.