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Falls short of the moon, ends up amid the cosmos. - 75%

ConorFynes, March 1st, 2016

I know I should like In the Nightside Eclipse even more than I do. In past reviews, I make no disguise of the fact that I got into black metal via my interest in progressive and experimental rock, and this is arguably the first album that attempted to merge the genre with a progressive scope. Emperor are a band I could use to shut up any music snob who snipes black metal as necessarily brutish and unmusical. Indeed, most of the Second Wave probably falls under that description, but Emperor were highbrow by contrast. They brought about the rabid aggression of fast black metal, but with it a regal sophistication that seems years beyond the capability of some teens from Norway.

In the Nightside Eclipse deserves to be hailed as a classic. Even if I hated the album, there's no way to argue against the fact that it changed things. The artsy "Third Wave" may not have come to pass the way it did if they hadn't laid the groundwork for complexity. This is by no means the first use of synths or even the first symphonic black metal album (that honour goes to Master's Hammer's The Jilemnice Occultist) but it took the symphonic elements to previously unheard heights. It's a pretty awesome album by today's standards, but I cannot fucking begin to imagine how it would have sounded in 1994.

This is the sort of symphonic black metal opus with layer upon layer of detail to hear. The riffs themselves are fairly technical, but alongside the band's pocket orchestra, it's an overwhelming amount of sound for a 90s black metal band. Therein lies everything that's wrong and right about In the Nightside Eclipse. It was mind-bogglingly ambitious for its day and has stood the test of time because of that hubris. At the end of the day however, the technical limitations are too much to make the most of Emperor's spooky symphony. Their aim outstretched their practical reach here. The result is an atmospheric, dense album where some of the mystique lies in the fact you know the mix has robbed you of hearing everything in its full glory.

I should get my biggest thought towards In the Nightside Eclipse out of the way first. Production was never a focus of the original black metal bands, yet it became one of the genre's most defining aspects. People will talk about shitty production on some of these albums. I think they're missing the point. The productions may have often been low-rent, but the raw fuzz did wonders for a lot of the atmospheres, to the point it sometimes feels more evocative than the performances themselves. When I say In the Nightside Eclipse has a horrible production, it's because I think it works against the intent of the album. The fidelity's a cut above the stuff their mates were doing, but their symphonic angle made a much higher fidelity to do justice to all of the layers.

In the Nightside Eclipse has got to be one of the most disappointing productions I've ever heard. I don't blame Emperor for this. Their resources and recording experience were both limited. It's undeniable that the muddy production takes a way from the album's potential however. When I'm listening to the album, I know I'm hearing great music, but it's almost like I'm hearing the album played from the other end of a telephone. Because they needed to fit so many synths in with the guitars, everything sounds undermixed, and thereby underwhelming. The drums are well-played but weak sounding, the guitars are muffled, and the vocals make a thin shriek that don't hold a candle to the distinctive howl frontman Ihsahn would develop from Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk onward. Really, the only thing that seems to fit in its right place are the synthesizers. I'm not sure I could think of a better word to describe Emperor's keyboard offerings here than "spooky". It's eerie in a Gothic haunted house sort of way, and the atmosphere links up with the album cover like nothing else ever could.

While there is only one really bad thing about In the Nightside Eclipse, there are many good things. While the muffled production keeps me from appreciating this music for all its worth, it is the sort of album that's only grown on me the more I hear it. Striking listeners at once with the epic 9 minute "Into the Infinity of Thoughts", it's immediately clear that Emperor could very well have established themselves as the thinking man's alternative to standard black metal. As composers, they already had the mark of potential legends. The surprise dynamic shifts they guide the songwriting are most satisfying when you're totally familiar with the album and know when to expect something new.

"Into the Infinity of Thoughts" is one of the best songs Emperor ever wrote; in an album that was arguably too epic for its own good, the opener manages to stand out as a self-contained journey of its own. I've heard the other highlights on early EPs. "Cosmic Keys to My Creations & Times", "Beyond the Great Vast Forest" and especially "I Am the Black Wizards" were re-recorded for this album and stand out nicely, though I think I preferred them in their more carnal forms. In the Nightside Eclipse is very well written. Purely speaking in terms of composition and technicality, there have been many bands that spend their entire careers aspiring for something like this. Emperor had parts of their craft nailed from square one.

Possibly more than any other album, In the Nightside Eclipse is a reminder that the Second Wave really is worth a lot of the hype and mystique that's still tossed its way. Regardless of the insipid burnings or the murders, the concentration, kinship and rivalry between bands, each doing their own groundbreaking thing, is almost surreal. On the other end of the spectrum, Burzum was taking this relatively new sound to new atmospheric heights. Immortal had their speed, Mayhem had death, Darkthrone had punkish intuition and Enslaved upheld a pagan past. Emperor, on the other hand, had sophistication. Their mentality was anathema to most of the Second Wave, and despite whatever technical limitations seemed fixed to hold them back, few bands emerged from that scene with as distinctive a sound as theirs.