(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

In The Nightside Eclipse , 7/10
Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk , 6.5/10
IX Equilibrium , 6/10
Prometheus, 6.5/10

Norway's Emperor (vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist Vegard "Ihsahn" Tveitan, guitarist Tomas "Samoth" Haugen, bassist Haavard "Mortiis" Ellefsen, drummer Baard Faust) began as part of Scandinavia's black-metal contingent of the 1990s, and ranked as one of the "blackest" around. Emperor's sound progressed via the demo Wrath Of The Tyrant (1992), the mini-album Emperor (1993, split with Enslaved) and the single As The Shadows Rise (1993).

Mortiis then left to pursue his own career (eventually replaced by Jonas Alver), and the band (while in trouble with the authorities, mainly because of Samoth's passion for setting fire to churches) managed to release In The Nightside Eclipse (Century Black, 1994), an album that is a concentrate of violence but also a metaphysical (and symphonic) inspection in the otherworld.
After a brief introduction of infernal sounds, Faust's lightning-speed drums propel the eight-minute Into The Infinity Of Thoughts while Ihsahn's satanic shrieks and Samoth's frantically distorted guitar get enveloped in the shroud of stately notes of Ihsahn's electronic keyboards. Halfway into the song, the drums intone a martial tempo and the keyboards simulated a heavenly choir, but the slaughter soon resumes, the guitar never having relented its shaggy, torrential outburst. An even higher degree of violence is injected into Cosmic Keys To My Recreations & Times, whose drumming is reminiscent of hardcore punk-rock and whose shrieking is even uglier. Given the intensity of the music, the electronic choir that surmounts it sounds almost like a parody. The same dense catastrophic sounds permeate the more melodic The Burning Shadows Of Silence (with a quasi-boogie guitar progression in the middle).
The role of the vocals is crucial. The singer's evil presence towers over the contrast among the various instruments. Ihsahn's vocals attain a form of superhuman pain in Beyond The Great Vast Forest, but in reality they represent an instrument of its own, an uncontrolled stream of noise that flows parallel to the distorted guitar drones. That stream becomes one long scream at the beginning of Towards The Pantheon (following one minute of electronic melody), later repeated again at the peak of the furious drumming and grating guitar, while the keyboards seem to play a completely different song. Ihsahn seems to vomit in the first seconds of The Majesty Of The Night Sky (although later the guitar intones an ironic motif and the soaring keyboards briefly parody classical music). When the gothic gallop of I Am The Black Wizard is interrupted by celestial electronic choir, Ihsahn continues to imprecate, indifferent to the new course of the song; ditto later, when the guitar itself turns melodic and romantic. All the strands come together in the closing Into A Satana, when the vocals are submerged by tidal waves of electronic choirs, distorted guitars and epileptic beats. It's like seeing the soul disintegrate as it plunges into hell.
While drenched in the mood and praxes of death-metal and grindcore, Emperor stood apart because they did not fully adopt the old stereotypes and instead absorbed influences from other genres, even from psychedelic-rock and punk-rock.

With one member just released from jail and one still in jail, Emperor regrouped and recorded Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk (Candlelight, 1997), that reduced the level of violence while increasing the amount of classical music and pomp. The first hint of a classical influence comes at the end of Alsvartr/ The Oath, with the keyboards intoning what could have been the theme of a medieval tournament. By comparison with the first album, the guitar rondo of Ye Entrancemperium led what sounded more like a princely dance than a death-metal malediction. The vocals in Thus Spake the Nightspirit have been polished to resemble the spoken word, although the music is indeed back to its original ferocity. They are mixed in a way to sound like a fast dialogue in Ensorcelled by Khaos (possibly the most visceral of the songs), an effect that fits well the overall chaos and energy (while they last). The problem with this song as well as with the next one, The Loss and Curse of Reverence, is that the initial propulsion seems to die too soon. The latter has the killer effect of a squeaking guitar that pierces through the dense ebullient sludge, but each burst lasts only a minute. And these are the keyboard-free pieces. The symphonic element prevails again in The Acclamation of Bonds and in the eight-minute With Strength I Burn. The latter is opened by a rhythmic vortex reminiscent of punk-rock's "thrash" style, a sort of breakneck square dance, but is soon taken over by an emphatic sermon sung (in, incredibly, almost operating vocals) over stately electronic keyboards.

IX Equilibrium (Candlelight, 1999) marked further progress in style, with a sophisticated use of both orchestral instruments and electronic keyboards, yielding even more solemn tones (Nonus Aequilibrium, An Elegy Of Icaros, Decrystallazing Reason).

Majesty is the password on the band's final album, Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire & Demise (Candlelight, 2001), a titanic satori of the genre's stereotypes that rivals their own classic In The Nightside Eclipse. At times it sounds like King Crimson and VDG rather than black metal. Harpsichord and violin open The Eruption, and operatic vocals alternate with the traditional shriek, while the music ebbs and flows in a cerebral manner. Another convoluted piece, Depraved, highlights the quantum leap forward in dynamics that has completely changed the nature of Emperor's music. The first album exhibited a schizophrenic alternation of grindcore and slower passages, but now there is absolutely no rule: the continuum of possible modes is virtually infinite. The techniques employed often border on cacophony, as in Grey, that overflows not only with mood changes but also with angular rhythms and jagged guitars. The menacing guitar riff of The Prophet is light-years distant from the droning guitar distortion of the first album, and what follows sounds like a mini-opera (with pathetic overtones worthy of David Bowie). The Tongue of Fire is a dizzying stylistic puzzle, maintaining a sort of unity throughout its seven minutes but remaining in a cerebral limbo with little precedents.
The positive side is that pieces like Empty (a zenith of intensity) wed the grandeur of death-metal and the grandeur of progressive-rock, casually dropping into the mix both dissonant electronics and classical strings. In the Wordless Chamber attemps a similar fusion from another angle, and the result is also imposing: pathos for the sake of pathos.
The album closes with the song, Thorns on My Grave, that best resembles their original style (at least in terms of stylistic unity and ferocious punch), while weaving together spirals of soaring symphonic and metal sub-themes that sustain the majestic melody of the vocals.
Perhaps not as revolutionary and aggressive as the first album, but probably their summa, an exhausting, monumental epitaph of sorts.

Zyklon is a side-project that released World Ov Worm (Candlelight, 2001).

Ihsahn's Peccatum, a project launched by his wife Heidi "Ihriel" Tveitan, Strangling from Within (1999), Amor Fati (2001) and the more experimental Lost in Reverie (2004).

Scattered Ashes (Candlelight, 2003) is a double-cd Emperor anthology.

Ihsahn debuted solo with The Adversary (Candlelight, 2006).

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Marco Spagnuolo)

Gli Emperor fanno parte del contingente del black metal norvegese di cui fanno parte anche Bathory, Enslaved, Mayhem. Ma gli Emperor possono essere considerati trai i più black in assoluto. Il lavoro d’esordio è il demo Wrath Of The Tyrant (1992), a cui fa seguito il mini album Emperor (1993, con gli Enslaved) e il singolo As The Shadows Rise (1993).

Il bassista Mortiis nonché scrittore dei primi brani lascia la band per una sua personale carriera, nel frattempo la band (alle prese con la giustiza , e per un incendio di una chiesa) danno alle stampe il loro capolavoro, nonché una pietra miliare del black metal, In The Nightside Eclipse (Century Black, 1994), un concentrato di violenza (I Am The Black Wizard) ma anche una ispezione metafisica e sinfonica nell’altromondo (Into The Infinity Of Thoughts, Cosmic Keys, Majesty Of The Night Sky).

Mentre uno dei membri esce dal carcere e un altro rimane rinchiuso, gli Emperor si rimisero insieme e registrarono Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk (Candlelight, 1997), che ridusse la violenza mentre crebbe l’importanza data a espedienti neoclassici e sinfonici (The Oath).

IX Equilibrium (Candlelight, 1999) segna un notevole passo in avanti nello stile, con un uso più sofisticato di orchestra e tastiere e alzando di molto i toni solenni (Nonus Aequilibrium, An Elegy Of Icaros, Decrystallazing Reason).

Maestosità è la parola chiave dell’ultimo album della band, Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire & Demise (Candlelight, 2001), un condensato titanico degli stereotipi del genere che rivaleggia con il loro capolavoro The Nightside Eclipse.In realtà Prometheus sembra, paradossalmente, più vicino a King Crimson e VDG che al black metal. Forse non è un album violento e rivoluzionario come il primo, ma forse la loro summa, ovvero un monumentale epitaffio del genere.

Zyklon è un side project che ha pubblicato World Ov Worm (Candlelight, 2001).

Scattered Ashes (Candlelight, 2003) è una antologia (doppio cd) degli Emperor.

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