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Nascent Genius - 99%

Falconsbane, July 24th, 2006

While it was a remains a fairly common gimmick in black and death metal, Emperor/Hordane's Land will always be the definitive split album, not just because it captures two legendary bands in the first full flowering of genius, but because it came at a magical moment in the genre's history. Early recordings frequently function better as historical documents than as creative statements, but while Emperor/Hordane's Land certainly has great appeal in that historical sense, both bands succeed fully as artists as well.

Arguably, Enslaved's portion of the split is stronger (though it should be emphasized that this is a six-of-one-half-dozen-of-another situation), but it is the Emperor half that is definitely more interesting historically, due largely to its considerable divergence from the band's later material. Some of the expected elements are present, notably the precision in instrumentation, but on the whole, this is not the same Emperial beast that would be heard on In the Nightside Eclipse. This is a more restrained Emperor. The claustrophobic production values and jarring progressions of the band's subsequent work give way here to a more contemplative music that is, if perhaps a touch more conventional, also more fully developed across a broader spectrum of sound and idea. Strangely, despite its more 'primitive' approach, Emperor's efforts here achieve an enveloping, symphonic richness missing in their later material. This is most evident on "Night of the Graveless Souls" and "Cosmic Keys to My Creation and Times," where synthesized strings form a sinister counterpoint to the tremolo-picked guitar melodies, rather than simply serving as sonic shading. Throughout, the band really allows its material to breathe and gather momentum naturally, making for a dynamic, intense experience that immerses the listener in the stillness at the center of universal chaos.

For their part (Hordane's Land), Enslaved evoke the awsome power and majesty of battle. Each song opens with a leaden marching cadence only to explode into violence before reaching a point of self-sustaining equilibrium that is gradually transformed into a glorious triumphalism. This repetition of a basic theme in epic variation vaults the listener into an eternal past that serves as a reminder of what could be, extracting from the tragedy of the things lost the hope of a future that can be again.