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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.