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Matchless - 99%

Felix 1666, May 27th, 2018

The Norwegian black metal big bang covered a lot of facets. Gehenna showcased its sad face, Immortal were responsible for the rumbling part. Ancient spat fire and delivered an eerie touch, Gorgoroth focused on pure brutality and Mayhem added occult vehemence. And what about Emperor? Simply speaking, they lived up to their name. The imperial "In the Nighttime Eclipse" catapulted them directly to the top. They were the kings of Norwegian black metal, maybe not alone, but in a kind of condominium with Mayhem. They gave the sinister art of their homeland the most intelligent, flexible and musically most valuable face. Already their debut mirrored their overflowing creativity and its only disadvantage was that one thing became quite obvious: the black metal frame could be too narrow for the musicians. I don't say that the nine pieces suffer from an overdose of progressivity, by far not. But all songs are filled to the brim with thousands of ideas. Very good ideas, no doubt about it. It happens a lot - breaks, tempo changes, different atmospheres, different voices, different riffs and melodies. But everything fits together and despite their complexity, the flow of the songs always plays the main role.

A special feature of the album is the perfect balance between guitars and keyboards. The latter are neither mere accessory nor do they claim to be in the driver's seat. They simply add value to songs such as "The Burning Shadows of Silence", just listen to their fragile howling at the beginning of this song. They appear like haunting ghosts that try to take possession of the listeners soul. At the same time, the guitars ensure the black metallic intensity. Not to mention the nagging of Ihsahn. Equipped with a lot of reverb, his performance breathes the spirit of the pioneering days of Norwegian black metal. He combines rebellion, resistance and malignancy in a charismatic way and his sometimes grotesquely distorted yet extremely grim approach fits the music very well. He delivers the contrast to pretty melodic, from time to time nearly symphonic keyboard-driven sequences - you can verify this inter alia during a melodic part with a Gehenna-esque line in "Cosmic Keys to My Creations & Times". This track offers, like almost each and every song here, the whole spectrum of fury, velocity, harmonies, tragic, occultism and musical brilliance. All tracks are artworks that stand on their own feet and despite their interwoven structures and the homogeneity of this debut, they develop a unique individuality very quickly. No doubt, this matchless document of total blackness yet compositional aspiration has its own (fascinating) character - and this is exactly the feature that so many albums do not have, at least not to this extent.

Emperor are not prone to self-limitation. The pretty soft beginning of "Towards the Pantheon" is nothing that makes the hearts of underground fetishists beat faster. But the degree of heaviness and intensity is growing, slowly, but steadily and, by the way, it goes without saying that this almost solemn start belongs to the most atmospheric moments of the full-length. Of course, the production plays its part in this context. Maybe it is no immaculate mix in objective terms, but with regard to the special requirements of the black sub-genre, it comes very close to the level of perfection. The guitars have the power to hurt the listener with their aggressive basic tone, while the keyboards embrace the audience gently but firmly. The drums do not fall by the wayside, only the bass guitar is slightly sidelined. However, only technocrats will moan about this fact in view of the exciting overall impression. Hard to believe that such competent musicians had a weakness for criminal activities as well. I obey the law (and this is one of many reasons why I am boring, I know.) That's why I condemn their deeds, especially those that Faust and Samoth have done. Yet similar to Varg Vikernes and other scatterbrains, these things do not diminish the excellence of the more or less perfect "In the Nightside Eclipse". So one thing is for sure, without the Norwegian black metal explosion, the nineties, the decade without thrash metal, would have been ten years of absolute mediocrity.