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I know many will disagree with me, but I think that Emperor's self-title EP and "As the Shadows Rise" are much better than "In the Nightside Eclipse" for two reasons and is the best of their pre and post "Anthems" material. My main beef with "In the Nightside Eclipse" was with the production. There was a ridiculous (almost comical) amount of reverb that simply did not work with the guitars, reducing them to an indecipherable and hollow buzz that was smothered by synth and drums. The other problem I had was with the remakes of "I Am the Black Wizards" and "Cosmic Keys." They just sounded rushed and were pale imitations of the originals, which I thought were nearly perfect.
I'll start by saying that I love the production and mix of this release. It has a very clear and warm sound, unlike most BM albums and also has an appropriate amount of reverb, which is even more rare in black metal. Every instrument can be picked out easily, except for the bass. It can be heard, but you have to listen a few times to really know what you are looking for since the distortion makes it blend in with the guitars, giving off the impression that it is turned down too low, but really it is not since it can be easily recognized once you get familar with it. My favorite thing is the drum sound: thick and natural. The bass drums sound awesome like on a real drumset (triggers: BARF) and don't have that really, really, really gay and unnatural "click" sound like most metal albums which is just terrible and I can't stress how strongly I truly, truly hate that godawful noise. The toms sound great too. Every time I listen to this I can barely resist the urge to start drumming all over the place. It has nothing to do with the production, but I think Bard's drumming is a lot more creative here than on "Nightside" where he pretty much did what any other black metal drummer would do, which is to play with little to no expression or style of their own. Not much else to say about that. Hearing this while stoned makes me want to melt. Mmm-mmm-mmm...
Now, the songs themselves are roughly on the same level as "Wrath of the Tyrant" but maybe a little more atmospheric and with less Celtic Frost coming through. The keyboards are probably where the extra atmosphere comes from, but the riffing seems to have adjusted a bit to better incorporate that element as I can't see them fitting in very well on the "Wrath..." demo. I've noticed a few people didn't like the keyboards during the chorus to "Night of the Graveless Souls," but I love them. They sound a little goofy, but in my opinion black metal can't be taken seriously anyway since it and most of it's participants are so far from the reality of this world. That part actually reminds me of Sigh, who would record their godly and recklessly adventurous debut just a year later in 1993.
I've always liked Emperor's early lyrics. They're dark, but not overwhelmingly so and seem to be mostly concerned with painting some weird/interesting fantasies about witches, black magic and whatnot like something from a Nintendo game or a japanese super hero show like a few seasons of the Super Sentai series. Icing on the cake.
In my opinion this is where Emperor started to develope their own sound and set themselves apart from what was going on around them at the time by writing music that was harsh, slightly complex, beautiful and inventive, but more importantly mature. In 1992 Emperor were way ahead of their peers because unlike Darkthrone, they didn't sound like a parody and unlike Burzum their music wasn't half-assed and with poor and incompetent musicianship. Both of those bands had some great songs and ideas, but neither had a sound as deep and sophisticated as Emperor at the time. Darkthrone could have, but they decided to give up playing real music after "A Blaze In the Northern Sky." The only other band I can think of that had released anything at the time that matches up in mood/atmos and originality was Hungary's Tormentor, who had sadly disbanded a year or so before.
This is classic early BM, but with brains and talent, not one or the other. I highly recommend this to new and seasoned black metal fans whether you like your music simple or complex as it is somewhere in the middle.