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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.