Some records are hyped up for good reasons. It’s not just a matter of generational reverence or music press consensus, some records are just that good. In the world of black metal, generational reverence is hard to point out, as even prominent Norwegian bands were relatively obscure before the famous 1993 Kerrang! investigation. And while we should always be suspicious of music writers all agreeing with one another (along with the excessive back-patting on Twitter), some records that are hard to dispute, despite attempts at edgy journalistic revisionism.
In terms of album releases, 1994 was the defining year for Norwegian black metal. Although the scene had partially self-destructed the year before – with several musicians from key acts murdered, jailed or otherwise left inactive – 1994 saw a phenomenal amount of genre-defining records unleashed onto unsuspecting metal audiences: Darkthrone’s Transylvanian Hunger, Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, Enslaved’s Vikingligr Veldi AND Frost, Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Santhanas, Forgotten Woods’s As the Wolves Gather, Satyricon’s Dark Medieval Times. Of course, Norway was not the only center of gravity for the developing black metal scene, as other critical releases emerged from Sweden, Greece, Finland and elsewhere.
Among the best releases stands Emperor’s magisterial In the Nightside Eclipse. Without this record – along with Burzum’s Filosofem and Ulver’s Bergtatt – the folk-laden sounds of atmospheric black metal would not exist, and this goes for symphonic black metal as well. Though the band didn’t know it at the time, the album (dedicated to the late Euronymous of Mayhem) would have a profound impact, as Samoth notes himself:
“Looking at Nightside, I think there was a lot of buzz and hype about the album even before it came out—with advance tracks spreading around the world, there was a lot of anticipation in the underground about the release. When it finally came out, it quickly became an album that led to a lot of influences in the growing black metal scene—or black metal boom, rather.”
To read the HOF article by J. Bennett, order Decibel #014 here (side note: holy crap, look how young Trivium looks on the cover!).
8. The Burning Shadows of Silence
In the Nightside Eclipse has no bad songs, but this one does feel more like a transitional piece than a standalone track. It’s a good segue that speeds things up between the long opener and the rest of the album. The chorus chanting gives the song an added feel of drama, but the song is definitely not meant to be any sort of climax or major rising action.
7. The Majesty of the Night Sky
Call me crazy, but I’ve thought the riff that kicks in around the 40 second mark was a little annoying. While the song can certainly get stuck in your head, it’s not always you want there. However, the middle of the song contains some great symphonic and chorus parts, and the cannon that goes off at the end is a nice touch.
6. Cosmic Keys to My Creations and Times
The Emperor EP version from 1993 is better. While this may be a bias that developed from hearing that version first, this version still sounds a little pretty than its raw and mean counterpart. Still, the riff arrangements here move and sway the listener through epic lyrics and the steel drum section that hits in at 1:40 must be one of the boldest moves ever made by a black metal band (it is a steel drum isn’t it? That’s what it sounds like).
5. Towards the Pantheon
This song, along with “Inno a Satana,” shows Emperor’s vast skills in terms of creating dynamic music that still creates a consistent mood. “Towards the Pantheon” begins with an eerie, movie soundtrack-like symphony and then rides through a fist-pumping storm of epic black metal. Also, keep your ear perked up for the cool use of drum cymbals at the 2:40 mark and elsewhere.
4. Inno a Satana
More than any other song on In the Nightside Eclipse, “Inno a Satana” gives the listener an idea of where Emperor would go next. Almost a precursor to “With Strength I Burn,” the song shows a perfect example of how clean vocals can be useful to even metal’s most extreme forms. The brilliance of the composition is so impressive, it’s uncanny that the members were all 17 and 19 at the time of the recording (though these ages would also explain a couple of the horrible actions taken by one of the band’s members). It also shows the potential for variation in black metal that belies its reputation for being 100% buzzsaw guitars and blastbeats.
3. Into the Infinity of Thoughts
That lumbering, foreboding intro that leads the listener into an 8 minute odyssey of majestic black metal. Along with songs like Darkthrone’s “Where Cold Winds Blow” and Enslaved’s “Lifandi Lif Undir Hamri,” “Into the Infinity of Thoughts” is one of the classic masterpieces of Norwegian black metal’s ability to create an all enveloping atmosphere. This goes with the theme of the album quite well, particular the cover art that mixes themes of the Tolkien mythos (orcs on their way to Minas Morgul) and Gustav Dore (the black rider from the Emperor EP appears in the sky in the background).
2. Beyond the Great Vast Forest
From a historical standpoint, I have to give the top slot to the next song, but “Beyond the Great Vast Great Forest” might be my favorite Emperor song of all time. The guitars brood and thrash, the symphony lines tear icicles into your soul and Ihsahn screams out his dark tale:
“Beyond the great vast forest
Surrounded by majestic mountains
Dark rivers float like tears of sorrow
Frost submerge the holy ring of fire
They shall rise again, for they are of Him….
The Dark Lord of eternity’s
These are the Devils of Darkness
They can not be laid to rest forever
Resurrection… They shall haunt again, the creatures of the night”
The use of fast and slow parts here is effortless, and that chorus is simply unbeatable.
1. I am the Black Wizards
Then again, if you were only to listen to one song off this album, the choice is pretty clear. “I am the Black Wizards” is one of the finest examples in all of metal of the guitar as the lead storyteller. There’s a simplistic brilliance to how the band uses the main riff at full speed during the verse and then again slowed down for the song’s outro. It gives the track a feeling of real continuity and closure that’s sometimes lost on more “progressive” metal acts. Every part of the song is so memorable that it almost plays like a greatest hits album just in one track. All the attributes mentioned in the songs above are set to maximum here. Again, this may seem to you a cheap and easy choice. But hey, there’s a reason this is a fan favorite. And every reunion show the band plays, the crowd will have every reason to follow along:
“I am the ruler and has been for eternity’s long
My wizards are many, but their essence is
Forever there are in the hills in their stone homes of
Because I am the spirit of their existence
I am them.”