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An epic cold and evil classic - 100%

Taliesin, March 7th, 2008

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.