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Reviewing a video release is a little different from critiquing an album, or an original work - it offers fewer alternatives in expression, and little room for originality in description. Because a live video is primarily a reproduction of material already released on prior albums, and at its best a presentation of a side of the band often far removed from listeners' minds - the live aspect, the power of performance - the criticism turns away from the music to focus on the presentation before you. It would be as senseless to criticize the music of Emperor in reviewing this video as it would be to comment derogatorily (if such was ever my intention) on their live performances when taking a look at their albums. Also, in reviewing a video I think a lot of the emphasis should be on the quality of the production values - the assembling of the product, the filming of the video, the editing, the sound, and in general all the characteristics of the video that go into setting certain standards of excellence (or the opposite) for the reproduction of the live performance. How faithful, or authentic, is the performance on tape compared to the same in reality? Is it an adequate reflection of Emperor's true power when they play live? Does it add or take something away from the viewer's opinion of their performing ability? Is the video artistic in itself, enhancing your understanding of the band and their motives, or is it propaganda - seeking only to enforce a single image or view of the music? These are all questions that come to me when I think of the process of reviewing an official video release like this.
I am very pleased to say that I feel this is an excellent release, and the aesthetics of the video were planned to express a very simple, concise, and realistic editing style: you will not find many 'artistic' embellishments here (there are a few notable exceptions), no extended segments of quick cuts and strobe-flashing shots flying from one member of the band to another - no real attempt to make the images somehow 'reflect' the music itself, or become a demonstration of the pace or energy in the music. That is a relief for me: I don't need a video editor interpreting Emperor's music for me, and I don't need a demonstration of 'speed' for example, through pulsing cuts from camera to camera, when I can hear very well for myself that the music is indeed incredibly fast (this is a mistake the editor of the clip for 'The Loss and Curse of Reverence' made - there are few more impressive displays of speed in metal music than just seeing one wide-angled shot of a band as all the members bend themselves to their instruments, pushing them as fast as they can). For the most part the video switches from side to side through about four or five different camera angles, spending time on each member of the band - even though most of the time the cameras are trained on Ihsahn, as he is both the musical and visual center of the band. Standing in a white shirt, his close-shorn head contrasting with the wind-milling locks of Samoth and Tyr to his sides, dressed in darker clothes, he becomes the centerpiece and is often flooded with light. Wearing his guitar lightly strapped to his chest, he almost effortlessly moves between lead melodies and the lower, heavier rhythms, spinning in and out of the song structures while he holds the entire thing together. It is especially interesting to see him switch through all his different vocal styles, from death grunting to high screaming to operatic choruses with Tyr and the keyboards. I had heard, before I saw this video, of Ihsahn's true part in the band - his central position as song-writer, lyricist, and main composer - and now I must add central performer to that list as well, he is the heart of Emperor, and this video makes that reality very clear.
In between each song on this video there is a quick fade-to-black, and the song title is displayed - adding a little aesthetic touch to the progress of the show, and also serving to define each song as an entity in itself, almost splitting up this one performance into a collection of individual displays. It's a good idea, I feel - it serves to highlight the fact that Emperor's material, as technical, powerful, and groundbreaking as it is, is not merely a random collection of songs written on a single theme, under one voice (Ihsahn's), but rather a selection of different stories, with a distinctive evolution evident in each one, and with different patterns of relevance. That notion of the artistic importance of Emperor, their legacy and influence, is compounded by the song selection - they go all the way back to 'Night of the Graveless Souls', and it is very instructive to hear that song, for example, in between two slices of their current material. Have they really changed that much over the years? This video tries to answer that question, among others.
I would also like to add that the sound on this video is very good, reproducing all the instruments very clearly (especially the drums and Ihsahn's guitar), while filtering out most of the noise of the crowd, and so that only adds to the enjoyment - you can truly hear how well Emperor reproduces the material from their albums in a live setting, and in the few spaces where there have been changes, it is interesting to note what has been left out or added, and why. The good sound on this recording offers some viewpoints on the band not possible before.
Ultimately this video is a very entertaining work, both for the casual fan of the band and the more intent follower. I would recommend it in a second, if anyone - even a very knowledgeable Emperor devotee - asked me personally, and so I will also recommend it in this review. I have the feeling that this video will be especially popular in the areas (such as the US) where Emperor have not had the chance to tour widely, and I think it can only increase the hunger of those audiences for an authentic display, in the flesh. I, for one, hope to see Emperor on their next tour. This release is a powerful testament to their abilities as original and creative musicians.
Ihsahn is known to be a great composer since his childhood, creating complex lines and harmonies for many instruments that intertwine in a beautiful and yet brutal form. From his early and "rawer" Emperor demos until his current projects (Ihsahn and Peccatum) that has been true, but for me there was always one small problem: the keyboards were waaay to loud.
In this recording, this was taken care of. The first time I watched I was shocked to be able to see and hear for the first time what they were actually playing beneath all those keyboards. What in "Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk" was a brutal onslaught of almost indiscernible instruments became a clear presentation of what each of them were doing in sight and sound. The criticism on "IX Equilibrium"'s excess of melodic arrangements falls to the ground as both guitars ascend to show their virtuous dissonant harmony of brutality (I know it sounds exaggerated, but the contrast is really evident). The drums and bass also seem to have more attention, giving proper weight and harshness, now in proper ballance with the keyboards and melodic lines in general.
Overall it's a great album, with a great choice of songs perfectly executed. The only downsides are that it is way too short, missing some major songs as The Loss and Curse of Reverence (which they tried to compensate providing the video clip in the DVD at the end of the concert), Into The Infinity Of Thoughts, The Burning Shadows Of Silence etc., and also that the audio is a bit too low.
Having had the opportunity to experience their live devastation on their first proper US tour, I can honestly attest that Emperor was one of the best black metal gigs I've personally witnessed. Even the material from Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk and IX Equilibrium, albums that I don't revere nearly as much as many of their other fans, seemed to take on a new life in the stage setting, dispensing with the sterility I've often related to their studio incarnations. The Emperial Live Ceremony package, which was recorded at a London gig in 1999, is a pretty honest and tight sounding representation of such an experience, and will probably best suit those many followers likely never had the chance to check them out due to age or location restrictions during the Norwegians' prime in popularity.
This was released in VHS, DVD and CD format, the last of which is what I'm covering here. The set list is pretty much what I remember from their tour, opening with some ambiance and then "Curse You All Men!". The whole set is about 49 minutes long, and the sound, while not perfect, very well captures the drumming, guitars and vocals. Trym is his usual, living storm-self while the guitars feel punchy, punctual and every wild thread of lead resonates over the denser and vicious substrate of the recording. I admit I can't really make out so much of the base, not that it has ever been the most important ingredient in their mixture, and the synths do seem a little lost in the shuffle, but nonetheless Emperial Live Ceremony captures the band's proficiency like few live albums of its sort are able to for their respective artists. All of that clinical, studio efficiency that so many worshiped (or feared out of envy) is presented in the flesh, and the shifts from soaring, clean vocals to Ihsahn's trademark rasp are seamless.
As for the set-list selected, this heavily favors the more recent pair of albums. "Curse You All Men!", "An Elegy of Icaros" and "Sworn" are present from IX Equilibrium, and Anthems is represented with "Thus Spake the Nightspirit", "With Strength I Burn", "Ye Entrancemperium". I can imagine at the time I was rather upset by this, but all of these are given excellent showings here, in particular "Sworn" and "Thus Spake..." which sound superb. For earlier fare, they've of course included "I Am the Black Wizards" and "Inno A Satana" off In the Nightside Eclipse and Night of the Graveless Souls from their s/t EP, and honestly this stuff is just as good if not better than the newer material. I can't recall the exact set list from the Palladium, but I believe they might have also played a few other IX Equilibrium tracks, or varied them.
Regardless, Emperial Live Ceremony accomplishes what it seeks to and justifies its existence, a clean and snappy performance. Candlelight and the band were wise in waiting a few years to issue a live performance as product, one of those rare cases where it isn't rushed out the door or shat forth with a bunch of others like Iron Maiden has been guilty of in the past. In fact, this is one of the more solid black metal live recordings I own, even if part of me would have wished for more of the old school material.
This is THE Emperor album. In my opinion, at least. I have always liked Emperor, but after hearing this Live album on a friends computer I rushed out and got the cd and the dvd. Why? Because this Live Recording made me love Emperor.
But before I get to how many faces this album owns, I want to point out its only flaws. One being that this show is far too short, even one more track would make a world of difference and get this album a 100. But two or three more tracks would have been very, very nice. I would have liked to see Beyond the Great Vast Forest, Ancient Queen, and Witches Sabbath. But the songs they were more likely to play, The Curse and Loss of Reverence and Cosmic Keys to my Creation and Times would have been welcomed as well.
The only other problem, aside from that, is the inclusion of one song too many from XI Equilibrium. I know it was the album they were promoting for this tour, but three was a few too many tracks from that good(far from great) album.
But with that said and done, lets get to the reason why I think this is the best Emperor release.
This album, not only contains some of my favorite Emperor songs, but it also has them in a light I have never seen before. The 'light' is great quality. I always liked songs like Night of the Graveless souls, but to hear them play it and have it sound as excellent as it does is just awe inspiring. There was so much to this song I missed from the earlier recordings. Same with the songs from In Nightside Eclipse and even the ones from Anthems are improved.
The album takes off very well, with the exception of the long build up to the first song, with Curse you All Men! The best track from XI E. But after this the album does kind of take a down turn for the next track as when comparing them to the songs on the last third of the album, it just doesn't hold up. Like I said earlier, they could have put on some better songs. And Thus Spake the Night Spirit is a perfect example of one I would have traded. But don't get me wrong, the songs like this are still great respectively.
After this we are hit with I Am The Black Wizards, which is one of the best tracks on the album. Nothing I can say about this can justify how awesome this live performance of this song is.
After this we get to the most mediocre part of the album. The next three tracks. Good, but not great. What is great about all these though, is the fact that the vocals are changed a little bit, and the sound and tone is a little bit different. At least to me. And the change is for the better, it brings these songs into a new life.
Now we reach the pinnacle of the album, Night of the Graveless Souls. This one track steals the entire album. After its great drumming intro, it goes into a heavy, and almost crystal clear rendition of one of their best songs. You haven't heard this song until you have heard it on this CD.
After that, we reach the last two songs, Inno a Satana, and Ye Entrancemperium. Two songs that complement each other very well. With how Epic they are, they could almost be sequels to each other. The other great part about these songs is that Ihsahn does the vocals more clean. Which I see fitting the Epic feel a little more then your regular Black Metal Vocals.
One more gripe I would like to mention is that the bass lines are very hard to hear in this, it doesn't take much away, but Tyr is a great bassist and I would have liked to hear him play a bit more in the mix.
But after all is said and done it looks like my bitching out weights the good parts of it that I mentioned. But don't let it fool you, this is a great album and worth whatever money it takes to buy it or whatever time it takes to find it(hard to come by where I live). This is easily in my top ten greatest Live albums, if not number one. And this can easily go into my top 25 albums of all time.
Simply put, get this fuckin' album. Emperor are still the undisputed kings of Black Metal, if you ask me.
Performance-wise, Emperor was tight as hell on this show. This is the only time I've seen Emperor play live. From what I read of their live performances, Emperor was better experienced thru their recorded material not thru their concerts. Well that was certainly disproved for me after I watched this dvd. Emperor is a solid live unit. I didn't realize until now how Ihsahn dominated most of the guitar parts as he was responsible for most if not all of the guitar fills and solos in their live setting. But I'll echo the sentiments of the other two people who reviewed this in saying that the performance was too short. I'm pretty sure this isn't the complete set that Emperor played at the London Astoria. How I wish they could've added more songs to this dvd. Conspicously missing are classics like "The Loss and Curse of Reverence" and "Cosmic Keys to My Creations and Times." But again, Emperor's performance here is flawless. "With Strength I Burn" is even better live than on cd.
However, as a dvd, this leaves a lot to be desired. There's a lot of things I found irritiating on this dvd. First, in-between songs, they fade the scene to black simply just to put the title of the next song on a plain black screen. It messes with the flow of the show. Why couldn't they just continue with the scene and flash the title on the screen? Second, they do this fast camera work alternating crowd and band shots for EVERY blastbeat part.
The cameras also focus too much on Ihsahn. Drummer Trym seems to be second in the camera exposure hierarchy but it could've been better if they occasionally focused the camera on his kick drums as he's a monster with the blastbeat. Samoth, Tyr and Charmond Grimloch are relegated to the sidelines as most of their shots are incidental (or how close they get to the oft-focused Ihsahn).
I'm not too hot about the 'special features'.I wasn't too excited with the inclusion of the video of "The Loss and Curse of Reverence" as I already had it as bonus on the expanded edition of Athems. Plus, there's not much in terms of special features - just a discography and a photo gallery. An interview would've been a nice touch.
I'd say that "Emperial Live Ceremony" is a victim of its age. This was released back in 2001 and the special features may have been special back then but are merely ordinary compared to the added features on most of today's dvd releases.
This isn't a definitive Emperor dvd. But it certainly is a good release that captures the band in its fine (and rare?) live element.
(Review I wrote for progressiveears.com 6/24/2004)
Unfortunate for me, I happened along Emperor when they decided to call it quits. So I got to miss seeing one of Norway's most infamous black metal bands play live (I keep hoping for Zyklon to come to the USA, but I guess that ain't happening soon). I did, however, find this release of a show at the London Astoria circa the Equilibrium tour.
First, the good stuff-the video has not just a really great concert on it, but a photo gallery, web links and other goodies (such as "Loss and Curse of Reverence" as the video) on it. The gallery plays like a slide show to the live soundtrack from the concert. The songs are introduced with subtitles that do not detract from the live footage.
Furthermore, these guys are great live-a lot of energy and excellent playing. Trym has to be the most laid back looking drummer I have ever laid eyes on, even more than Jon Kleiman (ex-Monster Magnet). Here's this pounding drumbeat that would have Baldy Ulrich's face contorted so that his receding hairline would be on his chin, yet Trym makes everything look effortless. The guitar work is fantastic, although the way Samoth just tears into his Jackson, you feel like telling him, "OKAY! You can stop! It's DEAD now!" Very ferocious, energetic show.
Now, the bad-first and foremost-it's too short. For a DVD, they could've at least added "Decrystallising Reason" and any other cut out tracks to it (I wrote this prior to learning of the technical difficulties they had with "Decrystallizing reason" and "Loss and Curse of Reverence" during the filming). Also, the camera work bothered the crap outta me. I know they like audience shots, but c'mon...at 24$ for this puppy, I want to see Samoth and Ihsahn, not some stoned-off-his-ass skinhead crowdsurfing. The speeded up bits during some of Trym's drumming did nothing for me and just looked retarded.
Aside from that, though, it was an excellent concert video. If you like black metal and don't have this, I strongly suggest getting it.
This is the Emperors, and anything by Emperor is excelent (of course!) This wonderful DVD version I have showcases the great ones, performing all their great hits, from "Inno A Satanas" to the mighty "Ye Entranceperium" monster.
Everything is crisp clear, with great color production shots of the band (unlike other live videos/DVDs that don't have up-close shots of the members.) May I also add that in this DVD, the cameras get great shots of Samoth, which for most metal DVD's, for some strange reason, they don't give guitarists many camera shots. C'mon, isn't that what metal is mostly about, the almighty guitar?! So this DVD definitally get's great shots of all the members (even the keyboardist, who isn't apart of the band) and not to mention the crazy English fans that night. Speaking of crazy, the DVD also showcases how insane Emperor can be live. Just check out Trym's crazy drumming, he makes his work look like a piece of cake!
As I mentioned, the DVD showcases all the bands big hits, but what I personally don't like about the DVD is that the band plays a lot of their new stuff from "IX Equilibrium," which is an album from Emperor I least like. Also, another negative thing about the DVD is the lack of special features it has. It has a picture gallery, but it could've been better instead of showing the same pictures over and over again (I don't know if that was left intentional or a mistake by the producers.) There is a discorgraphy in the DVD, but it doesn't give as much info for each release as expected. Also, there are scren savers for the PC, but the screen savers aren't that great (actually, they're quite annoying when you download them into the PC, because they're very noisy.) If the special features were alittle better, the DVD would've gotten a perfect 100.
Overall, the DVD is excelent, with great live shots of the band and shows the band playing all their best stuff. Most of it is from their Equilibrium stuff, but they also play classics from Anthems and Nightsahde Eclipse (not to mention one classic from their Emperor EP, called "Night Of The Graveless Souls.") Everything on the DVD shows how brilliant Emperor really is, and this is highly recomended for those who never had the opportunity to catch Emperor live. That's the main reason I got this DVD, and I can actually say that I've seen the Emperors live... just from my room :-)
Eye Catchers: All of the live performances; nothing will bore you with their performances.
While the music that is here is impeccable, I can't help but wish that there were more of it. 45 minutes is simply not enough for a modern live album, considering that is only about half the available space on a cd. That being said, this album is an amazing look at a very talented, if troubled, band.
The disc opens with Curse You All Men, the first song from IX Equilibrium, and it is a faithful reproduction of the original. At the end of this we can here the intro of Decrystalyzing Reason, one of my favorite songs from IX, and I wish they had recorded the whole thing. Following another great song, Thus Spake the Nightspirit, comes the first highlight, I Am the Black Wizards. Seeing as the production on this live album is light years ahead of both the demo and In the Nightside Eclipse, this one is a treat to listen to. The lead guitar isn't lost in the mix, and Ihsahn's vocals can also be fully appreciated. In addition to the better production, this song also benefits from Trym's amazing abilities behind the drum kit.
Continuing on, we get another song from IX, An Elegy of Icaros, which is probably the weakest song here. Even on the album it drags a bit, and here it really slows the set down. The next song, With Strength I Burn, picks right up where I Am the Black Wizards left off. In my opinion it is the best song on Anthems, and the improved production of the live album really highlights the clean singing and the spoken interlude.
The next song, Sworn, again comes from IX, and once again it is a solid performance, but nothing noteworthy. Following this comes Night of the Graveless Souls, the only song played from the Hordanes Land split album. This one is quite short and fast, and it is nice to see that Emperor remembers their more obscure material.
The end of the album is easily the strongest part. Inno a Satana, like I Am the Black Wizards, sounds amazing with the clearer production. Finally, they play the obligatory Ye Entrancemperium, of which nothing really needs to be said. All in all, if you are an Emperor fan already, this album shoudl already be in your collection, and if you are looking to get into them, this is definitely the best place to start.