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With their first few releases, full-length or otherwise, Emperor solidified their status as the most progressive of their kind, on a level of musicality. The single "The Loss and Curse of Reverence" gave a glimpse of what was to come; a far more intense and epic beast, on a level of its own. Anthems seperates itself from the band's debut album in many ways; the keyboards now serve an integral part of the band's sound, instead of background ambience. Pompous, sweeping crescendos of brass and strings give all of the songs a distinct medieval atmosphere, and the lyrics only help to aid in this. Trym's entrance to the band certainly brings a more extreme and chaotic edge to Emperor's sound; this is the same guy who played on Enslaved's album Frost, so you know it's gonna be crazy. The majority of his works are blast-beat centered, but this isn't regular mid-paced blasting seen in most black metal. We're talking insanely fast superhuman drumming. One listen to "Ensorcelled by Khaos" or the end of "Ye Entrancemperium" will show you the new ground that has been broken.
As a songwriting unit, the band have stepped up tremendously. Things are chaotic and a swirling, high-speed haze at first listen, but most listeners will come to find that Samoth and Ihsahn are playing some fairly technical riffs, especially on "Thus Spake the Nightspirit." Both guitarists exchange dissonant-sounding octave harmonies, and the tremolo riffs ascend chromatic scales for a maddening and climatic feel. Truth be told, there are only a handful of moments that even remotely resemble old Emperor, as the band opted for a more sophisticated and epic sound. The only thing that will really resemble the band's debut album is "The Acclamation of Bonds," which is driven forward by pounding double bass and flurries of speed-picked power chords. One other noticeable difference in the band's approach is the fact that the guitars are only secondary to the keyboards; this is generally frowned upon in black metal, but the keyboard lines tend to purvey the atmosphere better in this case, not the guitars. "With Strength I Burn" is a perfect example, where the keyboards play the main role up until the ending. Also a thing of notice are the band's cultivated ability to write songs of narrative proportions; riffs are rarely repeated in cycles, favored in a sort of thing where the lyrics do the talking for the songs. Speaking of which, Ihsahn's lyrics are nothing like that of what Mortiis wrote. This is where the classic Emperor style of writing began, and is shown wonderfully on "The Loss and Curse of Reverence." These lyrics may be a bit too snooty and pretentious for some black metal fans, but the change is certainly welcomed in the context of the music.
Ihsahn's performance is also a step up. His voice is more throaty and clearer than previously, and it's a miracle that you can actually hear him in the songs. Some clean vocals are attempted at points through the album; some are decent, some not so decent. The spoken word passage in "The Loss and Curse of Reverence" is somewhat cheesy, but the clean vocals in "With Strength I Burn" are some of the best clean vocals ever put down by Ihsahn.
Trym's performance, jaw-dropping as it may be, borders on mind-numbing. He takes a bit too much enthusiasm for the blast beats, "Ensorcelled by Khaos" serving as a prime example. When he's not pounding his snare into a shattered pulp, the bass drums take a heavy beating; and that's not always a good thing. Constant streams of sixteenth notes run underneath the music, but it becomes repetitive fast. Trym certainly has some chops, but everything is too one-way for my taste. To me, drums were never really important in black metal, even in the chaotic, high-speed stuff. But apparently, Trym doesn't think so. He's not quite as bad as Hellhammer, but there are certainly some borderline attention-whore moments. Some of the fills are kind of random and lame, and don't really serve their purpose of transitioning the music through its phases. The man certainly is a force to be reckoned with, though.
And once again, I have some problems with the production. It's much clearer than In the Nightside Eclipse, but the guitars are fairly hard to decipher at points due to the veil of the keyboards and the drums, which are entirely too loud in the mix. Things get a bit too clusterfucked during the faster moments, so all of this is hard to take in upon initial listens. But, like most black metal, it only serves the atmospheric charm of the music, and is an acquired taste.
Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk may not be Emperor's "best" album, but certainly is their most evolved before going off the deep end with IX Equilibrium. If really ferocious but sophisticated and epic metal is your cup o' tea, give this album a listen.