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Impaled Emperor - 89%

Razakel, November 18th, 2012

Man, if only splits were typically this creative and rewarding. Thorns Vs. Emperor sees these two titanic bands do battle in an interesting, transitory stage in their respective careers. The result is for the most part compelling and quite unique. While Emperor were at the time (and eternally in retrospect) the more established of the two bands, Thorns handily dethrone them at their own game, all the while boasting their own modernized take on second wave black metal in the Norwegian scene’s twilight years of the late ’90s.

This split is very much a collaborative effort, and shouldn’t be seen as the kind of split where a couple bands throw together some songs they have lying around just for the sake of putting them out there. There’s nothing disjointed between the two bands; on the contrary, both employ a similar futuristic interpretation of the black metal we’d expect from their namesake. This kind of aesthetic is a clear foreshadowing of Thorns’ full length, which would come out two years subsequent to this release, and would develop this sound more completely. As for Emperor, on the other hand, this is quite a black sheep in their discography, as it’s a notable departure from pretty much anything else they’ve done before or since. Not all black sheep are ugly, mind you, and even though Emperor’s side is inferior to Thorns’ more commanding presence, their contributions are still perfectly worthwhile.

Beginning with the best, Thorns’ “Ærie Descent” is easily one of the best songs Snorre has ever blasphemed to construct. While its skeleton first appeared in the ancient Trøndertun demo of ’92, this is its definitive form in all its glory. Developing from a slow pace, this song is a lesson in heaviness and constancy, with Snorre’s ungodly riffs reigning endless havoc on the soundscape. If you’re not captivated by the 2:25 mark, you’re then treated to, honest-to-goodness, one of the best, most memorable black metal riffs I’ve ever heard. This is an immediate reminder of why Snorre is regarded as such an influence over the songwriting of the Norwegian second wave. This kind of triumphantly melodic tremolo work is what he’s known for, and the material here captures him in the height of his powers. Melas Khole is decidedly more atmospheric, with the repetitive riffs achieving a Burzum-like hypnotic effect. On top of the excellence of the musicianship, Satyr performs vocals on all of Thorns’ material here, and injects a welcome dose of aggression into the songs. Included as a bonus track is another great Thorns song called “You That Mingle May”. At just under three minutes, it’s a lot punchier than the lengthier Thorns numbers here, but I’d hardly call it more ‘straightforward’, with its bizarre guitar affects throughout. While it’s credited as a Thorns song, the line up consists of Snorre on guitars, Fenriz from Darkthrone on drums, and, again, Satyr on vocals.

Admittedly, perhaps the main reason Emperor come off as less compelling is simply because there’s nothing exactly “new” from their side of things, as all of their songs are either remixes or covers. The strange reimagining of the god-like classic, “I am the Black Wizards”, here more humbly titled, “I Am”, is stripped of its metal and is instead presented as a slowly building martial industrial dirge, including samples from the Thorns song, “Fall”, off the Thule demo. It comes off as a bit needless at first, but once the signature melody begins to brood as a build-up, it pays off nicely. “Thus March the Nightspirit” is a purely synthesized take on “Thus Spake the Nightspirit” off Anthems… and doesn’t offer much replay value after the novelty of the first few listens. As if to really get the point across about “Ærie Descent”, Emperor includes their own version of the song. This is a bit faster and more condensed sounding than Thorns’ incarnation, and while it’s not all that different, it’s cool to hear the monstrous riffs backed up with come cheesy symphonics.

While I definitely find myself turning most often to the Thorns material on this release, the entirety of it is highly recommended, if not essential. I imagine many Emperor fans might not want to bother with what’s here, but personally I find their side intriguing, if only for its uniqueness within their career. Still, Thorns undeniably reigns supreme, with this split showcasing some of their strongest work ever.