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It was 1991 when Samoth, guitarist in the young underground Black/Death Metal band Thou Shalt Suffer, decided to leave in order to explore different musical territories. He was immediately joined by his comrade Ihsahn (another Thou Shalt Suffer member) and another artistically skilled individual named Mortiis. At the time, they were three unknown young Metal musicians who gave birth to a new project, named Emperor. Today, such a line-up would be heralded as Norwegian supergroup, and Emperor's name conjures a brilliant career marked by several acclaimed releases, a bold collective of excellent musicians who showed many new paths to other bands by venturing into unexplored territories in first place themselves.
The trio, consisting of Ihsahn on guitar and vocals, Mortiis on bass and Samoth on drums (although originally a guitar player), immediately devoted themselves to create their very own sound, and the first result o ftheir hard work was their one and only demo, "Wrath Of The Tyrant".
Recorded on a primitive 4 track machine, the demo was one of the best of its time, and despite the inevitable poor sound quality, the strength of the material was so overpowering that it quickly had the band signed to Candlelight Records, and ALL the songs on the demo (except "Forgotten Centuries") were later reworked to be issued on future Emperor releases.
Indeed, "Wrath Of The Tyrant" captures the band's immense potential despite missing several Emperor key elements, such as dual guitar work and clever keyboard inserts in the songs (due to the poor equipment, only one guitar could be recorded and keyboards were used only on the intro, where no other instruments appear). It shows a different side of the Emperor sound to come, and the impression is still very good.
The demo begins with a short, creepy keyboard intro created by Samoth (who, on a side note, called himself Samot at the time, while Ihsahn was known as Ygg) which soon gives way to the first proper song "Ancient Queen". The first thing we must notice is that for first and last time in their career, Emperor use dowtuned instruments, as the whole demo is recorded with drop D tuning. Whether this choice was determined by Samoth's and Ihsahn's more Death Metal based early days or adopted to create a tchicker sound to counterbalance the inadequate capabilities of the equipment, I can't say; it certainly adds another curiosity factor for the faithful Emperor fan. The sound is very harsh and crude, yet ot has a deep low end in contrast with so many other Black Metal releases; Ihsahn's guitar and Mortiis's bass (both rather heavily distorted) have enough power to let the melodies break through the wall of static and invade the listener's ears without losing too much power. The drums are the lowest instrument in the mix, while Ihsahn's vocals (which aren't as shrill as they would be on other early Emperor releases) are very loud and echoy, often overpowering the rest of the instrumentation, thankfully only for brief peak moments.
"Ancient Queen" is a nice opener, having a mid paced rhythm and several very good riffs, its simple structure allowing the listener to become familiar with the demo's sound without missing important elements of the song.
"My Empire's Doom" is next, and is much more complex and layered; Samoth does a really nice job on drums, and I love how Ihsahn's vocals follow the rhythm over the great opening riff (which makes me regret the absence of the lyrics even more). This track is way ahead of its time with all its several twists and turns, and would indeed make its way to none less that "In The Nightside Eclipse", although obviously after undergoing a deep rearrangement; new lyrics would also find their way and the song would metamorphose into "Beyond the Great Vast Forest". Curiously, this version closes with a rather abrupt fade out, which makes me wonder if the closing riff that appears on "Beyond the Great Vast Forest" was added later on or already existed at this stage but was cut off for some reason.
"Forgotten Centuries" is a short and complex song, the only one on the demop that wasn't reutilized later on; it has some unusual and interesting riffs but doesn't really fit among the rest, hence (probably) why it was dropped.
"Night on the Graveless Souls" makes the pace faster and the general approach more direct, with its nice collection of straight in your face riffs; Ihsahn creates some damn wicked noises with his throat here. This is one of the few examples on the demo showing that Emperor would later become a much faster playing band, as most of the songs here stick to mid to slow tempos.
"Moon over Kara-Shehr" is a bloody underrated atmospheric song; it has several killer riffs and equally numerous tonality and rhythm changes, plues even more echoy vocals from Ihsahn making the mood even more mysterious and great guitar/bass layering (the best way they could replace a second guitar sound). This track would later reappear on the "Nordic Metal" tribute compilation as a rehearsal version featuring Hellhammer (Mayhem) on drums and Sverd (Arcturus) on synths.
"Witches Sabbath" is probably the slowest songs on here; it summons a really dark atmosphere with its slow riffs and insane vocal work: here, Ihsahn's most possessed screams are joined by some low, unearthly chantings (which are promptly distorted by the recording equipment, but the effect isn't really negative) provided by Samoth and Mortiis. Not really typical for Emperor, but great for its own mood nevertheless.
"Lord of the Storms" is another surprise, being a very short and straightforward Metal blitz built on exactly two riffs (although one of them is played in two different keys), with a speedy part in the middle whihc is pure headbanging bliss. The songs lasts until some seconds after the two minute mark but actually finishes earlier, and is prolonged by long notes, drum fills and Ihsahn's demented screams.
Finally, the title track... another little gem from a songwriting point o fview, it opens with a plodding, menacing riff which turns into a mid-paced break via a courageous but effective key change, to become another fast and furious assault through a clever chromatic chord ascension. The song then switches back to the first riff, and ends on a very unsettling spoken part ("Nobody will escape the wrath of the tyrant... forever the beast shall wander the earth!").
The original edition of the demo and some re-releases have an outro (labelled as "The End" on some vinyl versions) which was left off the official Candlelight re-release for reasons unknown.
If you like Emperor, you probably know this one already. If you like raw Black Metal, you want to check this out. If you don't like Black Metal, you will loathe this to death, but then again what would you be reading this review for?