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The first four songs on this collection were part of the "Hordane's Land" split with Enslaved, and show Emperor's progressing style at its raw, epic peak. Though two of the four songs would be re-recorded on the debut In the Nightside Eclipse, the undeniable fury and craft behind these songs has made them legendary. The two songs that didn't see the light of day past this release are overlooked classics in their own rights, and as a whole, the Emperor EP is a true testament to the spirit of old-school Norwegian black metal.
For being such a young band, Emperor were admirable songsmiths. Upon first listen, I was incredibly surprised at the maturity in songwriting skills. Epic, twisting passages powered by driving guitars take the listener through mainly mid-paced territory, but there are some faster, more intense moments as well. Key changes in time and mood are well-calculated, and the songs seem almost Wagnerian in structure. "Cosmic Keys to My Creations and Times" is a good example of this, where the classic stampeding tremolo riffs shift gears into dirgy Celtic Frost ground and medieval-sounding rhythms. Other numbers are darker in nature, especially "Wrath of the Tyrant," which is entirely powered by evil, jagged melodies and pounding drumwork by Faust. By no means are these songs formulaic, though the core of each songs is based around roughly 3 or 4 riffs that find their niche without wearing out their welcome. The poetic and cryptic lyrics (though very stereotypical for the genre) give each of the songs a very ancient feel, which is only aided by the grimy, buzzsaw production in the guitars. Some keyboards make an appearance and tastefully add some ominus classical flair; jarring strings on "I am the Black Wizards," eerie ambience on "Wrath of the Tyrant," and tumbling pizzacato strings on the ripping "Night of the Graveless Souls." They're not as prominent as they would be in future material, but serve their purpose well with a deep, pitch-black atmosphere. Ihsahn's vocals are much more "screamy" here, but still maintain the high-pitched shriek that we see on the band's debut. His blood-soaked vocals actually sound better here, as they're clearer in the mix and have a rougher sound to them, which brings out the best in the lo-fi production.
Faust's drumwork has become a standard for the genre, and the first four songs here prove why. His double bass chops are incredible; flurrying runs of sixteenth notes pound underneath of tightly-executed thrash beats, and the old-school blast beats are nothing short of destructive. Unlike most drummers in the genre though, Faust understands the aesthetics of the music and knows when to "just" keep time and let the music breathe while maintaining an impressive arsenal of transitions and fills. Not only does this help him out by showing consistency, but helps the whole band because Faust isn't going apeshit the whole time.
While the first 4 songs do prove to be some of the most legendary songs that Emperor has put out, the demo inluded on the disc, aptly titled Wrath of the Tyrant, shows a side of the band that some of us would have rather not seen. Some songs are underdeveloped and unnecessary, mainly "Forgotten Centuries" and the juvenile-sounding "Lord of the Storms." The music is certainly darker and more death metal-oriented, but the blasting, nearly unlistenable garage production renders the songs helpless. Hell, the production on this demo makes the Emperor EP look like a high-budget deal. Samoth's drum abilities, while competent, are certainly nothing special; and the flat sound of the drums doesn't help either. The guitars have a suitably thicker tone, but almost verge on irritating by being too high in the mix and distorting the overall sound. Ihsahn's vocals, which are typical black metal and nothing more, fade in and out of the mix, and the overbearing echo on them make things hard to distinguish. As a unit, the band are somewhat sloppy in their delivery, and though raw instrumentation is tolerated in black metal, this sounds amateur.
That being said, the drop-tune riffs do give this demo an atmospheric edge over the first half of the collection; the more primitive and stripped-down structures have become a holy grail for minimalists. All of the songs have a more evil edge to them, probably due to the death metal tendencies still present in the band's sound.
So, if you want the real essential core of this compilation, get Emperor's half of the split EP with Enlsaved. I would only reccommend the demo for completists of the band.