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Emperial Wrath unleashed - 98%

Lord_Jotun, January 2nd, 2004

Unrestrained talent can't be held back, yet Emperor's ascension to underground godlike status was fast and universally acknowledged almost beyond comprehension. With just one demo out, they found themselves with a contract signed to Candlelight Records and a large fanbase longing for more Emperial hymns to feast upon. The demand, however, was no match for their capabilities. A frist an important big step forward was the establishment of a full line-up which was secured by the inclusion of drummer Faust, hence allowing Samoth to switch back to his original guitar duties at Ihsahn's side. Ihsahn himself started using keyboards, creating that unique atmospheric way of berforming Bacl Metal that has become more and more popular over the years but Emperor definitely pioneered.
Thus armed and ready, Emperor entered a "proper" studio for the very first time at the end of 1992 and recordeda total of seven songs; five of these were re-recordings of "Wrath Of The Tyrant" choice cuts, while the remaining two were brand new Emperial symphonies. These new entries, along with two reworked classics, were picked up for the very first official Emperor release, the infamous self-titled EP which would also be released as part with a split album with Viking Metal masters Enslaved, and was the very first record to be released with Candlelight's label.

The band's progression from their demo days, despite the rather short chronological distance, is already enormous. This is where Emperor finally found their own sound and embarked on their quest for worldwide Black Metal supremacy. The EP opens with one of the two new songs, a classic with a capital "C" which claimed the throne for Emperor right from the very beginning... "I Am the Black Wizards". This song has, simply put, everything Emperor have been celebrated for, except clean vocals: fast, precise and intricated guitar riffs, overpowering drums, manic vocals and great keyboard interventions, always coming in and leaving at the right place and time without ever becoming overpowring or tedious. This song begins with a very fast section featruing arguably Emperor's best known guitar line, to evolve into a very atmospheric part in the middle and return to the first riff backed this time by a very slow rhythm.
The production is predicatbly raw, but not as bad as one might expect. The guitars have a most peculiar sound, with one of them being very buzzy and distorted and the other more muffled but much more clear; the combination of the two sounds as well as Mortiis's bass (it's barely perceptible but trust me, you can feel it's there after several listens) builds a thick wall of sound that the lousy prodctuion fails to wash away. The drums are also rather clear, although the snare and some cymbals get a bit drowned in the mix especially in the faster bits; the bass drum is very powerful and in the double bass bits it creates a sort of rumble which supplies a much needed low end to the complexive sound. The keyboards are a huge surprise, because I would have never expected them to sound so full and clear on such a raw soundnig record; yet their majestic presence is there right from the slower parts of "I Am the Black Wizards", and is an essential part of the picture. Ihsahn's vocals are weird here. He uses a evry high pitched and not excessively comprehensible shriek, and that's ok, but at times he tries a lower growl-like voice which gets completely garbled and stifled by the production; probably he wanted to use an effect that would have worked in a better studio but went almost completely wrong here. His spoken part at the end of "I Am the Black Wizard" comes out rather low and powerless too.

Next is "Wrath of the Tyrant". the re-recorded title track of the band's legendary demo. Here we can compare the band's new sound with their previous output, and even without considering the very obvious sound differences, the band's progression comes out as unbelievable. Keyboards are much more basic on this song, which is a good thing as they provide a deeper backdrop to an already atmospheric song, and some sections are stretched to longer lengths to give room to newly added dual guitar passages (the band had only one guitar on the demo); the new rendition is terrific and enhances the really disquieting, "under the reign of terror" atmosphere of the song.
"Night of the Graveless Souls" is another song from the demo, made even fatsre by Faust's great drumming; the keyboard line in the break after each verse is damn funny but very clever and effective; on the other hand, that weird noise added just before the fade out is completely unnecessary and slightly dumb... whatever. Another great reworking of an already good song.

The EP closes with "Cosmic Keys to My Creations and Times", another epic track in the vein of "I Am the Black Wizards"; both songs definitely show the direction Emperor is heading towards. This one is generally faster than the first, because it stays fast almost all the way through the final riff, where it slows down considerably. Sadly, the great keyboards here are drowned out or distorted by the production, and the vocals have again some problems,a nd the spoken part just before the last riff sounds even more chocked and unintellegible than the one on "I Am the Black Wizards". Despite all the sonic drawbacks the song comes out very good and much more complex than the demo-era material. Another promise of greater things to come...

Very rarely an EP manages to represent the potential of a band, but Emperor have definitely succeeded here. If you enjoyed "In The Nightside Eclipse" you can try this out, for the spirit is similar, with an extra touch of rawness. Fans who are trying out Emperor for the first time and are already familiar with Black Metal might also want to check it, although I'd still recommend "In The Nightside Eclipse" or "Anthems To The Weklin At Dusk" for a deeper insight of the band's sound. Anyone looking for raw yet melodic and essentially great Black Metal can go for this blindfolded.