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Ah, the early 90ies Norwegian black metal scene... Church burnings, suicides, murders - the murder of Euronymous - a revolt against society and the music scene, it all is particularly mysterious and has some kind of obscure aura around the bands and events that occurred. It all leaves you to wonder how a very young adult could've have killed a once fellow friend, how everything would have evolved had Euronymous not have been killed and continued his plans with Mayhem, what Varg himself would have released too. But something else that makes you ask a couple of "what if" is the transition of a couple of these bands from death to black metal. Darkthrone with their aborted sophomore death metal album Goatlord - or maybe A Blaze in the Northern Sky, what would've happened had they continued with their plan, what about their "unholy trinity"? It was after listening to my In the Nightside Eclipse vinyl that I decided to put my Wrath of the Tyrant one after a long time without listening to it. And it's while listening closely to the recording with fresh thoughts of an hypothetical logical follow-up to Soulside Journey that I began to feel that Wrath of the Tyrant was some kind of aborted album like the aforementioned Darkthrone album, Emperor's "Soulside Journey could've been".
Like Immortal and Darkthrone, the Emperor guys came from death metal backgrounds - Ihsahn and Samoth previously being in Thou Shalt Suffer - and were successfully convinced by Euronymous to try something new. Most see Wrath of the Tyrant as a black metal release, but in reality, due to its more or less close release date to the last Thou Shalt Suffer demo - which also means the songs themselves were written quite early - as well as a very bad production and overall sound of the recording, I'd say it's a transitory release between the death metal Ihsahn and Samoth played, and the black metal Emperor were known for; it is at its core what they formerly played, but you can hear - and see - plenty of elements they began to use.
First, a couple of stand-alone statements:
1. The production is bad
2. Fast picking isn't exclusive to black metal
3. Particularly not if you compare it to Swedish death metal (probably their main influence)
4. Black metal vocals doesn't necessarily equal black metal
5. The drumming is almost exclusively death metal (from what I can make out of it at least)
What I want to say, is that at its core it's principally death metal; the drumming - the beats I can hear at least - is as most riffs, some a lot more than others. Though, the vocals are obviously high pitched screeching with a lot of distortion and reverb, there is an instrumental (symphonic, like in black metal) intro and outro, the tone has a lot more reverb and some riffs are truly black metal. Hell, even "My Empires Doom" - pre-"Towards the Pantheon" - sounds death metal except for the main riff. The slower riffs are definitely akin to more crushing slower death metal. And what made me think more about the nature of Emperor's demo, is after listening to the only track that has never subsequently been re-recorder, "Forgotten Centuries". And seriously, the song kicks some serious ass, for some reason it's probably my favourite out there and I always wondered why they never did this song justice. It starts with a fast paced malevolent riff similar to the Swedish style, really shortly slows down to speed up again and slow down even more, some more melodic lines that could be some mix between black metal and the aforementioned Swedish sound, and then the song slows again in doom territory to speed up again for the end. It's below 3 minutes, but its construction and its quality makes it one of the most, if not the most, memorable tracks of the whole demo. And then listen to "Lord of the Storms", if that's not death metal... and forget the necro sound and vocals for a second, "Moon Over Kara-Shehr" also has some VERY death metal riffs, some slower, more crushing as some malevolent fast picked ones. Same for "Night of the Graveless Souls" which has been re-recorded as a completely black metal track, here, it IS death metal. Beyond the obvious very black metal production present in the Emperor MLP as well as additional keyboards, the drumming here is less relentless, has some snare and cymbal playing and some fills throughout the song that are absent from the aforementioned version. So if you listen very closely, you'll notice that while most riffs have been inspired by the Swedish bands, there is some of its own going on. "Witches Sabbat" is quite interesting as it starts out with a very death metal riff but with some single notes and a doomy riff, some effects and whispers, it shows an Emperor trying new grounds. And it sounds awesome, I'd say it's a mix of less groovy Swedish death metal, some slower - a couple of them doomy - riffs and a couple of Norwegian sounding ones, tones and aesthetics. There seems to be a very unique sound going around, but it's quite hard to go dissect deeper as the sound quality can even be worse at times. Well it's not that the production itself is that bad - it certainly is bad - it's just that the bass - or at least I think it is - destroys the whole thing, it creates this constant and annoying hissing that gets in the way of properly hearing the riffs and drumming. It's probably the reason why some songs sound better or worse than other; the speed and amount of notes being played by the bass. And the thing is, as many shitty sounding demos, you can't hear the bass anyway so why make it ruin the whole recording altogether?
And the sound quality must be Wrath of the Tyrant's tragedy. Sure only one track has never been re-recorded, but all the others have been reworked and got the whole black metal make-up with additional keyboards. As much as I like those re-recorded versions and Emperor in general, I can't go back to my treasured "Forgotten Centuries" without thinking about what if Emperor ever got around recording the demo for real as an album release. While some don't like the Sunlight studio production on Soulside Journey, I absolutely love it, and despite that, while it might not be the best choice for this hypothetical release - well maybe it would - it just makes me think of if Wrath of the Tyrant got the same treatment. Like Darkthrone's debut it would probably be some unique kind of death metal, another album in the practically non-existent Norwegian scene. But seeing how they were pretty much becoming a black metal band - hence the vocals and such - if anything, the album would've probably ended as the re-recorded tracks.
So really, I love Wrath of the Tyrant, hell even the bad production has some kind of charm, as it's some kind of unique death metal with some black metal elements thrown in like the vocals and a couple of riffs. It features some of Emperor's best material, and even if all the songs - excluding the intro and outro - except one have been re-recorded in killer versions, I think it's one of the Norwegian scene's tragedy that the demo - and the omitted track - never saw the light of day as a properly recorded death metal album, or even as a black metal one during the As the Shadow Rise session, and it would have still been a very unique album. The former would've been the less probable, but I still think Emperor shouldn't have been afraid of reworking the very death metal "Forgotten Centuries" and maybe have gone around making this a full-length even if it had to be short. And the more I'm thinking about this, the more I think As the Shadow Rise should have been a full-length, just listen to "Ancient Queen". Only the very In the Nightside Eclipse intro sounding outro makes you wonder at the possibilities. Instead, Wrath of the Tyrant is the only recording featuring all those songs together, and while it is of course enjoyable, the sound quality ruins the atmosphere and particular sound it may have as I'm sure it would have based on the music itself.