Has it really been 20 years? Goddamn, I feel old. In 1994 PG (Pre-Grymm), I was a high-school sophomore with an in-between mullet/long-hair, burnt out on mainstream metal (“90s Metal Weirdness,” anyone?), and I was looking for darker, heavier, faster affairs. With some recommendations from friends as well as some trusty advice from the long-dormant-and-majorly-missed Metal Maniacs magazine, I would be introduced to a slew of new (to me) bands, including one by a bunch of teenagers from Norway who would be creating, and later changing, the blackest of all musical landscapes to come and in the process, shaping my future musical tastes.
Yes, In the Nightside Eclipse, Emperor‘s scene-shaping full-length debut, turns 20 this month. Yes, you know the controversy surrounding this album, and respectfully, I’m not going to go there. Besides, while their contemporaries in Norway had been in the papers due to similar crimes or actions (Burzum and Mayhem, to name just two), how many of them could back that up with quality, thought-provoking, and challenging music with multiple layers to peel away and expose to the bitter winds? Yeah. So this will strictly focus on the music and not the extra-curricular bullshit. Onward…
With a foreboding, ominous keyboard introduction giving way to thunder, “Into the Infinity of Thoughts” is an unforgettable opening track. The blackened, rotting ingredients were all there: tremolo-picked melodies, frenetic blast-beat drumming, Ihsahn’s unearthly screeching and howling, somewhat audible bass (if you purchased one of the later re-issues, that is), choir-like keyboards, eerie spoken word, sudden abrupt endings… all of it. Sure, it’s all been done to death by many lesser hands since (*leering at Cradle of Filth*), but Emperor kept it tasteful not only in the opener, but throughout the album.
How Ihsahn and guitar co-hort Samoth were able to craft such a dense atmospheric aura at such a tender young age is still baffling. Closer and perennial live favorite “Inno A Satana” featured impressive clean singing by Ihsahn, precise drumming by Faust, and of course that majestic intro tremolo melody. It was clear why Ihsahn would lead the charge in the music and lyric-writing. Even at the young age of 17, he already had a good grasp of layers, melody, atmosphere, and mood. Even the awkwardly named “I Am the Black Wizards,” with its complex melodies (which, when played live, is coupled with Ihsahn’s screeching, which is in itself mind-blowing), abrupt mood and tempo changes, and enthralling atmosphere, showed that Ihsahn really is all of those black wizards, and would later become the 8-stringed guitar master he is now.
The production by Pytten at Grieghallen, even for its time, was not like most black metal. Sure, it’s trebly as all get-out, but there was great care to make sure everything was audible. That said, In the Nightside Eclipse, despite being groundbreaking for its time, doesn’t quite hold up as well as its direct follow-up, Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, in terms of sheer depth and songwriting. However, Emperor laid the groundwork for many contemporary black metal bands, and cemented them as leaders of their blackened craft with In the Nightside Eclipse. A sizable debt is owed to Ihsahn and company for their contributions to the black arts. If you want to know where it all started, In the Nightside Eclipse is your cosmic key. [I miss Metal Maniacs too! – Steel “Living in the Past” Druhm].