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I know I should like In the Nightside Eclipse even more than I do. In past reviews, I make no disguise of the fact that I got into black metal via my interest in progressive and experimental rock, and this is arguably the first album that attempted to merge the genre with a progressive scope. Emperor are a band I could use to shut up any music snob who snipes black metal as necessarily brutish and unmusical. Indeed, most of the Second Wave probably falls under that description, but Emperor were highbrow by contrast. They brought about the rabid aggression of fast black metal, but with it a regal sophistication that seems years beyond the capability of some teens from Norway.
In the Nightside Eclipse deserves to be hailed as a classic. Even if I hated the album, there's no way to argue against the fact that it changed things. The artsy "Third Wave" may not have come to pass the way it did if they hadn't laid the groundwork for complexity. This is by no means the first use of synths or even the first symphonic black metal album (that honour goes to Master's Hammer's The Jilemnice Occultist) but it took the symphonic elements to previously unheard heights. It's a pretty awesome album by today's standards, but I cannot fucking begin to imagine how it would have sounded in 1994.
This is the sort of symphonic black metal opus with layer upon layer of detail to hear. The riffs themselves are fairly technical, but alongside the band's pocket orchestra, it's an overwhelming amount of sound for a 90s black metal band. Therein lies everything that's wrong and right about In the Nightside Eclipse. It was mind-bogglingly ambitious for its day and has stood the test of time because of that hubris. At the end of the day however, the technical limitations are too much to make the most of Emperor's spooky symphony. Their aim outstretched their practical reach here. The result is an atmospheric, dense album where some of the mystique lies in the fact you know the mix has robbed you of hearing everything in its full glory.
I should get my biggest thought towards In the Nightside Eclipse out of the way first. Production was never a focus of the original black metal bands, yet it became one of the genre's most defining aspects. People will talk about shitty production on some of these albums. I think they're missing the point. The productions may have often been low-rent, but the raw fuzz did wonders for a lot of the atmospheres, to the point it sometimes feels more evocative than the performances themselves. When I say In the Nightside Eclipse has a horrible production, it's because I think it works against the intent of the album. The fidelity's a cut above the stuff their mates were doing, but their symphonic angle made a much higher fidelity to do justice to all of the layers.
In the Nightside Eclipse has got to be one of the most disappointing productions I've ever heard. I don't blame Emperor for this. Their resources and recording experience were both limited. It's undeniable that the muddy production takes a way from the album's potential however. When I'm listening to the album, I know I'm hearing great music, but it's almost like I'm hearing the album played from the other end of a telephone. Because they needed to fit so many synths in with the guitars, everything sounds undermixed, and thereby underwhelming. The drums are well-played but weak sounding, the guitars are muffled, and the vocals make a thin shriek that don't hold a candle to the distinctive howl frontman Ihsahn would develop from Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk onward. Really, the only thing that seems to fit in its right place are the synthesizers. I'm not sure I could think of a better word to describe Emperor's keyboard offerings here than "spooky". It's eerie in a Gothic haunted house sort of way, and the atmosphere links up with the album cover like nothing else ever could.
While there is only one really bad thing about In the Nightside Eclipse, there are many good things. While the muffled production keeps me from appreciating this music for all its worth, it is the sort of album that's only grown on me the more I hear it. Striking listeners at once with the epic 9 minute "Into the Infinity of Thoughts", it's immediately clear that Emperor could very well have established themselves as the thinking man's alternative to standard black metal. As composers, they already had the mark of potential legends. The surprise dynamic shifts they guide the songwriting are most satisfying when you're totally familiar with the album and know when to expect something new.
"Into the Infinity of Thoughts" is one of the best songs Emperor ever wrote; in an album that was arguably too epic for its own good, the opener manages to stand out as a self-contained journey of its own. I've heard the other highlights on early EPs. "Cosmic Keys to My Creations & Times", "Beyond the Great Vast Forest" and especially "I Am the Black Wizards" were re-recorded for this album and stand out nicely, though I think I preferred them in their more carnal forms. In the Nightside Eclipse is very well written. Purely speaking in terms of composition and technicality, there have been many bands that spend their entire careers aspiring for something like this. Emperor had parts of their craft nailed from square one.
Possibly more than any other album, In the Nightside Eclipse is a reminder that the Second Wave really is worth a lot of the hype and mystique that's still tossed its way. Regardless of the insipid burnings or the murders, the concentration, kinship and rivalry between bands, each doing their own groundbreaking thing, is almost surreal. On the other end of the spectrum, Burzum was taking this relatively new sound to new atmospheric heights. Immortal had their speed, Mayhem had death, Darkthrone had punkish intuition and Enslaved upheld a pagan past. Emperor, on the other hand, had sophistication. Their mentality was anathema to most of the Second Wave, and despite whatever technical limitations seemed fixed to hold them back, few bands emerged from that scene with as distinctive a sound as theirs.
Emperor's In the Nightside Eclipse is a very strange album. It represents the bridge between that raw, traditional black metal of bands like Darkthrone and Mayhem, and the dramatically overproduced symphonic black metal of Dimmu Borgir. In the Nightside Eclipse is definitely a symphonic black metal album. In fact, it is the first black metal album to go this far with symphonic keyboards.
The first thing that really jumps out at me with this album is its production. It is extremely raw, the guitars, bass, drums, synthesizers, and vocals come together into one huge storm of noise. The album has a very full sound to it, despite the thin, buzzsaw guitars. The noise heard on this album is in no way unpleasant. It is very atmospheric, and also quite interesting to hear.
The synthesizer parts on In the Nightside Eclipse are fairly prominent, and definitely a new thing for black metal at the time, but they do not take over the mix like they do with bands like Dimmu Borgir. The guitars are by far the most prominent in the mix, with the keyboards layered over top for added atmospheric effect. The guitar riffing itself is excellent. Most of the riffing is quite fast, with a few slower parts scattered here and there. "I am the Black Wizards" "The Burning Shadows of Silence" both contain some of black metal's most memorable guitar riffs. Looking at the technical side of things, the guitar playing is actually not that technical. The riff writing is great, but the playing is relatively messy.
Faust is well known for his fast, intricate drum beats involving various blastbeats and fills. His talents are showcased relatively well on In the Nightside Eclipse. The drums could be slightly higher in the mix, as he is playing some really cool parts that really deserve to be heard more.
Ihsahn is a really odd vocalist. He shrieks the lyrics in an indecipherable way. "The Burning Shadows of Silence" has some great harmonized screams that are somewhat unsettling. While his vocals may be a bit unconventional, and "disgusting" sounding, he is definitely great at creating a creepy feeling with his voice.
To summarize In the Nightside Eclipse, it is good, but not quite a masterpiece.
Ihsanh was once questioned about what he would suggest to a first time listener of "In the Nightside Eclipse". He answered that he would advise to "try and listen beyond the noise", to listen to the music and the expression within it, in his own words to "listen to what's inside the music and not the extremity of music". I would like to start with "the extremity of the music".
"In the Nightside Eclipse" is the first full-length of Emperor, released in 1994, alongside Mayhem's "De Mysteriis dom Sathanas", Burzum's "Hvis lyset tar oss" and Satyricon's "The Shadowthrone". This marked a historical year for Norwegian black metal, the controversy surrounding several church arsons was in the public press. In May 1994, Burzum's Varg Vikernes was found guilty for burning down Holmenkollen chapel, Skjold church and Åsane church, Emperor's member Samoth (Tomas Haugen) was sentenced to 16 months in prison for participating in the Skjold church burning alongside Varg. Faust (Bård Eithun) was also arrested in the same year, convicted to 14 years imprisonment for Magne Andreassen's murder. Tchort (Terje Schei) was convicted to 2 years imprisonment for assault. This left Ihsahn as the only band member remaining outside of prison, and Emperor didn't release another album in three years.
Black metal was given a lot of media attention during that period, and a lot of people were dragged into this new "black metal scene", that was still in its embryonic stages. Some people were simply curious about this new extreme anti-Christian and misanthropic group of individuals and to find out a reason behind their actions, others wanted to sink deeply to this new "occult satanic circle", some read about the underproduced raw and violent sound in musical magazines and wondered what it was all about.
When one approaches black metal, one will find extremity in the expression, music and attitude of its practitioners; Emperor was no exception to this rule. The "underproduced" Lo-Fi sound in albums released from the Norwegian scene in 94 would be part of this counter-culture movement, "In the Nightside Eclipse" is one of the pinnacles of this movement, one that would inspire several practitioners of black metal for years to come and it too opted via this aesthetic choice. This Lo-Fi approach has been justified by several means - to stay true to the genre's underground roots and to make the music sound more "raw" and "cold", and an attempt to make black metal inaccessible to the mainstream and "those who are not committed", in most cases however it meant simply a lack of resources to record better.
Ihsahn's advice, for me, has several different meanings. The "extremity of the music" would be not only the harshness of the recording, but the whole layout surrounding the release itself and how it is consumed. Any form of art is emotional either in its creative process or how it is perceived by those exposed to it. Black metal once was a genre that people usually were invited to be exposed to by close friends, people could also choose to be exposed to black metal after reading about the "Satanic cult in Norway". There was a sense of being a part of something almost forbidden, something exotic and new, and this adds to the uniqueness of the experience of enjoying an album. This was an age when most people used cassette players - friends would agree upon who would buy which album so that they could all afford to buy the maximum variety and then record each other's purchases in a cassette that they could take home and enjoy, these were "little rituals" that people growing up with vinyls and cassette tapes are very familiar with, and this added to the listening experience. This, for me is part of what made the albums of this generation so intense, so adored and looked back upon with such nostalgia.
The Lo-Fi approach of the albums of this generation, for me granted the opportunity to quietly enjoy an album surrounded by those closest to me. People would sit there, silent, paying attention to what was being played. Anyone who spoke would make it difficult to understand anything behind this constant "humming" noise in the album, so everyone would just listen. And that, this silence, this is what I believe is something that is lost, and will not be recovered so easily. "In the Nightside Eclipse" is an album to be enjoyed in silence for what it is - various musical nuances dancing behind a "mist", a mist that would hide this ritualistic dance if anyone was to break silence. This "quasi religious" silence, in the likeness of what is found while attending any religious meeting adds to the emotion of the experience, and imprints its footprint in our memories for years to pass. "Religiously" being a part of something, can be a very extreme feeling, and this is part of the extremity of the music we find in black metal and on "In the Nightside Eclipse".
20th-century American composer John Cage thought that any sound can be music, he believed that "There is no noise, only sound." and Emperor's first release, for me, takes part in this concept.
The album was recorded in the Grieghallen Studios, a music hall named after Edvard Grieg (who was music director of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra from 1880 until 1882). Several black metal acts were recorded in the same hall - Gorgoroth, Immortal, Burzum, Mayhem and Taake all made recordings in the very same studio. The artwork was inked by Kristian Wåhlin, also know as Necrolord. He is also responsible for several other album covers - Dark Funeral's "The Secrets of the Black Arts", Dissection's "Storm of the Light's Bane", Mercyful Fate's "Dead Again" and Blut aus Nord's "Memoria Vetusta III: Saturnian Poetry" to name a few.
The album was recorded by Ihsahn, Samoth, Faust and Emperor's one time bassist Tchort. Songwriting was handled by Ihsahn and Samoth along with the guitar playing we can ear on the record, Ihsahn also performed all the keyboards. Faust handled all the drum work on all tracks. The lyrics were written by Ihsahn and Samoth, with the exception of "Cosmic Keys to My Creations & Times" and "I Am the Black Wizards", these were written by former bass player Mortiis, and the songs themselves are re-recorded versions that originally appeared on the "Emperor" EP.
The music found in this release is influenced by its musicians side projects and previous musical endeavours, Thou Shalt Suffer had already released the EP "Open the Mysteries of Your Creation" and the demo "Into the Woods of Belial" and these are often cited as big influences on "In the Nightside Eclipse" by the band members themselves. Recording a Full-length would be the next logical step for Ihsahn and Samoth and they fulfilled this via Emperor and Thou Shalt Suffer prepared them for this. Faust had been in the studio before, performing drums on Thorn's "The Thule Tape" and Tchort had recorded "Hallucinations of Despair" on the death metal act Green Carnation.
This is a group of musicians that had been in the studio before, and this can be noted in the way "In the Nightside Eclipse" was recorded. There are several elements in the music that we could trace back to Bathory's "Under the Sign of the Black Mark" and even to Iron Maiden's "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son". The eight songs (counting "Into the Infinity of Thoughts" as one with the intro) in the album, feature high pitched vocals performed by Ihsanh, that display a characteristic tone quality that sets is apart and immediately recognizable to any black metal enthusiast. What makes the album special for me, is the way the compositions employ various rhythmic crescendos and diminuendos, this way the songs end up having more strength the moment the emotional intensity erupts, take for example "Towards the Pantheon", the section found between 2:50 and 3:50 is a great example of how this is employed, and the abrupt explosion of sound from rising from silence in the transition between this piece and "The Majesty of the Nightsky" is another testament to what would make Emperor unique in its craft - the ability to use sound and the way the dynamics of sound can affect our most intimate nature.
"In the Nightside Eclipse" is a release that molded future black metal musicians to portray black metal not as noise, but as sound.
Originally posted on http://shrineofmadlaughter.blogspot.pt
Similar to At the Gates and Pantera for most seasoned metalheads, Emperor's In the Nightside Eclipse is, to me, an intimidating and frustrating work which is hard to divorce from the bad habits it spawned. While not an outright bad album in its own right, it was both the primary impetus for and suffers from what I would declare to be the single most toxic trait of black metal as a genre: grandiosity. I'm sure other bands later down the line helped quite a bit as well, but as far as I'm concerned this was the most important early release that seemed to declare to the world that this kind of thing was okay. Nay, not even okay, but acceptable! Encouraged! An ideal to be strived for!
By "grandiose", I'm referring to this album's composition, which I suppose could be best compared to that one early episode of SpongeBob SquarePants where the title character, a complete wimp as far as talking cleaning appliances go, decides that considering his circumstances as a weakling, the best way to impress people is to buy some cheap inflatable roid-loaded arms and walk around wearing them like he's hot shit. And everyone in the show believes it, too! Everyone sees this complete doofus walking around with these dorky intertube arms slapped over his usual yellow twigs with fingers on the end, and they all buy into it hook, line, and sinker! That's basically In the Nightside Eclipse: the riffs are SpongeBob, and the presentation is Anchor Arms.
The mix of In the Nightside Eclipse is set up to be this big, monstrous experience that hits you like a glacier in motion. All the traditional metal instruments are carved out to some extent - the bass is nearly inaudible, the drums are huge but have no low end, and most damningly, the electric guitar is almost entirely scooped out. This arguably gives the album a lot of space, and space would be a good thing in most circumstances, but it's a moot point as the band have apparently only set up that space to fill it up with the loudest choir/string synths ever. Seriously, if you haven't heard this album in a while, go back to it just so you can remember how loud and obnoxious the synth work is. It's as if Ihsahn is standing right up in your face, saying, "ISN'T MY SYNTH WORK SPOOKY!? CAN YOU HEAR IT YET? IT'S PRETTY SPOOKY, ISN'T IT? TELL ME IT'S SPOOKY!" Whenever the synths are blaring, the guitars just sound like vague fuzzy scraping underneath; 15 years later metal bands like Vemod would find ways to do this sort of thing with enough interplay between the guitars and synths that the end result wouldn't feel like the latter unintentionally drowning out the former, but the ability to achieve that was apparently still an unknown craft around the time In the Nightside Eclipse was released.
Now, the lesson to take away from this isn't "synths are literally cancer and taint the pure representation of TRUE UNHOLY BLACK ART" or some goofy shit like that, but rather that synths shouldn't act as an integral element of the sound unless the music itself is already rock-fucking-solid. Put simply, Emperor's is not. Now, don't get me wrong, none of the riffs here are really bad when evaluated in a strictly melodic sense - not at all. On the contrary, there are a few here that are actually pretty great - the very first riff in "Into the Infinity of Thoughts" is a good example, and "Cosmic Keys to My Creations & Times" opens with a nice one. But the problem is that for the most part, In the Nightside Eclipse is a bit more behind the times than its contemporaries were in terms of riffing, and so it attempts to mix older black metal riffs with a newfound early-90s level of seriousness and pretense, to limited success. This seems to have missed out on the developments that bands like Darkthrone, Mayhem and Burzum had picked up on, who were shifting to a more technical and focused style of black metal with more chords, more layering, and more blasting. Emperor, on the other hand, are still hanging onto the Bathory standard at this point in their career - on this album, there's a notable degree of thrash still present in their sound, the melodic progressions are basic and pretty unexciting (most of the riffs here which I actually especially like are isolated tremolo streams that actually are up to the standard set by Emperor's contemporaries by 1994), and the rhythm is usually either blunt and stomping, or bouncy and galloping. These elements worked wonderfully when used by Bathory himself, and they would work just as well here if the original sense of minimalism were maintained, but In the Nightside Eclipse seems confused as to whether it wants to wholeheartedly worship Bathory or present itself as a piece of high art. It aims for common ground between the two and doesn't get either right.
It's riddled with several other serious flaws, as well. The songs have no business being as long as they are, considering most of the riffs don't seek to progress the songs in any noticeable way (Bathory riffs tend not to be especially good at doing that, anyway). Also, I'm not sure how it's managed to avoid general mention, but the vocal performance is absolutely terrible. The screams are extremely high, but there's no element of force behind them. In other words, they are impish rather than anguished. They represent the huge sound of the album very poorly; something as vast and layered as this was intended to be definitely deserves something a bit more, I dunno, vast. Ihsahn's vocals here mostly just feel like a beetle attempting to narrate an epic journey, except you can't trust what he has to say about it because he's a fucking beetle, what is he supposed to know?
I'm on the fence as to how much at fault the album or band itself is for this, but it seems to have played a pretty big part in spreading the general sentiment of "Anybody can make a big majestic black metal album! Yes, you! Even if you lack the songwriting skills to pull it off, just stack some synths on top of it and make it sound big and people will eat it right up!" In the Nightside Eclipse lacks the melodic cohesion, the complexity, the compositional genius that its creators would have needed to truly justify changing the presentation of this from "raw 4-track" to "big synth-laden journey", and yet people seem to have cheered it on all the same because WOW IT'S BLACK METAL WITH BIG SYNTHS GIMME. Thanks to that sort of attitude, in the 21st century you can hardly walk ten feet without tripping over a black metal band that polishes over their faults with fancy-pants crap. You get bands writing these completely hackneyed and uninspired black metal albums and then going into professional studios and spending hundreds of dollars to get everything recorded and mixed. The fuck is the point of that, other than to generate some cheap and contrived illusion of the music being worth more than it is at face value? Oh, wait, it's because that's what people actually want to listen to nowadays. Thanks, Emperor.
Imagine a song, album, or band that sounds amazing. Or imagine watching one of your favorite TV shows or movies. Every bit of it is great in every aspect, and you enjoy it every time you listen to it or watch it. Now imagine that, but you are sitting right next to a very loud waterfall, making it somewhat tough to hear some parts, although still very enjoyable. That's basically how I view this record. "In The Nightside Eclipse" is one of the best black metal albums to ever be released, only to be topped by Venom's "Black Metal". Everything about the music itself is beautiful sounding and magical. The instrumentation is a vast sound of dark music, the vocals are spot on, and there isn't a single thing that should be changed about the music. There is one flaw that keeps this out of the 100% range, and that's the "water fall" part that I was referring to.
The sound quality of this record is absolutely terrible. Now don't get me wrong, a lot of times I like that, such as in Slayer's "Show No Mercy" or Megadeth's "Killing Is My Business... And Business Is Good". But this album takes it way too far, to the point that all of the noise in the background and quality almost overlaps the music. Like I said, it's like listening to something great, but right next to a waterfall. The best thing that I can compare it to is Bathory's debut album. It's just as noisy and is equally as hard to hear. Now, some may argue that black metal as a genre is supposed to have a lot of noise in the background and that this is not a problem at all. I can see the point there, it's supposed to have somewhat noisy quality, but this one just hits it a little too hard.
Although the poor quality is enough to keep it out of 100%, it does not make it a bad album at all and remains a solid 95%. Lets start with the intro of the album. It starts with this beautiful, soft but eerie intro that leads into the first track "Into The Infinity Of Thoughts". To be honest, it starts off very generic sounding, but as it progresses, the keyboards can be heard, adding a nice touch to it. The other songs keep up this mystical sounding addition. At the time, it seemed rather neat to have these screaming harsh vocals in the same song as a keyboard like that. This album, in a way, is what introduced keyboards to black metal in general, even though some were used vaguely before this record dropped. The track that carries the most melody would have to be "I Am The Black Wizards". I guess that's why it seems to be the most popular one on here.
When listening to this record, the only thing that I can really picture in my mind is basically the album artwork (which is a masterpiece). Mainly because all of the songs give me a mental image of a setting at night with a full moon by a castle in the woods. It's very medieval sounding. One thing to be mentioned would be the two bonus tracks (on the version I have). It does a Mercyful Fate cover of "Gypsy" and a Bathory cover of "A Fine Day To Die". Both are done just as well as the rest of the album, making it even better. These tracks also don't have the "waterfall" element to them, which is pretty nice. Any fan of black metal would crave this one, so long they can get past the noise, which most people can.
Wow! That is the best way to describe this otherworldly first release by the mighty Emperor. In fact, this is probably one of the most immense and atmospheric albums in metal. The sound could never be emulated as coldly and darkly as it is here. Compared to the raw and primitive 'Transylvanian Hunger' by Darkthrone, this album goes all out on atmospherics. The choirs mixed with the icy guitars and demonic vocals make this album sound like it was forged by Satan himself.
The opening track, 'Into the Infinity of Thoughts', is a leviathan of a track to say the least. The eerie intro soon bursts into a barrage of pitch black evil, creating the kind of imagery that is seen on the album artwork. This can be said for every song on the album. Each track is a journey into a realm of despair and darkness, mainly due to the anguished vocals and inhuman choir sounds that blend perfectly together. Track 3 is probably the best example of this. Also, 'I Am the Black Wizards' is without a doubt the finest song on the album with both brutal metal sections and symphonic musical genius.
The main problem some people have with this record is the production quality. With these songs, though, I wouldn't have it any other way as the harsh and echoey overall sound is what gives the album its inhuman power. These anthems of pure evil needn't have the amazing production values of some bands today, as it would take away the atmosphere. Speaking of atmosphere, 'The Majesty of the Night Sky' has an opening riff that cannot be described. This is sheer musical perfection in the genre.
This is not an album that anyone can just 'whack' on in the background willy nilly. It must be listened to intently and taken in like the musical drug that it is. When the openings to some of the tracks kick in, I feel like I am opening a portal to another dimension. 'In The Nightside Eclipse' is a flawless, yet intimidating musical experience that has gone down in history as one of the most bleak and notoriously evil releases in metal. It is both beautiful and nightmarish, a vast tundra of black metal perfection.
Possibly one of the greatest metal albums of all time.
On their first full-length release, Emperor performs melodic and atmospheric black metal of epic and symphonic quality, presenting an enigmatically dark and mystical soundworld of sublime experience. These songs present their composite ideas in a dramatic unfolding of events in continuity, with dynamics in pace and mood designed to represent self-appointed meaning applied to an experience isolated within its momentary filter but valued as a progression in the journey of life, portrayed by anticipatory and reflective transitions in harmony, guided by flowing perceptual melodies of transcendent aspiration and atmospheric astonishment, exemplified most astoundingly in the chilling beauty that is the final moments in “I Am The Black Wizards”, the mighty explosion into blasting ascendancy in “Inno A Satana”, and the cold, windswept soundscape defining the breakdown in “The Majesty of the Nightsky” and its thrilling rise to reverential affirmation.
“Too long I have suffered the desert sands of time
But as I drown in darkness it will release the sign My soul will leave this mortal coil of flesh and earthly life
to fly into the mist of night
into the nightside eclipse
and experience existence on the other side”
Streaming melodic riffs in extended phrases form the defining character of each song with representational distinction and progressions towards tonal and rhythmic changes, communicating the purpose of hierarchical sequence observed in nature’s ferociously necessary order of operation, reflected in the substance of the inner-self, magnified in the character of spiritual striving and agonizing existential discovery. Keyboards provide a variety of gleaming reflections to sweeping guitar melodies, casting an epic glow of magnificent majesty to enhance a stunningly diverse atmospheric range of frigid, dark, and profoundly melancholic moods.
“As the Darkness creeps over the Northern mountains of Norway
and the silence reach the woods
I awake and rise... Into the night I wander”
A persistent but effortlessly drifting rhythmic motion moves these songs through the blossoming of their thematically reflective events, propelled by drumming of powerful determination in stamina and definition of percussive patterns, mostly at whipping speeds of gliding motion, breaking down to slower movements to build anticipation for passages of grand revelation. Evil and obscure phantom shrieks emerge from the shadows as absurd voice of the dark forces of nature, self-liberated from the expressive limitations of rigid, structurally ordained vocal arrangement, rather finding ambiguous space within the riff-patterns to explore the emotional levels of a given thematic episode.
“My wizards are many, but their essence is
Forever they are in the hills in their stone homes of
because I am the spirit of their existence
I am them.”
Through the recognition of essential universal nothingness perceived in the purity of darkness, Emperor identifies an aristocratic self-empowerment as independent creator of substance and meaning within the connective identity with the power and beauty of nature, merciless as it is without the concept of mercy to fulfill its ends, and experienced as a spiritual awakening process of increased knowledge and awareness, aesthetically communicated in the extreme passion of romantic sensitivity, but with the unyielding strength of purpose-oriented wrath and serious creative motivation beyond the standards of expectation. Richness in artistic imagination and innovation of ideas gives Emperor the gift of compositional genius to which is applied a technique in service of conjuring the primal wisdom and majestic beauty of nature through modern instrumental warfare in a brilliant and inventive musical spectacle of fierce individuality and transcendent glory. The only flaw is the uneven and vague production, which gives great clarity and emphasis to keyboards and guitar sound, but blurs distinction of the full range of the drum kit, and drowns out vocals to the extent that a significant degree of the vocalist’s expressive presence is often lost to the oblivion of indistinguishable sound; the far more organic sound of the self-titled EP would have been much more suitable to this material, evidenced in the comparison between that release's versions of “I Am The Black Wizards” and “Cosmic Keys To My Creations and Times” and the more bombastic versions presented here, stripping Emperor’s music of a certain degree of primal ferocity, but not enough to significantly impact the experience of one of the most compositionally imaginative, beautifully atmospheric, melodically resplendent, and expressively powerful albums in black metal’s history.
A lot has been said about Emperor through the years, and not all of it flattering (Norwegian black metal + popularity = walking target), but indisputably they were and will always remain one of the most important of the 'second wave' bands within the genre. They also bear a distinction as one of the most 'dignified' in the field, having conquered several shores with their mighty live performances and then choosing to avoid the pitfalls of stagnation when they felt they no longer had much to offer. This decision came after four full length efforts, each of which marked a notable stage of evolution, Ihsahn and Samoth never content to rest on their laurels by rehashing or sidetracking their writing process.
My personal interest in their work waxed and waned through these changing tides, being of the tiny minority that found Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk and Equilibrium IX to be flawed outings beyond a few particular tracks, and later developing a fondness for their divisive grand finale, Prometheus - The Discipline of Fire & Demise. However, I have long treasured their debut In the Nightside Eclipse, not only as the masterpiece of Emperor, but one of the absolute pinnacles of the genre, the sort of rare accomplishment that is reached only a few times in each generation. In fact, I'd go so far to claim that In the Nightside Eclipse is greatest 'symphonic' black metal album ever written, even if that symphony consists of only Ihsahn with a keyboard and vivid imagination.
So much about this record is enormous. The cover is by far one of 'Necrolord' Kristian Wåhlin's most beloved images, a beautiful but menacing moonscape of towers and bridges, vortex clouds, woodland expanses, haunting spirits and battle starved humanoids, almost like the final battle of The Lord of the Rings being played out across a 2D nightmare diorama set against the band's impeccable logo and a wisely chosen, archaic title font: every depraved D&D maniac's dream come true. The production itself is airy and horrific, falling somewhere below a polished state without the intentional marring of fidelity committed by so many of the band's countrymen and peers. Complaints about the mix might be seen as partially valid, for example the rhythm guitars feel mildly faint against the swelling synthesizers and rasp, impish drawl of Ihsahn, but I can honestly say that I would have it no other way, and the very 'flaws' themselves of the production only add to its memorable nature.
It also invoked a stark balance of terror and majesty that thousands of others have attempted but so often failed to emulate. Sure, In the Nightside Eclipse is rather dated in the grand scheme of its genre, but there is this timeless, authentic quality found somewhere in the margins of highly effective composition and thematic intent that has never ceased to thrill, and when I think back on many late autumn or winter night drives I took to and from my university, along the sparsely populated back roads of central and western Massachusetts, listening to this as my drug of choice, I still get the occasional shiver down my spine. Perhaps I'm just a spineless pantywaist for admitting it, but this album used to scare the fuck out of me, as I attempted to conjecture about the Norse madmen responsible for its existence and what a pale wraith of uncultured American flab I must have been by comparison...
There are also songs. Eight beautiful, flawless songs that foster the cold moonlight and stir the despotic winds of egocentric fantasy. Twilight wanderings from the bleak core of the human psyche, the devious spirit, to the expanse of endless, distant fires that leer at us from beyond the known sphere upon which our flesh depends, the cosmic eaves of horror and uncertainty that bear down upon the soul. The cleverly (?) titled "I Am the Black Wizards" is probably the best known of these, a clarion call to battle against a thousand years and suns, a tribute to all black and blazing phantoms of antiquity. Samoth's guitars are scathing delights that resonate like frozen fire across the punishing prowess of Faust, the tongue of Ihsahn spewing wretched poetry, the backbone of Tchort rumbling beneath like a ghastly march towards oblivion. The gorgeous sequence at 1:50 is strung out across the starlight like a chorus of waning angels, twisting into a powerful momentum worthy of even Bathory's epic Blood, Fire, Death, and at 4:00 you can prepare yourself for one of the most captivating, eerie melodies in all human history.
'My wizards are many, but their essence is mine
Forever there are in the hills in their stone homes of grief
Because I am the spirit of their existence
I am them.'
"Cosmic Keys to My Creations and Times" travels from an icy momentum to a schizoid funnel of discordant, driving chaos, then back again as the snarling erupts, while Faust gets so much exercise that it's a wonder he didn't suffer one or many heart attacks during the recording. "Inno a Satana" fills out like a contaminated muse, licking the wind with soaring, clean vocals and more of the brazen, synthesized choirs that work as well here as on nearly any other recording on Earth, while "The Burning Shadows of Silence" thrives on stun, whipping breezes of dementia that adorn the scintillating ghostlike savagery of the keys. "The Majesty of the Nightsky" rolls over you, transforming you into some fallen, final chess piece before the sailing Nordic melodies around :40 sweep your ashes and sorrows into the dust of ages, and the 9+ minute epic "Into the Infinity of Thoughts" cycles through its grim, ambient intro to some of the most threatening but beautiful black metal to ever lock up the joints of men. Really, every fucking song on this album is unmitigated awesome, and I am nearly as awestruck today as I was when I first heard it.
You could say that Emperor were the first of their kind to take the 'high road' in black metal, to transform this vile and infectious new brand of extremity into something so much more grandiose than it might have deserved, while Darkthrone was well underway mastering the 'low road' of delicious primacy that was born of Hellhammer, Venom and Bathory. In the Nightside Eclipse is so desperate and inspired that even Emperor could not and never will surpass it, and clearly a standard was being set well out of the reach of most impersonators, even with over a decade of interim in which to refine it. Ambitious as they are, and try as they did, the later efforts do not possess this same level of consistency, exchanging atmosphere for the technicality inherent in progression, and the precision of bigger budget, studio accessibility. I wouldn't trade this album for a 100 Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, and to my ears, it remains one of the greatest of its kind, alongside A Blaze in the Northern Sky, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, Transilvanian Hunger, Black Shining Leather and Blood Fire Death.
The production on this kills it a bit for me. It should be a lot better than it is really, when it kicks in after the rolling orchestral intro, those savage riffs and lightning-fast drums, combined with the thunder sounds and Ihsahn's shrieked vocals ("as the darkness creeps across the Northern mountains of Norway, and the silence reaches the woods, I awake and rise...") it really sets the listener up for a journey through "wastelands of phantoms lost" and "great vast forests".
And I won't lie, it does deliver. 'Comic Keys to my Creations and Times' is especially a highlight, some excellent melodies and it flows really well, and of course everybody knows 'I Am the Black Wizards'.
But - the overall sound really ruins what is (probably) great music. The guitar tone is really softly-rounded, and making a lot of the riffs really indistinct if not inaudible beneath the overly loud keyboards and thundering drums. People talk about how hard the album sounds when it kicks in, and how great that main riff is in 'I Am the Black Wizards', but don't much talk about the stuff in the middle. They just went too far trying to create that wall-of-sound and ruined it a bit for me, even if the material is still good I can't help but feel a better, perhaps less grandiose production job would really improve 'In the Nightside Eclipse', but as it is its an album with great songs and a terrible sound. Shame.
My version has two covers as bonus tracks, Mercyful Fate's 'Gypsy', which is an excellent rendition (second highlight after 'Black Wizards') and Bathory's 'A Fine Day to Die', which doesn't sound much different from the original.
If I didn’t know any better, I would say that this album was recorded through the use of a time machine to go to the future and record the end of the world itself! This is pure unsaturated black metal in all of its cold fury! The album starts with a bit of a pointless intro but it does lead into the first song and it does fit the album. After that you get some really complex riffs, sick drumming, and amazing symphonic keyboards.
The guitar playing, as I mentioned before, has some really complex riffs. The guitars are all over the place but it still has some sense or organization. It’s really neat how they get the riffs to intertwine themselves with the keyboards. And they manage to have shrieking over top of that! This is an unmatched aural assault! The best example of the complexity of the guitar playing is on the song “I Am the Black Wizards”.
The keyboards are really what this album is all about. This is SYMPHONIC black metal after all. The keyboards go along with the riffs and really add atmosphere to this album. Without keyboards this album would be really boring and hardly worth listening to. This is one of the few albums/bands that uses keyboards and actually needs them. This is not your lame Dimmu Borgir keyboard playing just for the sake of keyboards. They are an integral part of the music and the album just would not work without them.
The drumming is the backbone of any metal album, especially a black metal one. The drums are slow but consistent and in time during the atmospheric sections where the keyboards take over and they are really fast with well-timed blast beats during the fast aggressive sections (yes, symphonic metal can be fast AND aggressive!!!). The best example of the drumming on this album is the little drum solo on the beginning of “Inno A Satana”.
The vocals are shrieky like all black metal vocals and to some this can get a little monotonous. The vocals on this album are more high pitched than most and you can hear the difference between Ihsahn and other black metal vocalists. The best part about the vocals is how he is able to shriek and scream all of the lyrics overtop of the already complex and powerful instrumental sections.
This album is a masterpiece of the black metal genre and Emperor themselves are all musical geniuses. I recommend this to anyone who is trying to get into black metal or anyone in the black metal scene who miraculously has not heard this yet.
- Beginning of “Into the Infinity of Thoughts”
- Atmospheric section in “Towards the Pantheon”
- The riffs to “I Am the Black Wizards”
- “Inno A Satana”
A brief history of my time in the eternal infinity of the never ending under the trees black dark beyond all forests of Norway space:
I first got this album in 1995, December I think. Remember that this was when black metal was taking off and really big, and everyone that I knew was really hyped about Emperor, this album in particular (I preferred their songs on the split with Enslaved at the time). Truth be told, I didn't really like the album, I actually found it hard to listen to, and what is the point of that?
Fast-forward to 2002, I was in Taiwan, computer-less and desperate, and I saw the Prometheus album in a store, and picked it up, and really enjoyed it (I was starved for new metal then, Cannibal Ferox 'And then they ate his penis!' starved. So I thought 'Well gee, gosh, Lemmiwinks! Anthems was the suck, but maybe Emperor ain't so bad'.
With that in mind, I ended up in 2009 in China, where I found a digipack of this album in a store, for a measly 10RMB (less than two yankee dollah!), so naturally I, uh, picked it up like I pick lice from - I bought it.
So, what am I trying to say here? I'm saying, just like conservatism and incest, give this album a chance.
First criticism - this album suffers from a bad production. Yes, it's early second-wave Norsk Arisk Krush Joo black metal, but it's technical, and has a lot of intricacies, which unfortunately are hard to hear. And that's my biggest beef about this album, it sounds like you've just thrown a wet blanket over your speakers once you put it on; it sounds muffled, not raw, not 'true', just drowned out.
Second Christendom - while there are good riffs, after the third song, it is basically muzak, background music, until we hit 'I Am The Black Wizards', but when the riffs are there, holy cow they are good. Cosmic Keys To My Creations And Times has a great guitar riff in the beginning, as does I Am The Black Wizards. The vocals are fair enough, but all sound the same, in every song - don't expect a lot of variation, except in Inno a Satana, which has some clean (yet muffled) vocals.
Speaking of muffled (I love that word, reminds me of mumsy), the drumming is would/could/should be awesome, but once the blast beats kick in (yes, like Immortal, Emp uses 'da blasts') you can hardly hear them. Again, production issues. And therein lies my main gripe with this album, it seems like so much is going on, but you can't distinguish one thing from another. Sure, you have shining moments littered here and there, which is the album's saving grace, but I just feel that it could've been so much better. That said, I do enjoy this album these days, it has a nice background atmosphere, and out of eight songs, four of them stand out a lot (uh, long song titles), namely 'Into...', 'Cosmic Keys...', 'I Am Whack...' and 'Inno...'.
Obviously these guys are talented, and for a first album it is a great album, but the one-sided vocals, lack of bass guitar, and intermittent good riffs make me sad. There is a consistent/inconsistent feel to this album, half greatness and half 'huh?' and boredom, if that makes any sense.
So should you get this album? Probably, but it is not essential, yet for the time it was released it was 'groundbreaking', as it was a really different approach to black metal when compared to the likes of Darkthrone, Beherit, Burzum et al. It is safe to call this the first technical black metal album, with a classic black metal production, which it never deserved. If any album needs to be remastered it is this one, take away the muffling.
Ah, yes, Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse. Here stands the most revolutionary black metal album ever. In its time where other pioneers such as Burzum and Ulver were laying out there grim ideas backed up by simple guitar with complex chords and chilling keyboards, Emperor stood one step ahead of them with fast and dissonant guitar, complex keyboard rhythms, and mighty blast beats. It really takes quite the genius to not only create your own style of music, but beat the crap out of every band that tries to copy you. Alas, that is why Ishahn is my man crush (sorry Paul Gilbert). Most people ask how is it that the originals of every genre (for example, as Possessed is to death metal) are always the best. Well the way I see it is if you are smart enough to create and pioneer a new form of music, you obviously can create excellent music. This is an album so cold your furnace will explode. This is an album so grim you will never enter a dark forest again. This is an album so satanic; you will take Satan as your guide. Yes, this is every kvlt hater’s most despised album, In the Nightside Eclipse.
What is it that makes this album so special? Isn’t it just raw, repetitive, generic black metal? Wrong. After many listens and much time studying the written music itself one comes to realize the complexity and flow of the music. This album displays such a powerful mood of reverence reflected by the ambient keyboards and full, raw sound. There isn’t just grim lyrics reflecting the power of Satan and the beauty of nature, but the album actually draws the listener into the world beyond humanity. If you truly understand the music, you will be taken to the dark endless hills of Norway, as referred to in “I Am the Black Wizards”. The complex chord progressions were conceived purposely to create the effect of the lyrics. When Ishahn sings about gazing into the sky and its endless swirl of stars, the world we do not understand, and the beauty of the world as it is away from society, and into the fathomless depths of nature, the music reflects this feeling and theme. If you close your eyes at some points in this album you will awake in a world you are not familiar with, fathomless to your mind. You as a listener will not focus on what the musicians are playing, but how the sound combines as a whole.
Together Ishahn and Mortiis created some of the best lyrics I have ever heard. They are extensive and emotional, and reflect their connection to Satan and nature. Inno a Satana is a good example of the Satanism of this album. The lyrics speak of accepting Satan as your guide, as he will guide you through “hatred and strife” and in return you will endlessly serve him. Cosmic Keys to My Creation and Times is a song that represents the beauty and mystery of the unknown world created by forces we do not understand.
Ishahn really knows how to make the thick, ambient effect of black metal. The rhythm guitar and bass play chords that reflect the lead melodies, but are in the background and seem to glide slowly along the surface. At certain points a guitar will play a chord and then tremolo pick a single note, while letting the chord ring out, and this really creates an awesome dissonant effect. The keyboards don’t just sit there and hold out chords, but play eerie and cold melodies, or at least chords that move quickly. The sound projected by them is always a bone chilling symphony sound or a bright choir, displaying some epic feel.
The two best songs on the album are The Majesty of the Night sky and Inno a Satana. The Majesty of the Night sky is a more energetic song with ever so epic keyboards. The blast beats (sorry folks, no Trym) are fastest and most spread out in this song. Midway we get a really cool keyboard lead and a creative catchy beat. This is one of those moments where you feel yourself in a different, more reverent place. Ishahn speaks some of his pretty poetry and it continues a bit. But then the guitar plays by itself and ascends up the whole range of the guitar twice, higher each time, then out of nowhere every instrument is back in with a high energy ending that stops out of nowhere and an explosion rings out and leads into the next track. Inno a Satana is everyone’s favorite song. If you have not heard this song you are not a black metal fan. This is the song that offers yourself over to Satan, asking him to guide you. The lead guitar part is as epic as hell and is backed up by beautiful clean vocals, chilling harsh vocals, and reverent keyboards. At the end of the song we have the greatest minute or two of music history. This conclusion of the album will send chills down your spine and give you goose bumps. First every instrument breaks and the guitar starts picking a cool chord progression, and drops a major step back and forth. The rhythm guitar, bass, and drums join in and the blast beats start up until the end. The harsh vocals continue to shriek and the clean vocals chant “INNO A SATANA”. This continues with the energy building up and up and then the guitars bang out a lovely a minor chord while Ishahn whispers Inno a Satana, with the keyboard holding out the final chord and then fading out. If you are someone who has not heard this song yet, I suggest you do. The ending is really freaking epic.
The opening song is also really cool. It is Emperor’s longest song and has this evil mood to it and an awesome chord progression. It is the perfect opening track, with fast guitars, many breaks and transitions, and eerie lyrics.
So why is this album so good despite the fact it is just old and experimental black metal? Well, it really beats the crap out of every other black metal band. I have yet to find any black metal band, except for Bishop of Hexen, that creates music as good as this. This is the epitome of black metal and shall be loved forever and ever. This is a must have for your metal collection, especially if you are a black metal fan. Don’t worry, this isn’t your generic kvlt crap band, such as darkthrone, this is epic and excellent music.
Emperor's first album, remains their best, and only essential album in my opinion (Anthems to the Welkin At Dusk being an above average album, but nothing on this level), but this opinion is not shared by all. The usual complaints, production, writing, etc., are marred by a general lack of understanding of purpose. Emperor were still heavily inspired by the necro aesthetic of black metal, the use of space and sound and writing to create a landscape of darkness, and beauty in chaos and ugliness. These works are not just well crafted songs, but also beautiful soundscapes, black metal in purest terms, even though it bears little in resemblance to say Transilvanian Hunger. However to state there is no similarity would be incorrect, both feature production as an essential feature of the search for atmosphere, and both are fueled by hatred and love of their Norwegian landscape and a mysticism of death, evil and darkness.
In The Nightside Eclipse is a focused blast of cold icy emotion from beginning to end, reaching from Into the Infinity of Thoughts to grab you and take you into their dark world. Some songs go into more conventional material, for example there has always been a kind of punk like, Bathoryish aspect to certain riffs in The Burning Shadows of Silence to me, a kind of regressionism that stands in contrast to the murky symphonic beauty of such tracks as Cosmic Keys To My Creations and Times or Towards the Pantheon. But these regressionist sections also hearken back to the ugly primitive days of Wrath of the Tyrant, a necrotic recording that seems to breathe of dust and dungeon, whilst this album is the cold air of a winter mountain, where a dark emperor rises to bring the apocalypse, or ragnarok of sorts upon the sleeping men and women of Christianity.
The sheer malice and evil of purpose that is in the performances still burns with intensity to me. Emperor seem possessed on this recording, performing with a raw strength of will and a cold evil, not the primeval hatred of Ildjarn, but the calculating malice of a tyrant enraged to great warfare. This distance seems to be the true coldness of the recording, whilst they storm in their hatred, the melancholy of the truth of the world, and the longing for the fantasy to come true seems to veil all things.
The music itself is written with a cyclic style, riffs go to riffs, but return to their original place at times, a kind of motif is established in each song that is repeated, whilst the songwriting will often move into other more complex patterns, melodies and structures. Unlike the repeating with ever increasing variation of patterns and melodies that Abigor possessed, Emperor infuse a more Wagnerian aspect into their music, a sweeping narrative that is no true attempt at narrative, and lyrics and vocals simply amplify this. Lyrics are filled with a dark mysticism of death, evil and nature, a reveration of the true dark powers of the Earth. The repeating motif of the Emperor rising (which would be repeated in various ways in almost all of their recordings) is most strong on here, for it has with it the idealism and fantasy of youth. Perhaps this Emperor will join with Satyricon's shadowking and Immortal's ravendark horde and they will cover the Earth in Norse plague bearing darkness (note I am not poking fun at these bands, for I like this kind of stuff, simply showing it was a common theme).
In the Nightside Eclipse seems to bring to mind to me vision of Melniborne, the kingdom of Elric, from the writings of Michael Moorcock. Dark towers where beings beyond good and evil live in a way that seems unthinkably vile to any who possess normal "good" values, but a way that in of itself is not evil, simply a way of life. Perhaps is it just me adding too many things to something, but Emperor's music brings forth an atmosphere such as I get when reading those books, but this is a digression, not so much part of the review but a personal observation.
Complex, yet submerged in a mist, this album requires an attention span to understand, those without one are those who are most willing to spit upon it, or to state that it is not "true" etc. But I feel the best aspect of the old black metal scene was that each band was unique, this is unlike Immortal, Enslaved, Burzum, Darkthrone, Mayhem, Satyricon, and all the original second wave Norse bands, and yet it is tied to all, as they are all tied to each other in terms of symbolism, emotion and atmosphere. Many different pathways to a similar goal, this is the lesson that was lost somewhere in the development of the style.
Listen to this recording, you may or may not like it, I leave no guarantee, but I will state that it is one of the first black metal albums to draw me into the dark world of fantasy I feel most of these old bands sought to create, and it is in my opinion one of the essentials.
Emperor's half of the Hordane's Land split proved to be a chronicled classic in the Norwegian scene already, and the band's debut affirmed them as possibly the most progressive band from the country at the time. Their atmospheric tendencies and high degree of musicianship had put them above their countrymates who preffered clattering in the garage over making true epic art, and that is shown in spades on the band's debut.
If you thought that the split album showed the heighth of Emperor's songwriting abilities, you're in for a surprise. The re-recorded old material is now given a new sense of vibrancy thanks to instrumental intensity on all fronts, including the deep layering of ghostly, haunting synths. For proof of just how much the band have progressed, take a listen to the mass opener "Into the Infinity of Thoughts," which toggles atmosphere with vicious, epic black metal. Various sound effects of wind and thunder make their appearance, and the stand-alone passages of the synths give the song that forest-like, nocturnal atmosphere. Clocking in at almost 10 minutes, it is a beast to be reckoned with. None of the other tracks are nearly as long, but the band use their time wisely in capturing the listener into cathedral, wintry feelings. There is plenty of talent to boot here as well; Ihsahn and Samoth tastefully utilize clean minor chords on "Towards the Pantheon" before launching into a full assault with piercing keyboards, bludgeoning blast beats, and a maelstrom of power chords, and the sweeping ending of "Inno a Satana" has gone down in the black metal books as a true classic with legitimate reason. Regardless of what progressive tendencies may appear in the band's sound, it is still a pure black metal record, as proven by "The Majesty of the Nightsky." In the Nightside Eclipse is a flawless example of the black metal formula for songwriting; the narrative, epic structures that take listeners on a high-speed ride through frosty, nightside landscapes.
Ihshan's vocals are a minor qualm for me, though. His vocals aren't too prevalent in the mix, and when they are, it's generally somewhat irritating when they are. Parts of "The Burning Shadows of Silence" and "Inno a Satana" seem semi-whispered in harsh tone, but it's hard to make anything out because of the production. His screams are not as fierce or intense as what they were on the Emperor EP, and have a nasally, forced feel to them at some points. The clean vocals on "Inno a Satana" are also a listening challenge, and Ihsahn's voice itself was nowhere near to the point of power acheived on the band's following albums.
Though the production superbly aids the atmosphere, the claustrophobic and mid-range guitar tone makes some moments lose the power they could possess with a more "black metal" tone. Faust's drums sound significantly clearer and louder than the EP, and the progression of his semi-technical style is wonderfully displayed. The keyboards, I think, can be too overpowering despite the contribution in mood, as they can muddle the guitars and make things hard to dissect.
Minor squabbles aside, Emperor's debut is marked as a classic with damn good reason; their musical abilities were superior to that of their comrades, and they took the word "atmosphere" to an extreme with this album. Not to mention the insanely detailed cover art. Damn.
Realistically, few bands can truly claim to have so heavily influenced an entire musical movement. However, with regards to Emperor, the aforementioned claim seems particularly justified. Having already released a relatively successful split EP with fellow Norwegian metallers Enslaved; the band’s first full-length effort saw them delving much further into somewhat uncharted territory within the early, simplistic Black Metal genre.
The haunting and cyclic introduction of opener “Into The Infinity Of Thoughts” creates an almost supernatural ambience, drawing the listener deep inside its alluring splendour, until finally rupturing under a striking resonance of thunder. Immediately, the band, as if spawned from the storm itself, let their primal ferocity surface. Drummer Faust leads the way, guiding the onslaught with extreme precision and varying pace. The accompanying guitars of both Ihsahn and Samoth sound appropriately painful and malicious, with Tchort’s bass guitar also enjoying a suitable level of audibility inside the overall mix.
The overwhelming energy conveyed during this magnificent initiation is strengthened even further with Ihsahn’s employment of subtle, poignant keyboard passages throughout. The beautiful melodic segments towards the end of closer “Inno A Satana” and throughout the majestic “Towards The Pantheon” are both particularly prominent and memorable, illustrating an intelligent and well-considered song writing ability. Vocally, the multi-instrumentalist Ihsahn creates an array of rasping and guttural screams, placing further emphasis on the dark, austere feeling of the entire composition. This is particularly stressed whilst reading the lyrics in unison, which are full of shadowy images and depressing tales of medieval gloom and ghostly figures.
A major criticism of this album over the years has focussed primarily on the apparently poor production job, yet the truth is quite the opposite: the production, shrouded in noise and filth, is extremely fitting to the album’s overall theme of mystery and obscurity. It was characteristically recorded at the infamous Grieghallen Studios, the site of most early Norwegian Black Metal recordings, but still sounds wholly innovative in comparison to the works of many other acts of the time.
Whilst remaining faithful to the ideals of the genre, with this opus, Emperor effectively managed to begin to cut loose from the developing droves of generic and tiresome sounding Black Metal bands, undeniably creating an inspiring and grandiose masterpiece. Never a band to compromise their artistic integrity or to bear the brunt of predictability, “In The Nightside Eclipse” was the beginning of Emperor’s path to innovation within what would unfortunately become an overly stagnant and derivative music scene.
Originally written for http://www.blastwave.co.uk
To call 'In the Nightside Eclipse' the best black metal album ever recorded would be something of a mistatement. Why? After due deliberation, a thought struck me: this isn't an album at all...
It is the Armageddon caught on tape.
When the world finally comes to an end, we can all be assured that this CD will be played, as it is the perfect background music to a decisive clash between good and evil. About fifty seconds into the opener "Into the Infinity of Thoughts", I felt as if the temperature in my room dropped twenty degrees and the lights had gone out. Yes, the album is THAT cold and evil. In fact, one sweltering 102-degree summer day, I gave the disc a spin and I was still shivering. The opening track goes on for nine minutes and not one second is wasted. Like any good opener, the tone is established for the remainder of the album. Of particular note throughout are the keyboard sounds. To me, they sound not unlike a choir of angels that mourn the plight of Earth's unfortunate, hell-bound souls during their final few moments alive. Ihsahn's demonic shrieks are like the voice of a vengeful god, meticulously annotating the whole spiel. The next song, "The Burning Shadows of Silence" isn't quite as frenzied as its predecessor, at least during the beginning. Like the rest of the album, the guitar work comprises primarily simple, tremolo picking, which is done well and tastefully. The keyboards also darken the atmosphere during this number, though they are more synth-stringy and not as organ-like as those used on the first track (which lent that apocalyptic feel to it). In case you had any worries about any light managing to peep through, "Cosmic Keys to My Creations and Times" should be of some reassurance. The opening riff is the black of night in musical form. Whenever the moon is full, I make sure to give this song at least one listen--usually several! The organ-synths are back again, though the guitars take center-stage here, until the pace slows down and the keyboards are out in front again. Brilliant.
Track four unfortunately got saddled with a cheesy title ("Beyond the Great Vast Forest") but begins in grand style, featuring an intro riff that follows a rhythm reminiscent of the Maiden gallop. There are time changes and brutal, melodic riffs aplenty, and the keyboards change from the organ-synth to the synth-strings and back at just the right moment! The next song redeems itself in the song title department and carries the distinction of being the very first Emperor track I ever heard. Following the melodic keyboard intro, the ferocity kicks in, punctuated by Ihsahn's almost-reptilian vocals. I knew at about 2:10 in that I absolutely HAD to get my hands on this album. To this day, I'm not regretful about it in the slightest.The second half of this song features some pretty crazy riffage (though the instrumentation throughout the entire album is maniacal).
"The Majesty of the Nightsky" has this Nordic sound to it that (almost) makes me want to don a viking helmet and go on a expedition that entails much pillaging and massacre after having listened to the song. Additionally, there's this one section a little under two minutes in when the guitars almost sound like men groaning, a neat effect. At 2:23, things calm down and keyboards take over; adding to the ambience is the sound of a howling wind (as if the listener needs more reasons to feel cold). After the song ends on a chaotic note, the band's best-known composition, "I Am the Black Wizards" begins, with that infectious riff rumbling along in the beginning (and it reappears several times throughout the song, too!). At about one minute and three quarters in, one of the more harrowing moments pops up, featuring a doomy keyboard melody accentuated by Faust's carefully placed beats. The last third or so of the song is in a different meter than what came before it and features that catchy-as-fuck riff and a mixture of black vox and foreboding spoken words. The piece-de-resistance, "Inno a Satana" points at the direction the band would take in later works. This song differs from the other seven in that the listener gets to hear Ihsahn's clean vocals. I much prefer the evil shrieks, but he does a more than adequare job here. The Iron Maiden influence again rears its head in the rhythm for the first three quarters of the song, then the tempo gets kicked up about five notches and the madness finally concludes with Ihsahn fiendishly whispering the title.
As many have pointed out, the production is lousy on the album (are you there, Tchort?), but who ever said that Judgment Day has to sound all pretty and stuff? In fact, I view this as a plus, as the sound is absolutely HELLISH and cleaner production may very well have removed the frigid feel of the music (a reason I do not like this album's successor quite as much as 'Nightside'). Overall, this album is incredible. On the jewel case, Emperor proclaim that they play sophisticated black metal exclusively, and that claim is fully corroborated by the eight masterworks contained therein.
Emperor is an infamous name in black metal, however some people view the whole length of their career as a band. What release of the band you prefer depends a lot on what music you are into in general, as the rawer, harsh, melodic material of their first releases later morphed into more immense, epic concepts and later still into a more technical, robotic barrage. This aside though, In The Nightside Eclipse is for me an album that none of their other releases – nor indeed those of hardly any other band – can really top.
Although I said that Emperor moved to an epic, immense approach later on (Anthems…), this release is in fact arguably equally so. The buzzing guitars dance with distorted melody which even when fundamentally simple create an infinitely deep, hypnotising atmosphere, and the distant, tortured vocals add a great deal to this. Listening to tracks such as the opener – Into the Infinity of Thoughts – is like gazing into the dark lakes that feature lyrically, and at times actually jumping into them and being immersed and lost in dark, swirling sound.
The drums of Faust – often overshadowed by later drummer Trym – are competent and effective, being mid-paced but energetic, with blast beats and pulsing rhythms supporting the other elements well. Many of the songs feature great melodies which are both catchy and haunting, such as I Am The Black Wizards and Inno A Satana; both showcasing the high level of song writing that I strongly believe to be present in this album.
The production has been knocked by some, but I feel the texture that has been achieved is ideal, and delivers the music in perfectly eerie and epic waves. As mentioned, I personally enjoy the detached nature of the vocals, as they are not engulfed by the guitars but rather enhance the dark feel of the music. Where later releases offer a crisper, cleanly delivered attack this album comes at the listener in an organic, colder way which I really enjoy.
The use of keyboards I feel adds to this. While various modern acts are criticised for their leanings to keyboard use and such, the use of this instrument on this album is thoughtful and effective, without overshadowing the other instruments at all. They add further depth to the melodic ideas and are executed with great result.
Lyrically the album is more than competent, as many of the lyrics themselves bear an equally shadowy, eerie quality to the music. Those to tracks such as Beyond the Great Vast Forest help the listener to visualise the underlying themes of nature and beauty, while I Am The Black Wizards lyrically offers an alternative, fantasy subject matter, these being written by the infamous Varg Vikernes.
This album is for me one of few pinnacles of harsh, cold, melodic and beautiful black metal, and is certainly an essential of the genre, and indeed of any metal fan’s collection. Listening to this album truly takes you into the infinity of Emperor, and black metal overall.
Emperor's "In the Nightside Eclipse" is considered the genre-defining album for black metal. It certainly has all the right ingredients for good black metal. Heavy riffing, sinister keyboars snaking between the guitar lines, hard drumming, shrieky incoherent vocals that sound like they're coming from the seventh level of hell, and lyrics in praise of Satan. And unlike many other black metal releases that employ keyboards, this album uses them sparingly.
The album is not an easy one to listen to. Not because it's bad (far from it) but because it's one of those albums that needs to be taken as a whole; listened to completely and with each track in order to truly enjoy its majesty. The lyrics read like descriptive prose rather than poetry and are not overly convoluted. By being easier to follow than, say, Dani Filth's more convoluted writings, Emperor communicates its messages in a more understandable way that doesn't leave you scratching your head. The only hiccup is that some spelling and grammar errors are present, but I attribute that to English not being this band's primary language. Considering that, the lyrics run circles around those written by many native English speakers, so I definitely salute that.
Each song illustrates a stage in a journey to a darker form of enlightenment, from journeying through the mountains and forests to fulfilling the goal of becoming a dark wizard in service of the dark lord himself. Thus the entire album comes off as a sermon of stories. I listened to this album intently studying the lyric sheets as I went along. This is by no means casual listening. This is intense listening, requiring much concentration. This is not an album where I can just listen to songs willy nilly- this one that must be swallowed whole, head first. My favorite tracks are "Into the Infinity of Thoughts" and "I am the Black Wizards."
The album, while quite good, has its share of stumbling blocks. One is the production. The guitars sound somewhat muddy, the drums are slightly fuzzy, and there are too many instances where the vocals are drowned out by the instrumentals. This album would have benefited from better production, but has so many other positive merits, that many folks can overlook it.
The remastered version I have also features a pair of bonus tracks: a cover of Bathory's "A Fine Day to Die" and Mercyful Fate's "Gypsy." The production on these tracks is much better than the album proper. However, they are the weakest tracks on the album. The Bathory cover is rather boring, though Isahn's vocals are more coherent. The Mercyful Fate cover is nothing to write home about either.
So do I recommend the album? Absolutely. Despite the shoddy production and the fact that there are better black metal bands out there, this is still a very good album that I feel anyone who enjoys this style of metal should listen to. I certainly enjoyed this album and feel it deserves its place among the black metal elite. The whole storytelling format made this one of the more cohesive albums I've had the pleasure of listening to.
Sometimes, an album comes along that truly defines a genre. Of course, this is a subjective thing, as no one will agree on which albums define which genres, but it's safe to say that everyone has their preferences. Well, when it comes to black metal, Emperor's In the Nightside Eclipse does just that.
For their first full-length release, Emperor combines blazing guitars, majestic synths, and amazing percussive texture to create a sound that is truly supreme in its sorrowful nihilism. From the beginning, the listener is awash in images of pagan legends, bleak soundscapes, and hopeless screams of anger.
It starts off with an ominous intro that reminds me of soldiers marching into certain death, and then blasts into the first song, Into the Infinity of Thoughts. It's the longest song at around eight minutes, and one of the best, with several breaks and tempo changes that create an epic feel that has rarely been rivaled. The next song, The Burning Shadows of Silence, has fewer lyrics than the rest, and is one of the bleaker tracks as it speeds along. Next is Cosmic Keys to My Creations and Times, in which synths are masterfully used to create a whirling blizzard of sound, that builds to a climax and then comes down to a mellow conclusion. Definitely a highlight. Beyond the Great Vast Forest is one of the slower songs, and is a re-recording of My Empire's Doom from the Wrath demo.
The second half of the CD begins with Towards the Pantheon, which opens with a simple synth melody, then rips into one of the fastest songs on the album. A marvelous song. The next song, The Majesty of the Nightsky, starts out loud and at a moderate pace, and then cuts into an amazing synth midsection, only to resume the aggression later. Seriously, the synths in this album have to be heard to be believed. Next comes one of the best songs of Emperor's entire career, I Am the Black Wizards, which begins with pure aggression, and slowly winds down throughout the length of the song, until the end, where Ihsahn screams "I am Them" over a background of chanting. Truly mindblowing. Following that is Inno A Satana, which combines chanting and screaming for a truly magnificent combination. But, the power of this song lies in the climax, as the instruments are whipped into an orgasmic frenzy that culminates with Ihsahn whispering "Inno...A...Satana!".
Truly amazing CD. Emperor avoids the lyrical pitfalls that other bands fall into with pointless, cheesy, blasphemous lyrics (coughmardukcough) and creates lyrics that paint a picture of a fantasy vision of pagan Norway. The lyrics fit the music excellently, and the lyrics to Cosmic Keys and I am the Black Wizards were written by none other than Mortiis himself, a former member of the band.
Overall, this has to be heard to be believed, and no black metal release -- or any other metal release for that matter -- that I've heard can come close to surpassing the greatness of this release.