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The long journey starts with a return - through the gates of Death to revelations once abhorred, yet lucid before the eyes of the one who reentered. Shall a circle be completed? Indeed, but still to reopen his eyes - whence he shall behold his blindness.
Fueled by dare and the presence of the Nightspirit - with whom the journey commences - the now lone rider engages in a quest unto the infinite realms of the yet unknown, and of that which shall eternally remain unfathomed. Through the unavoidable questions of the nihilist individual, through longing comes the end within obscurity - beyond the Grey Havens of the soaring cliffs.
This is pure beauty, as the shimmer of the moon above the rim of the mountains. I fail to settle down on a single term to define the atmosphere of the album, as themes range from the realms of the astral to Faustian and metaphysic compositions. Uncountable layers of sound interweave to create a complex lattice, bearing hidden elements of sound which are gradually unveiled at each spin, granting the listener another key - to yet unlock the door of another maze. As I discover new details, I still ponder how many of them are still left unfound out there among the lyrics and music.
The album bursts into the clear and silent night of “Alsvartr” and commences with the galloping “Ye Entrancemperium” which rides on as a cavalcade through a thunderstorm. Rapidly changing riffs and drum beats crush you as melodies sweep in among them, giving a divine touch to all. It is as if the grand forces of nature, fair and wrathful were invoked unto tape in the course of this recording.
What’s nice in the whole arrangement of the album is that the lyrical theme, to speak, the beauty in the pain of he who ever yearns actually comes to life in the music. As I have already stated and I shall elaborate further in this review, the music changes rapidly and in a surprisingly smooth manner, facing its rise and immediate fall in accord with the lyrical narrative. And I do not refer to the closing track only. Seldom do I get to hear anything so fantastically crafted in both dimensions. An attempt to recall the tortured beauty of “Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk” on following piece “Equilibrium - IX” didn’t result in such a brilliant output - since it was that lyrical harmony that the latter lacked in its rather static themes and introverted notion of violence.
Speaking about the lyrics - these may seem solely nihilistic at glance (“I sought a plague for those who smiled at walls in humble fear”track 4; “Honor, commended no longer as virtue yet shall be extolled by light’s demise”track 5), yet hidden among the carefully chosen words and pompous verses are the deep soulscapes of their writer. Ihsan doesn’t seem to be afraid of breaking the emotional limits of his songs beyond the now rather clichéd black metal misanthropy. Just like nature, fragile within its might and complexity, they are the soul of an entity sad and proud, young and old which is Emperor. The voice in which they are uttered changes according to their content - ranging from whispers of deep yearning and belligerent harsh vocals to “heroic” cleans at the landmark closing track.
This recording is unlike everything else - it grips you hard even in places where, despite the close match they hold with the Emperors in my playlist, bands like Arcturus somehow make my mind wander away from the music. Just to give you a clue of what I’m talking about, I think I should mention “Ensorcelled by khaos” and “The loss and the curse of reverence”. Both of the tracks gave me quite a hard time back then when I was a black metal newbie, thus becoming two memorable favorites. The former features a dissonant riff accompanied by synth horns or clarinets that don’t really show at the first time. The latter slowly builds up its tension - higher and higher toward a climax, wherein strings come up to the front just to be replaced with something similar to the opening piccicato pattern but more melodic. These come to accompany a short spoken part somehow criticized as being a bit cheesy, but I reckon it is just in place to serve the whole emperial ceremony. The song subsequently breaks into a sweeping waltz as if to celebrate the pompous words of Ihsan. As mentioned before, I was quite impressed by the way in which the lyrics and the music of this album synchronize with each other: holding mutual conversations, or filling up expressional parts that the other fails to achieve. I find it quite rare in black metal or metal as a genre wherein, for better or for worse, the music comes as one monolithic chunk of sound.
I will not move on to the summary without saying a few words regarding the album’s closing track. But I need say no more than enthrone it as one of the best moments among all vast emperial creations. “With Strength I Burn” follows the slight sink caused by track 6, which I reckon being one of the weaker moments on this album. As if to conclude the masterpiece, and as recollections of a long journey, the music takes turns among the trademark combinations of its sound: storm like black metal, bitter-sweetly touching melodrama and theatrical spoken parts. I shall say no more. I do want to leave thou unprejudiced. Just listen to the music and read the lyrics while doing so. The songs in this album don’t really shine out till their lyrics are thoroughly read. Even when they are, it takes a little time until they really catch, but they’re in forever when they do.
Weak points: as above stated, “The Acclamation Bonds”. The song itself is not that bad but there’s nothing too unique about it among the other songs in this album, rendering a bit of a 5:54 redundancy. Its lyrical concept too is not as clear and consistent as on the other tracks. Furthermore, if you want to hear and get acquainted with pure black metal this is not the album for you. Clear production comparing to previous releases and complex riffery doesn’t remind anything of the original agenda of this genre in its production of dirtyfilthy sound. If you want to know better about black metal, listen to previous achievements of this band or earlier acts as Burzum or Darkthrone.
Still, back then I was a late newcomer to Norwegian black metal and this was the first release in the genre that I’ve ever purchased. Previously holding only a shallow and unobligatory relationship with the dark realms of doom metal, I must admit that this gave a 180 degrees turn to my whole perspective toward extreme music and inspired my writing deeply. This is a complex piece of art for a beginners purchase but I do not regret it, since it gave me the ability to fully appreciate quality black metal and distinguish it from other blueprint junk which unfortunately became so common in the recent years. I highly recommend it to any of you newcomers out there. It is a truly rewarding challenge and a magnificent piece of art.