I am an internet user like you (the “official” within the blog’s title being sarcastic, you see), who has chosen to pass the time by writing about both his own life and things in the media that he enjoys, most often this is Heavy Metal music, most often through the medium of Blog. Music is my main hobby; its the thing I spend most of my free time thinking about, talking about, spending money on, writing about and occasionally… listening to.
I’ve been obsessively into music since about the year 2000. Over this time I’ve bought what must now be nearly 1,000 albums, and heard hundreds more through friends, relatives, streaming services and whatever else, and I’ve watched about a billion (exaggeration) music videos and heard countless individual songs on the radio, free CDs, websites and whatever else, as well as read years and years worth of music magazines and websites.
A nerd. Basically. Only, instead of Star Trek or Magic: The Gathering, its Music. Lots of people are nerds and don’t even realize it. Sometimes its obvious; trainspotting, stamp collecting etc. Sometimes its less obvious due to presentation. Some (make that many) football fans’ depth of knowledge about players and transfer costs and club histories would make many tram enthusiasts seem normal by comparison. The amount of information that some people know about reality TV celebrities and their sex-lives would easily overpower my knowledge of bands, or the most dedicated Dr. Who fan’s knowledge of that subject.
But I don’t like Football or Reality TV or Trams or Dr. Who. I like Heavy Metal music. That’s what this Blog is all about.
Welcome to my First Impressions series of articles too, incidentally. In this series I (or sometimes my friends, or readers) pick an album for each entry that I will listen to for the first time. I then write in depth about what I know about that album or the artist that created it and the genre and subgenre to which they belong, before describing the experience of listening to it in real time, in a sort of semi-stream-of-consciousness way intended for entertainment purposes. I also enjoy writing reviews of albums, but when I write reviews my goal is to be helpful and provide you with information with which to aide your decision about whether to try out an album or not. When I write a First Impressions article however my goal is purely to entertain the reader, explore how much I know about music and be my own psychiatrist in the process.
I may go into some very specific detail and assume you have heard everything I’ve ever heard and perceived everything in the manner I’ve perceived it, and call out very specific sections of music and draw comparisons between things that the casual listener may find completely unrelated. Don’t worry, most of these songs are on Youtube and most of the terminology is on Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary anyway, so if there’s anything that goes over your head, you can always get clarification in a second web-browser-tab (or ask about it in the comments).
For 99% of entries, or I guess I should say the aim of the series, the albums are considered by the public and music critics knowledgeable about the subject as Classic albums within Rock and Metal, or at least within their own Subgenres, that I’ve somehow missed out on, despite my best efforts and gradually-becoming-official-intention over the last decade-and-a-bit to listen to every single bloody album ever flipping recorded (only slight exaggeration).
Oh, and if you have an album that you’d like to read a KingcrimsonBlog First Impressions article about, please suggest it in the comments, I’m game, I’ll give anything a shot.
This entry, the fifty-eighth in the series, will be about the Norwegian Black Metal band Emperor’s second full-length studio album, 1997’s Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk.
I’ve always had a curiosity towards Emperor. Partly its due to the level of respect people have for them, and the constant claims that Ishan was a genius and the band are some of the most talented musicians in all of Metal. Partly its because a few of my friends liked them. Partly its because of Zyklon.
I can’t remember now, so long has it been, if I heard Zyklon or Emperor first, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Zyklon. I don’t listen to them as often nowadays I’ll admit, excluding the perpetually played ‘Disentigrate’ and ‘Core Solution’ tracks, but I always hold them in very high esteem. To most people, Zyklon are a vague memory, a semi-forgotten Emperor side project, but they’ve always been a big deal in my mind.
I remember frequently getting a lend of Emperor’s ‘Prometheus’ album (back when you had to do that to hear stuff you didn’t buy yourself) off my good friend Magnum. At the present time I can’t remember a single second of the music on that album, but I remember trying hard to like it at the time, and coming round to it. I remember listening to the whole of In The Nightside Eclipse in another friend’s house afterwards however, and being wholly unimpressed. I don’t remember if I even heard the music or if I just heard a large Goblin screeching “this production is shiiiiite” at the top of its lungs. Y’know what I mean? I used to be pretty switched-off to anything that didn’t have dazzling production. I remember in my earliest stages I couldn’t even listen to Black Sabbath because they sounded “so, like totally old, man.”
But that was then. This is now (at least that’s what Jamie Jasta told me). Its Emperor’s time to shine. I decided to finally drop a First Impressions article about them firstly because they always come up on the Metal Hammer Podcast, mentioned in passing as being obviously brilliant, and its slowly been chipping away at me. Secondly; I got given their 2nd through 4th albums in about 2010 and have never ever listened to them, and every time I scroll through my iTunes I see them squatting there, out of place, staring at me accusingly and whispering “Why don’t you listen to us?” Thirdly; I just felt in the mood to write a First Impressions Article before going to the doctors to hear the test results of all my X-rays, Urinalysis and Blood Tests, and I hadn’t bought any new album that was appropriately “a classic” enough to fit the series’ criteria, and so this unlistened Emperor gem suddenly seemed worth dusting off.
So. That’s the band covered. What about the Genre? That’s how these articles usually roll. Well, if you’re a regular reader, you’re probably as sick of hearing about Black Metal as you are of hearing about Glam to be honest. I’ve already talked about my history with Black Metal before, in the my I, Immortal and Mayhem First Impressions. Basically, for the most part, I don’t like Black Metal very much at all, and I especially don’t like the more vocal Black Metal fans who often don’t seem to be very nice people. I don’t like to judge a whole bunch of people under one banner, but most of the more unpleasant internet users I’ve come across in my own browsing history (and comments section of this very blog) have been Black Metal fans. It just seems to attract people who feel the need to act unpleasantly towards others. Maybe that’s confirmation bias on my part, but nonetheless, the amount of Black Metal fans I’ve seen who’ve been unpleasant is relatively higher than most other types of Metal fans. I quite enjoy bits an pieces of the music on Black Metal records though, there’s always some great bits.
There has been some updates on that Black Metal ignorance over the course of the last year however. When I was making my List Of 1000 Important Albums for Metal Fans project, I ended up exploring Black Metal much more in depth and in higher concentration than I ever had in my entire life. I checked out a few songs here and there from all the big hitters from the old True Norsk Arsk scene (I assume); Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone, Thorns, Enslaved, Marduk, Gorgoroth, Dissection. I had a little look at Primordial. I looked into more Carpathian Forest than I already knew, more Satyricon, more Ackercoke, more Immortal, and even more Emperor.
I looked into some of the French stuff like Blunt Aus Nord, Deathspell Omega, Antaeus and Peste Noir. (On the advice of a very rude Black Metal fan nonetheless.)
I looked into some of the earliest stuff like Salem, Sarcófago and Blashpemy. I looked into some of the pre-Black Metal , influential stuff that Black Metal bands always seem to namecheck or get associated with like Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, Mercyful Fate and Sabbatt.
I looked into some of the modern hitters like Winterfylleth, Watain, Wintersun, Carach Angren and the UK’s own Anaal Nathrakh.
I looked into some of the fringe stuff on the outside of Black Metal like Allgoloch, Stirborg, Moonsorrow, Samael, Alcest, Ulver, Kvellertack etc. Stuff that has some link to Black Metal and some link to somethings else, be they electronic tinged, folky, shoegazy or riotous Motorhead-influenced fun.
Most of it I absolutely hated, and some of the stuff that I hated I actually listened to a lot just to be sure, in case it was a “not giving it a fair chance” issue. It wasn’t. I just plain didn’t like most of it. Especially the older, truer stuff. I don’t like necro-production, I don’t like monotony and I don’t like over-use of Blast Beats.
Now. Some of the related stuff like Allgoloch I could really see myself getting into, and some of the modern stuff like Winterfylleth & Watain I didn’t really dislike much. Heck, I’ve always been a bit tempted by Dimmu Borgir. I really regularly listen to ‘Progenies Of The Great Apocalypse’ with its ridiculously catchy horn hook.
I even become a big fan of Melechesh, who have links to Black Metal (and Children Of Bodom too I guess, who have the tiniest little hint of it in there, underneath all the Power and Melodeath sounds). I’ve also been in a Zyklon mood lately and I’ve even been listening to more Cradle Of Filth lately after sort of forgetting about them/getting really sick of them for years.
What this all suggests, is that I can stick some of the Black Metal sounds, if they’re a small part of a mixture of sounds, and there’s a large amount of something I like better in there too.
Well. Time to step a bit outside my comfort zone then. Time to listen to a pure Black Metal classic. No Blackened Thrash, no Blackened Death, no Blackened slant on anything. Just Black. Like the all-black bumblebee with no yellow stripes that was in the news today.
The album begins with ‘Alsvartr (The Oath).’ There’s some very pleasant clean guitar that could fit on Architect’s very melodic The Here And Now record. Then some very Final Fantasy reminiscent deep bass comes in and gives the music a more sinister sound. Then the dark whispering and sound effects come in and it has a sort of Cradle Of Filth feel. Well, Cradle Of Filth mixed with the slow creepy bit from the middle of Rhime Of The Ancient Mariner. I have to say, its very enjoyable. The drums slowly tease as if they’re going to come in with slow rolls and singular bass strikes. It starts effectively building up tensions and everything is very promising, then after a scream, an absolutely fucking bizarre and out of place musical lift from ELP’s ‘Pirates’ comes in, and it all takes a bright and happy swashbuckling broadway musical turn that I wouldn’t have predicted. What happened there? Its really interesting, it sounds Metallic if you concentrate on it, but like a children’s adventure film soundtrack if you don’t.
Then some tom rolls herald the segue into the next track, ‘Ye Entrancemperium.’ (Which Wikipedia reliably informs me shares a riff from an unreleased Mayhem song). Some very abrasive noisy drums, some Blasts, riffs and noises that are difficult to keep up with. Very harsh vocals. Then some very nice preacher-up-a-tower clean vocals. The solid layers of Blasting reminds me of Zyklon’s debut album World 0V Worms. (My least favourite Zyklon album). I like the swirling, demonic sounding “bit in fantasia where all the brooms start causing trouble” bit. Then after a while, there’s a nice, emotional sounding high pitched bit, with more clean vocals low in the mix and some drums with character. That’s followed by a great little waltzy breakdown with a 70s sounding synth section. I like this bit. I like this bit a lot. Then the evil brooms start causing a ruckus again, followed by some more Blasts, with a sort of wobbly thing over the top that sounds like a spaceship abducting anthropomorphic robots with a tractor beam.
‘Thus Spake The Night Spirit’ opens with a bit that mixes unpleasant Black Metal with more out of place ELP pomp. Odd. Then a wall of Blasting noise. Its all very “Ok, I’ll just wait for the music to start again” over here at KCP’s brain. There’s a sort of guitar solo slowly developing over a few different parts, it does a little Opeth style twiddle then gets drowned in Blasts for a few bars. I have to say, either this stuff is great or I’m just in a very open mood after enjoying Melechesh so much, because after what must be nearly 8-minutes of noisy Blasting, I’m not brain-fatigued like I’d usually be. Then, just in case I might be, Ishan says the song’s title and the music calms down into some nice, almost Dream Theater sounding slow dark, atmospheric groove. The bass is very emotional sounding and the solo’s sound is reminiscent of heartbreak. The vocals are the best I’ve ever hear out of anyone in Black Metal’s sphere. Then it ends.
Blasty Blast and the Blasts, or ‘Enscorcelled by Khaos’ as it likes to e known, starts next, with some Blasts. Its all very pounding and intense. Sometimes it has this uplifting keyboard thing in the background that saves it just being clicking noise. Then all the Metal cuts out and a Classical Musical influenced section adds some nice diversity to the proceedings. That’s then taken and melded into the Metal with a very enjoyable Blast Free but very double-kicky section. Then a fantastic and immensely enjoyable keyboard line comes in and gives the whole affair this really important sounding feel. It feels like it could play over the death scene of a long running TV character and not sound weird. Imagine Inspector Morse dying to that… it would almost work. For a good minute or two afterwards, every section they come up with is golden. I guess Emperor are pretty damn talented after all. Shame I don’t have a Blast-Beat-boner like a lot of people seem to, or else this whole album would be really fantastic for me. When that key-line I mentioned earlier returns later in the song its so majestic and triumphant sounding. Then the band do the impossible, follow that with a Blast section that’s actually enjoyable. They follow that with a similarly intense bit with this bittersweet female choir sound that might be humans or a keyboard, that I really enjoy. The song ends in teased out feedback.
‘The Loss And Curse Of Reverence’ opens with Blasting but this time I’m not worried. And I needn’t be. It goes into a fun Cradle Of Filth sounding jaunty dark bit with fun evil-puppet sounding rhythm guitar and a swirling angry crow sounding guitar lead. The Blast section which follows has this big fat Ice Queen keyboard bit that sounds like a boss level from a JRPG. Its amazing what a difference a keyboard can make to whether or not I’ll enjoy listening to a solid minute of blasts or not. The riff that follows sounds like a march of wooden toy soldiers around an important cup of tea. Then at about 3.33 there’s this brilliant bit with normal sounding drums and guitars and a toned-down more linear key part that just really floats my boat. If this is what Emperor are about, then I’m starting to find myself a little bit interested in Emperor.
There’s more repetition of earlier parts next. It reminds me of the good parts of Carpathian Forest. The slow hanging bit towards the end where he keeps shouting ‘A gun’ is excellent.
Then the coolest thing on the album so far starts off, ‘The Acclamation Of Bonds.’ Which I’m sure is not a song about awarding investors. Everything that happens for about the first two minutes is just brilliant sounding, especially the sort of triumphant melodic Keyboard parts that share that Lord Of The Rings mountaintop vibe with some vocal lines from Melodic Euro Power Metal bands. Then there’s a bit around 2.40 that switches between decent Extreme Metal and a hilarious bit that sounds like a Ghosts-in-the-woods level of a SNES game. Its all very Ghouls And Goblins. I expect to get turned into a duck at any second.
The song loses a few points when it devolves into Blasting with no keys, but then it turns into a brilliant tribute to Metallica’s ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’ unexpectedly and I kind of give them the points back, for taking a risk that could be awful and cheesy but which works well.
The next song is called ‘With Strength I Burn.’ It opens with noisy guitars and double kicks but no Blasts. Its all very entertaining, if a little one dimensional. There’s a cool bit when they slow down, and the keys move slightly slower than the rest of the song. Then those brilliant clean vocals come back, its one of the coolest bits on the album so far. If the band concentrated more on this sort of sound I’d be a huge fan. I wonder if Ishan’s solo material is like this. Its supposed to be a) brilliant and b) suitable for Prog fans. Tempting. Also Enslaved’s recent albums.
The track turns into some slow croaky talking and some epic sort of horns hinting at ELP but much more tasteful this time. The vocals in the bit that follow actually remind me of Stratovarius. This section is awesome. You could sell me on trying out a Black Metal album with a clip of this section. The keys sound very sad, like the bit in the intro to Lord Of The Rigns where the lady narrates all the sad events in the film’s pre-history, like Golem loosing his ring and all that business.
Then some characterless Blast sections broken up by a cut-to-just-a-vocal-scream-over-silence like I like. It doesn’t spoil the song, but I do find my attention wandering a little until the nice little lead guitar part comes in next, keeping that LOTR Narration vibe put to more a rockin’ sound y’all.
‘The Wanderer’ comes in next and reminds me of Metallica’s more Epic moments like ‘Orion’ and ‘Outlaw Torn.’ I’m saying Epic a lot. I went off “Epic.” I wonder why its coming back? Better keep an eye on that. See what’s going on. Oh cool. That was a whole song that was just all good. All of it. No attention quicksand traps. No “maybe I’ll just check my email now” tempters. Nice one lads.
‘In Longing Spirit’ follows with a very promising intro, that shifts into a cool shuffly slow bit with some odd dancing double kicks and then the whole thing sort of melts like a circus falling off a cliff and reassembles into a great little groove. It reminds me a lot of Sabbath’s debut. Only as if Cradle Of Filth covered it because of the keys. The talking vocals are a nice bit of variety even if they aren’t totally serious sounding. Halfway point and I like everything that’s happened in this song so far though. That’s a good sign. Who knew a Black Metal album that the internet actually said was good could be good. I mean, I know I enjoy Defending The Throne Of Evil, but I’ve never seen people queuing up to give it the credit it deserves. Speaking of Carprathian Forest, when this song goes into its stompy finale it reminds me of ‘The Well Of All Human Tears.’ Oh, and would you look at that, another song that was good all the way through. Just shows what you can do when you don’t insist on Blasting endlessly. That come across as if I am a massive dick. Apologies. But yeah, I like Emperor when they aren’t blasting, or at least aren’t just Blasting with no nifty keyboards to ease the wall of noise effect.
The album closes out with ‘Opus A Satana’ which is just all good. Its just an entire piece of classical music, its very entertaining. Its better than the score to most Final Fantasy games, and kind of in the same vein. Its very evocative of travelling and overcoming danger. There are parts of it where only the word ‘majesty’ can accurately describe the sound. The bit at about 3.30 could make me cry, its bloody fantastic. The way the track builds to a conclusion is really satisfactory. Vey, very, very good track.
Now. If they could successfully mix the sounds and sheer quality of those last three tracks into one singular, well crafted, and logically blended song, that would be absolutely amazing. I’d buy the fuck out of that.
Ok. So. What did I think of the album? Well, I really rather enjoyed it. There were about 10 minutes out of its 44 minute duration I could’ve done without, but for me, with a Black Metal album, that’s pretty much a miracle.
I don’t know if its just my mood, maybe I’d hate it if I’d heard it tomorrow, who knows?
Well, it was certainly educational. I’ll be sure to listen to it again in the future, I’ll let you know if it grows on me more. As for now, mental checkbox Emperor=”good.”
See y’all later. Drop me a comment if you want to read one of these about a specific album.