Emperor - _Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk_
(Candlelight, 1997)
by: Henry Akeley (8.5 out of 10)
"Emperor performs Sophisticated Black Metal Art exclusively!" says the CD cover. Interestingly, good old Webster's lists the two primary meanings of sophisticated as (1) "not in a natural, pure, or original state" and (2) "deprived of native or original simplicity" - a perfect description of _Anthems..._ compared to the band's earlier work. Songs have grown more complex, and the style has altered to include mainstream-friendly touches like squeaky guitar solos, and frequent "clean" singing. Some listeners will be thrilled by this; others, displeased. In any case, one cannot deny the high quality of composition and performance. Hence the generous rating. Personally, though, I am disappointed by all the glamorous new embellishments to a sound which once was starker, darker, and capable of achieving "epic" impact on decidedly non-mainstream terms. Anyway, a well-constructed introduction opens the album, building to a peak that's musically very well-conceived, but seriously weakened by brassy synthesizer tones, sounding a climactic theme which would roar like thunder if performed with guitar instead. Then again, for optimal impact, the guitars would require a powerful sound, something which they lack on this album. With the exception of the occasional up-front riff, solo, or melodic lead line, the guitars sound awfully thin, and they tend to get lost within a high-pitched wash of vocals, drums, and keyboards which dominates the mix. Thankfully, though, there is -plenty- of blazing speed maintained by Trym's excellent drumming. Except for the opening and closing tracks, all the songs build blasts of fiery energy into structures that house lots of musical variation. "Ensorcelled by Khaos" and "The Acclamation of Bonds" do this especially enjoyably - whereas some of the other songs don't seem quite as well-constructed. In my opinion, the guitar solos which occasionally pop up don't add much to the music except squeaky sounds - and beware the glammy melodic lead line in the middle of "Ye Entrancemperium." As for Ihsahn's bouts of clean singing... well, I think they're conventional-sounding to the point of being quite insipid at times. Still, there -is- some very cool stuff here. Cautiously recommended.

(article published 14/7/1997)

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