Terrorizer ALBUM OF THE MONTH issue 42
'Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk'
'In The Nightside Eclipse', Emperor's 1995 debut album, was an underground classic. Arguably, it has since become one of the most influential albums to emerge from the Nineties wave of Black Metal, more so than the legendary but widely unknown Mayhem. Cloned and refined a dozen times since, especially for its use of keyboards, it now forms the archetype for Cradle Of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, Hecate Enthroned and others. Quite what they will do in the wake of 'Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk', I shudder to think. Because Ihsahn and Samoth, alongside former Enslaved drummer Trym and new bassist Alver, have just upped the ante, not just on Black Metal, but on all Metal. It really is that good.
When we first listened to it, nothing was said until we reached 'The Loss And Curse Of Reverence', the track already lifted as a single. We could breathe more easily them; we'd heard that one before. As it turns out, '...Reverence' more or less forms the centrepiece of the record: everything leading up to it just seems to build and build, higher and higher, and everything after just careers down an imaginary toboggan slide, until 'The Wanderer' sees the disc close at just a shade over forty minutes. At the other end of the album, 'Alsvartr (The Oath)' is an intro to die for, giving way to a fanfare so ludicrous it actually works. When 'Ye Entrancempyrium' kicks in, and the guitars begin to divebomb and swoop down around your head, you're utterly hooked.
For those six tracks in between intro and outro, the underlying pace is absurdly relentless, Trym's drumming forging ahead of the guitars, half the time at twice the speed of the guitars, to create a sublime rallentando effect, half the time in synch, where everything surges at warp speed. And warped is a very apt word here: imagine Sonic Youth playing Morbid Angel songs, and you might get some idea of how far Ihsahn and Samoth have pushed their combined six strings. I strongly suspect that much of this utilises either open chords or alternate tunings, not to mention a ton of brilliantly-deployed effects pedals, since there's a resonance, a linearity, a dead-centre drone running through each onslaught that keeps these songs intact and together by some strange centrifugal force. Even without the array of keyboard parts, this would still sound sky-high. It's ultimately cosmic rock, as reminiscent of Hüsker Dü's 'Zen Arcade' and Rush's 'Hemispheres' as it is of Arcturus or their own debut.
Please note that I don't compare Emperor to non-Black Metal bands lightly. Because 'Anthems...' is far, far more than just another Black Metal album. And while this music's aura may be infused with an almost overwhelming sense of "cosmic terror", as H.P. Lovecraft himself once put it, its thrust is pure, classic Metal. Again, it would not do to compare any album too frivolously to Slayer's 'Reign In Blood', but there's the same unerring pacing here, the same sense of streamlining. I'll stop short of calling it a 'Reign In Blood' for the Nineties, but only by a couple of inches.
Some records just carry themselves correctly: you just don't f*** with them. And right now, nobody can touch Emperor.