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Symphonic Black Metal
Black Metal has been growing almost exponentially in popularity ever since 1994, a year that not only marked the end of an era with many loose ends and unresolved mysteries appearing to come to an end within the notorious and controversial circles of the early Norwegian Black Metal scene, but also a year that marked a before and after in Black Metal from a musical point of view, because it was during this year that many of what are now considered classic Black Metal albums were released, being either genre-defining, of landmark importance, or otherwise of exceptional quality.
In fact, a handful of these albums actually fit neatly within all three categories, raising the bar equally for their innovation, importance, and musical greatness. One of these albums is Into The Nightside Eclipse, the first full length album to be released by Norwegian Black Metal legends Emperor.
Tracing The Origins
Emperor can trace their roots back to 1990, when Vegard "Ihsahn" Tveitan and Tomas "Samoth" Haugen met at a rock music seminar in Bergen, Norway, and soon began playing together in a band that underwent various name changes, starting with Dark Device, Xerasia and Embryonic before finally settling on Thou Shalt Suffer in 1991. Thou Shalt Suffer, with Ihsahn on guitars and vocals, Samoth on guitars, Vidar "Ildjarn" Vaaer on bass and Thorbjørn Akkerhaugenand on drums, played primitive hybrid of Black Metal and Death Metal, with occasional use of keyboards, which could be appropriately labeled Blackened Death Metal by today's standards.
Thou Shalt Suffer recorded two demos in 1991, titled Open The Mysteries Of Your Creation and Into The Woods Of Belial, and although they featured some distinct characteristics that would be found later in a more refined and evolved form on some of Emperor's recordings, they were somewhat hidden behind the very raw and low-fi production quality resulting from being recorded on Ildjarn's 4-track recorder.
The Early Years
Shortly after the release of the Into the Woods Of Belial demo, Thou Shalt Suffer split up, with Ihsahn and Samoth founding Emperor, while Ildjarn went on to create his own self-titled solo project, and Thorbjørn Akkerhaugenand went on to create his own studio named Akkerhaugen Lydstudio. Although the band's split was instigated by the fact that Samoth had begun to write material outside of Thou Shalt Suffer, there were no hard feelings, as both Ihsahn and Samoth would later contribute to Ildjarn's project on a number of occasions, and Thorbjørn Akkerhaugenand would provide his studio for recording and engineering purposes for several of Emperor's albums.
Within the newly formed Emperor, Ihsahn handled guitars, keyboards and vocal duties, Samoth handled drums, and they recruited Håvard "Mortiis" Ellefsen as bassist and lyricist. With this line-up, Emperor began working on their first demo which was titled Wrath Of The Tyrant. The demo was released in 1992, and it proved decisive in Emperor's career, as it not only attracted the attention of the Norwegian Black Metal scene, but also that of Candlelight Records who signed a record contract with the band, a contract which would remain active for the rest of the band's career.
Following the release of the Wrath Of The Tyrant demo, Emperor shuffled their line-up, with Samoth moving to rhythm guitar and Bård "Faust" Eithun being recruited as drummer. Shortly after this, several infamous events occurred within the Norwegian Black Metal scene that would forever taint Black Metal and contribute greatly to its notoriety, with some of Emperor's members playing a key part in these events.
Murder, Arson & Arrests
Most notable is the murder of homosexual Magne Andreassen by Faust on the 21st of August, 1992, at recently completed Olympic park in Lillehammer, Norway. The official statement is that Magne Andreassen began to make sexual advances towards Faust after convincing him that they should take a walk in the nearby forest, and that this provoked Faust into stabbing him multiple times before kicking him repeatedly in the head to assure that he was dead. Samoth on the other hand, together with several other Norwegian Black Metal musicians, was involved in several incidents of church arson in 1992.
Neither Faust nor Samoth would be convicted of their crimes until 1994, when the police investigation surrounding the murder of Mayhem guitarist Øystein "Euronymous" Aarseth by Varg Vikernes finally led to their arrest. Samoth was sentenced to 16 months imprisonment for the arson of the Skjold Church in Vindafjord which he commited with Varg Vikernes, while Faust was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for the murder of Magne Andreassen, although his sentence was eventually reduced to nine years. Before their incarceration, Emperor managed to record the self titled Emperor EP in December of 1992, which was released in March of the following year. Both the Wrath Of The Tyrant demo and the Emperor EP have been re-released a number of times, most notably in the form of a Emperor / Wrath Of The Tyrant compliation album released in 1998. The EP was also released as a split with fellow Norwegian band Enslaved, titled Emperor / Hordanes Land.
In The Nightside Eclipse
Shortly after the release of the Emperor EP, bassist Mortiis would leave the band to form his own self-titled Industrial Rock / Dark Ambient project, and would be replaced by Terje "Tchort" Schei. With this new line-up, in the summer of 1993 Emperor set to work on recording their first full length studio album, In The Nightside Eclipse, at the famous Grieghallen Studio in Bergen, Norway, where countless other classic Black Metal albums have also been recorded.
Back to the ever-growing popularity present in Black Metal that was mentioned at the beginning of this biography, there is one concrete aspect of Black Metal, or more specifically, one category of Black Metal that has attained more presence and popularity than any other, and that is the sub-genre of Epic / Symphonic Black Metal. In fact, Symphonic Black Metal has become so popular within the mainstream and has had such an impact on the global metal community as a whole, that many who aren't too familiar with the origins of traditional Black Metal often consider that the entire genre can be correctly represented and efficiently summed up by the likes of Cradle Of Filth or Dimmu Borgir.
While this is both unavoidable and unfortunate, as well somewhat irritating, it only helps to underline just how innovating, important and exceptional Emperor's first album really was, because it was In The Nightside Eclipse that basically defined the entire sub-genre and eventually gave birth to a plethora of new bands, all wanting to try their best at blending Black Metal with symphonic elements. While a few would come out victorious, having perfected their own personal approach to the formula that was first originated on In The Nightside Eclipse, others would fail in the process and be universally ridiculed except within the most commercial of "metal" magazines.
With the release of In The Nightside Eclipse in February 1994, Emperor rapidly garnered acclaim which would lead way to a huge fanbase, both inside Norway and beyond. Despite this success, bassist Tchort left the band, and when Samoth was finally released on parole in 1996, Emperor recruited Trym Torson from Enslaved fame as a replacement for Faust on drums, and Jonas Alver from Dodheimsgard on bass guitar. During this period, Emperor released two additional EPs, titled As The Shadows Rise and Reverance, with the first consisting of some re-recordings of songs from the Wrath Of The Tyrant demo, and the second consisting of some new material that served as a preview of their upcoming second full length album, Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk.
Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk
As with their masterpiece In The Nightside Eclipse, the band once again returned to the famous Grieghallen Studio in Bergen, Norway, to record Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk, although several evolutionary steps unfolded in Emperor's music which had already become apparent with the changes in style present on the two EPs. Most importantly, there is a much cleaner production apparent on Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk, with each individual musician's exceptional talent being able to shine through, as opposed to forming part of a majestic wall of sound that was characteristic of In The Nightside Eclipse. Other characteristics worth mentioning are the more prominent use of clean vocals by Ihsahn and more emphasis on the guitars and especially the drums, allowing the band to rely less on the actual keyboards to achieve the same operatic effect.
Unfortunately, once again, Emperor were left without a bass guitarist as Jonas Alver left the band soon after the release of Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk. From this point onwards, Ihsahn assumed bass duties in addition to already handling vocals, guitars and keyboards. Following this internal re-organization, Emperor marched on and subsequently added two interesting releases to their growing discography. One was the aforementioned Emperor / Wrath Of The Tyrant compliation album released in 1998, and the other was a split album with Norwegian Industrial Black Metal band Thorns, founded by Snorre "Blackthorn" Ruch. The split was simply titled Thorns Vs. Emperor, and it consisted of four Thorns songs covered by Emperor and four Emperor songs covered by Thorns.
IX Equilibrium & Internal Inequilibrium
In the winter of 1998, Emperor returned to the studio once again to record their third full length album, IX Equilibrium, although on this occasion, instead of returning to the Grieghallen Studio in Bergen, they used the Akkerhaugen Lydstudio owned by Thorbjørn Akkerhaugenand who had previously played drums for Thou Shalt Suffer. IX Equilibrium continued the same clean production present on Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk, although the whole album is infused with even more aggression than anything the band had done before, and can be accurately described as a relentless aural attack. In fact, their is such an onslaught of drumming an guitarwork in comparison to any previous Emperor album that the fanbase found itself somewhat divided, with some praising the new-found aggression while others remained unconvinced, having preferred a return to the primordial sound found on In The Nightside Eclipse or even something more akin to Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk.
Soon after the release of IX Equilibrium, Emperor participated in the famous True Kings Of Norwa split, featuring some of Norway's finest Black Metal bands, specifically Immortal, Arcturus, Ancient and Dimmu Borgir in addition to Emperor. The split was released in 2000 through Spikefarm Records and contains several classic songs from the early stages of each band's career, with Emperor being represented by the three songs that appear on their 1994 EP As The Shadows Rise, themselves being a re-recording of some of the songs that appear on the Wrath of the Tyrant demo.
Later that year, Emperor released their first ever live album, titled Emperial Live Ceremony which was recorded on the 14th of April, 1999, at the LA2 venue in London, England. The release of the live album was also accompanied by a VHS recording of the same concert under the same title. During this time Emperor toured extensively throughout Europe and the United States, as well as performing one concert in Mexico City.
Emperor began the new millenium with the release of a fantastic box set titled The Emperial Vinyl Presentation, consisting of vinyl editions of the Emperor / Wrath Of The Tyrant compilation, their three full length albums and the Emperial Live Ceremony live album, limited to 3000 copies. It was during this period when musical differences began to appear between Emperor's remaining members. On one side, Samoth and Trym were gradually favouring a more Death Metal orientated sound, with both being active members of Blackened Death Metal band Zyklon, while Ihsahn was venturing into more artistic, avant-garde and experimental waters, something that was increasingly apparent through his side-project Peccatum which he had formed in 1998 together with his wife Heidi "Ihriel" Tveitan and her brother.
The Discipline Of Fire & The Demise Of The Emperor
Finally, in the winter of 2000-2001, Emperor entered the studio one last time to record their fourth and final full length studio album, titled Prometheus - The Discipline Of Fire & Demise. Trym handled drums and Samoth handled some guitar parts while Ihsahn took care of vocals, guitars, bass guitar, keyboards, synths and programming, as well as the songwriting and composition for the entire album. On Prometheus - The Discipline Of Fire & Demise, Emperor took one last evolutionary step, but instead of continuing where they had left off with the brutality present on IX Equilibrium, this time they opted for what can be described as a slightly diluted version of Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk, with a heavy presence of keyboards and clean vocals throughout. Once again, the fanbase was somewhat polarized upon reception although, as has always been the case with evolving bands of legendary status, many old school fans would always prefer the band's early works, regardless of the quality or innovation present on their later releases.
In 2001, Emperor decided it was time to put the band to rest. Ihsahn continued with his Peccatum side-project and eventually set in motion is self-titled solo project Ihsahn which he maintains active to this day, having released a total of four full length albums as of 2012, while Samoth and Trym carried on playing in Zyklon. To commemorate the band's legacy and career, Candlelight Records released a second compliation album in 2003 titled Scattered Ashes: A Decade of Emperial Wrath, featuring many of their classic songs as well as previously unreleased material such as covers of songs by the likes of Mayhem, Darkthrone, Bathory and Mercyful Fate.
Reunion & Legacy
While Emperor officially split up in 2001 and never released any new material since then, they rejoined forces to play numerous live performances between 2006 and 2007, including many important metal festivals such as the Inferno Metal Festival in Oslo, Norway, and the prestigious Wacken Open Air festival near Wacken in Germany. To celebrate their reunion appearance at these festivals, a live album titled Live Inferno / Live at Wacken Open Air 2006 was released in 2009, together with a DVD featuring the live recording of the Wacken Open Air concert.
So there you have it. Despite splitting up more than a decade ago, Emperor's legacy and influence lives on in the music of countless Black Metal bands spanning all sub-genres, and will continue to do so for as long as Black Metal remains alive.
- Last updated by Imperator on 1st January, 2013 -
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