Review: Emperor “Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk” [Candlelight Records]

Review: Emperor “Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk” [Candlelight Records]

- in Reviews
Rating 91%
Prodigious black metal tempest
91 %
User Rating : 5 (1 votes)

So there’s this band called Emperor. And on this album, they play a brand of music that could well be described as “imperial sounding” black metal and as many sharp minds have guessed it, it’s no coincidence. This should convey a rush of thoughts into one’s mind about what this would sound like on the fronts of technicality and overall feel.

The tracks are partly organized like classical music compositions, constantly evolving with thematic motifs trading off in succession rather than standard rock/metal verses. The album fosters a strong progressive edge with a wealth of contrasting moods and varying tempos and time signatures, coupled with elements of traditional song on steadier clean-sung choruses and interludes. This is like a perfect marriage between old music and contemporary band song – a smooth fusion of flamboyant Baroque hubris with modern metal extremeness. There’s also a definite medieval inspiration as can best be heard on the album introduction ceremony and its Middle-age fair-like ambiance, among other briefer sections throughout. Also the album closing instrumental ‘Opus a Satana’ could’ve easily been part of the Warcraft 2 original soundtrack (masterfully crafted music in its own right) as it’s nearly identical in style with the aerial lead trumpets and soft cinematic strings over forceful medieval percussion.

Brutal, corrosive black metal strumming and tremolo picking with fanatical blast beats backed by a prominent orchestral presence instilling a grandeur to the whole is the order of the day, but only as the main platform while the arrangements and various used instruments; too many to name; embellish the music with remarkable command. Faint glimmers of melody amidst ravaging chromatic chaos will make appearances, while the purely melodic moments (the late album instrumental ‘The Wanderer’ as a good example) help depict an utter purity juxtaposed with the ugliness and despair that haunts this record, only making the album more poignant and vividly intense emotionally.

Main song-writer and band maestro Ihsahn does well maintaining consistency in the songs despite the ongoing musical madness and density of the tracks. Although the songs are long (with an average of 5.5min) and filled to burst with different parts, the band manages to give the tracks a tempered pace and a natural sense of composure; like they’ve got lots to show but aren’t in a rush to do it; as the sections aren’t immediately taken away moments after being introduced, as is the tendency in any prog music. The band grants the listener the time to appreciate the sterling work as it’s given just enough attention and time to be fully efficient and memorable. Not too long, not too short – just right. And it is infectiously catchy.

Black metal anthem ‘The Loss and Curse of Reverence’ simply needs a mention of its own as certainly any musician/composer, inside or outside metal altogether, could learn from it. It’s one of the rare tracks that might just have a claim to being an all-encompassing summary of an entire genre. It’s really got basically everything that might be expected from black metal as a whole, crafted with the finest quality. Among other trademark features of Emperor’s music, who wouldn’t recognize their infamous hammer-on/pull off chromatic licks punctuated by an accented pinch harmonic? These are as iconic for Emperor as Megadeth’s 4-chord chromatic progression or Cannibal Corpse’s diminished arpeggio riffs to name a couple of examples.

Long bouts of instrumental composition wisely provide the tracks with breathing room and a break from Ihsahn’s voracious harpy-like vocal shrieks, with the drums regularly resting as the song theatrically reveals a new awe-inspiring musical phrase before all instruments return. As dense and wildly busy as the songs are, they somehow don’t come across as being overly gluttonous, nor volatile, although it will surely take a bit of getting used to from the listener to fully appreciate the quality on display here.

Simply put, this album is a tempest. Uncompromising and restless, it expresses the tumultuous plight proper to the human condition through chaotic violence and a profound grievance against existence. It keeps the listener connected from beginning to end, prolonging this aural hallucination further and further with a laudable sustained consistency. Like a great film, it covers a plethora of emotions and genres, here ranging from epic to mournful, euphoric or tragic and heavy, mysterious or revelatory. It’s easy to write or to find technically proficient music. It’s exceptionally rare, if not nearly impossible to find technically proficient music that is also great music – authentic, unique, memorable and strikingly daring. And this album bears this most unmistakable mark of masterpieces and calling this an outright masterpiece is at least a tenable position to hold. Does black metal ever get much better than this over a full album?

Release date: May 19th, 1997

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