They played sophisticated black metal, and they played it exclusively, and in 1997, on their second full-length, no one could touch Norwegians Emperor at what they did. Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk is an absolutely majestic record, one that took black metal circa the mid ’90s and added in a touch of… well… sophistication, sure, but also an obvious growth as musicians as well as a nod to some trad metal sounds (which the band would explore more later). They never lost the sheer brutality of black metal’s spirit: even as they added in a greater sense of songwriting smarts (these songs are fantastically composed), they made sure to blast through the material with twice as much intensity. Basically, the album was a middle finger to everyone but it was done in a way that few could deny. For my money, it’s the band’s shining moment in a catalogue of glory.
Decibel‘s Chris Dick inducted Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk into our Hall of Fame in our July 2016 issue (which you can grab a copy of right here); there’s never a bad time to go back and revisit this landmark album, so let’s do just that, as we examine each song and attempt to order them from worst to best.
10. Opus a Satana
Even the warm glow of nostalgia can’t hide the fact that a whole lot of keyboards from ’97 sounds like a whole lot of keyboards from ’97, this album outro (kinda) working in the greater context of the album but (totally) not working as a stand-alone cut.
9. Alsvartr (The Oath)
“Alsvartr (The Oath)” is just the ominous, spooky intro. Kinda not half-bad as far as these things go, but kinda useless on repeat spins, and on its own that’s an odd way to decide to spend 4:18 of your time. Honestly, I don’t have a whole lot of time for these, so there was never really a question this track would be helping to hold down the bottom half here. Sure, it almost turns into a song in the last 0:40, but, not quite.
8. The Wanderer
Easy to stick this one down here as it’s a three-minute instrumental that wanders at a slower pace than most of the album, but don’t sell it short: “The Wanderer” still manages to convey a feeling and an atmosphere in its three minutes, this by no means a toss-off interlude piece, instead the song working as a much-needed breather 8 songs in to this 10-song album, but not so much of a breather that it sucks: with “The Wanderer,” Emperor created a simple but powerful instrumental that serves its purpose well.
7. In Longing Spirit
Black metal doesn’t always do subtlety well, but the quiet part in “In Longing Spirit” is one of the good attempts, Emperor getting ready to close off the album with this song, which is at its best when it’s calm and quiet, even if the band sound a bit tentative to get too quiet. And the moments where they pick up and get louder are great; the part where the whole band jumps in together at 3:14 rules, and also shows how much Emperor had learned on this album in regards to patience and dynamics.
6. The Acclamation of Bonds
The trouble with these Hall of Fame Countdown pieces is that if an album’s in the Hall of Fame, it’s really an indisputable classic that can not be messed with, so it probably doesn’t have many crap songs. So, by default, some really good songs are going to end up down low on the list, just because. Hi, “The Acclamation of Bonds”! Sorry to put you down here so low, because you have that wildly catchy riff, you hold up the middle of the album very well (a position I respect and appreciate), and you’re a totally admirable piece of black metal. I actually really like you, a lot.
5. With Strength I Burn
The longest track on the album, “With Strength I Burn” clocks in at 8:18 and provides a great three-quarters-mark mix-up with tons of variety, clean vocals and slower tempos. The song proved that Emperor were ready to take on more than just blinders-on black metal at this point, the band laying down some of the album’s most ambitious material and also creating a cohesive whole of a song, “With Strength I Burn” sounding just as satisfying and rewarding today as it did the day it came out, the song being surprisingly enjoyable and refreshing to listen to given its threatening eight-minute run time.
4. Ensorcelled by Khaos
One thing Emperor were not on this album was at a loss for great song titles, as “Ensorcelled by Khaos” proves. They also weren’t struggling for incredible riffs, something evidenced by this track, which has killer riffs aplenty both fast and mid-tempo, as the cool, double-bass-led part a couple minutes in proves. The silly keyboards may try but they can not detract from the black metal perfection taking place here, as Emperor just steamroll through this song, somehow making it sound like both a majestic mini-epic and a heads-down black metal race to the finish line simultaneously, which it kinda is. And the double bass playing here is incredible, the sheer forward momentum of those two limbs driving this track, and much of the album.
3. Thus Spake the Nightspirit
Probably my favourite usage of the word “spake” in a metal song title, this song—placed in the all-important “second song proper” position here—gives the listener a bit of respite after the incredible auditory onslaught of “Ye Entrancemperium,” “Thus Spake the Nightspirit” operating at a slightly slower tempo but still blasting away (indeed, at points, doing nothing but blasting), the guitar work throughout stunning and providing a bit of a trad metal flavour to this relatively straight-ahead black metal rager, which only really opens up and lets melody shine in after the three-minute mark hits, a very powerful way to end a very good song.
2. The Loss and Curse of Reverence
Have we mentioned the fact that Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk is just lousy with incredible riffs? It’s ridiculous; the band was untouchable when it came to guitar work that was both brutal and memorable at this point. Case in point, the classic opening riff to “The Loss and Curse of Reverence,” the sounds positively Emperor (sophisticated black metal!), the song itself, like so many others here, deceptively huge and rewarding for something that’s, relatively, short. Come for the crap video, stay for an incredible black metal song that, on some days, sits on top of this list.
1. Ye Entrancemperium
And here we have it, one of the grandest moments in black metal history, that opening riff (care of Euronymous) absolutely making it very clear here on the first song proper that Emperor are back and that Emperor have been practising. Even the keyboards don’t sound lame, the drumming is outrageous, and the killer riffs don’t start at the opener: they continue all throughout this grandest, and perfect, of black metal opuses. That moment at 3:03 when the band jumps in on yet another killer riff or the soaring melodic vocals that follow it? The quick pause at 4:36 before the blasting starts again? It all adds up to an absolute classic.