Cons: minor production flaws, clean vocals might be too much for extreme fans
Of all the bands, in the history of music, I've never observed an occasion where a band's name perfectly represents their musical output and genre status. 'Emperor', the throne bearers of black metal sophistication, are the first to consolidate their very name and music as ONE entity. Throwing caution to the wind, Emperor has defied the creative trappings of a strict aesthetic which alienates and slanders those willing to explore the deeps of musical possibility. Bands have attempted to escape the minimalist limits and mindset of early, "true" black metal, and end up in a distant, often criticized and slandered place, apart from the stubborn misanthrope of the "true" torch holders of black metal. And whether you agree with the old-school philosophies and aesthetic of black metal, it's the eccentric, bold explorations of bands like Emperor, Arcturus, Ulver, Satyricon, etc. that have truly contributed to the art of extreme (and not so extreme) music. Ambitious bands like these, continue to pave roads to musical visions that have yet to flourish or realize their true potential. Emperor has shown us worlds of potential and creative possibilties in the span of 3 full-length albums, not including the 'Wrath of the Tyrant' demo, the split with Enslaved, and the 'Reverence' EP. These contributions to the extreme metal world are highly influential, standard-setting, masterpieces in their own rite. Emperor recieves their share of critical slander, but don't ALL popularly-recieved bands get their name spat upon? The "true" black metal "seal of falseness" is VERY minimal with Emperor, their album-to-album explorations into old-school primitive black metal, classical/symphonic grandeur, traditional heavy metal, and even a touch of death metal has commanded a LOT of respect in the extreme metal underground and above.
Emperor is an infamous name in extreme metal and the well documented soap opera of early black metal is a part of their history, although I won't delve into any of this since you could easily find information and besides, I'd like to focus on Emperor's musical achievements. This band deserves the most exalted praise and highest respect, especially from the underground...they were setting standards and dropping jaws in the first important years of black metal and have persevered through growing trends of extreme metal, all the while remaining at the TOP! Emperor is a name that represents power, supremacy, and majesty....none have ever represented their name so perfectly and accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. This band reigns above the herd and their creative class is well represented with this very album, 'Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk'.
No one knew what to expect when this album was released in '97, the previous album "In the Nightside Eclipse" was a landmark black metal achievement that burned with the warlord aesthetic of extreme black metal and visions that alluded to, perhaps a more symphonic direction...the potential was there, but you never know where a band will turn to, musically. The territory that's covered on this album was definitely a shock, especially to the narrow brutality of Euronymous's (Mayhem visionaire) established and strict black metal vision. Some of the leaders and followers of this primitive-minded movement would later succumb to the example set by Emperor... musical exploration and tampering with musical elements other than "true" black metal....it's blasphemy! But you can only take this minimalist vision so far....just listen to the music of Mayhem, Immortal, Thorns, Satyricon, and Burzum nowadays...they've progressed far beyond the original vision of "true" black metal and have crafted their own individual styles. I see Emperor as the first example of this happening, norwegian black metal was given real musical merit with the release of this album, it showed that these infamous norwegians had a grander vision than the juvenile means of recognition through crime and misanthropic rhetoric.
.....now, what your really interested in....the music!
'Anthems...' contains 8 epics, not including the 2 bonus tracks, 'In Longing Spirit' and 'Opus a Satana', both of which were recorded earlier on an EP entitled 'Reverence'. In my opinion, the music on this album is Emperor's most mature and epic, and when considering the fact that the SOUL of Emperor, Ishahn, was in his EARLY twenties when the material was written, it becomes an astounding creative accomplishment written by someone who couldn't buy alchohol in the United States! The epic tracks are built on symphonic/classical foundations intertwined with aggressive black metal, one of the most beautiful and amazing contrasts in music! The keyboards are very prominent and the music overall is highly epic in composition. The interplay of all the instruments take on the duties of a symphony, taking the music into the delicately balanced realms of emotion....triumph, hate, aggression, glory, sorrow....the emotional element of music can only effectively work in the hands of an observant and serious musician. Emperor submits this package as a whole piece, giving attention to every detail of it's contents...the music, lyrics, imagery, performance. How effective they are in doing so is up to you and your particular tastes, but keep in mind the careful attention to detail in every aspect of the 'package' that is somewhat rare, yet so essential in a complete presentation of a SERIOUS band.
The guitars and riffs are in strict interplay with the keyboards, never usually straying into their own world....the guitar work is essential to the whole of the music being presented. These, mainly chordal riffs build melody and movement through an aggressive speed-picking attack on various chords. Ihsahn does occasionally lead a riff with a detached melodic phrase, although I wouldn't consider it a "solo", it's more of an independent melody that embellishes and builds tension and movement. The picking attack is smooth, fast, and consistent...never choppy and muted (no death metal riffing here!). I love the tones that these composers chose for their riffs and melodic ideas, the movement builds an epic feel and the progressions hint at classical music.
The keyboards, as I said before, are highly prominent in the music of Emperor and this prominence is most evident on this release. The keys are the sole reason that the material is so atmospheric and so essential to the epic movements. There isn't anything strange or out of place with the keyboard effects, thankfully, the keys use mostly string effects, no harpsichord, flutes, etc. There is a piano phrase that I particularly love in the song "Ensorcelled by Khaos" that adds a LOT to the feel of the song and the movement of the particular riff...a simple subtle melodic phrase, but very effective! The flow of the keys, fortunately, stay away from "flashy" terrain and stick to supporting the grandeurous flow of the pieces, basically, nothing sounds TOO technical to grasp.
I wonder what those that aren't familiar with Emperor's music think the drum's sound like. If your not familiar with death or black metal, then you don't know of the true POWER of drums and could possibly write this off as mindless pounding. Drummers should be aware of extreme metal's drumming aesthetic, there is much power to be discovered! Trym's (ex-Enslaved) drum work is not unlike the furious double bass blast fest that black metal and death metal rely on for brutality and aggression. You know the style....double bass, snare/high hate/ride cymbal blasts, fast tom rolls, cymbal crashing...it's chaos! The drumming is fantastic and adds a whole new dimension to the sophisticated music. I've heard complaints that the double bass is sometimes off, but I've never heard anything like that....Trym does double bass a LOT, so expect a lot of serious pounding in your chest!
...and finally...the vocals and lyrics
Ihsahn's vocals are highly unique, even as he screams with that trademark black metal rasp, I can pick his vocals out from a crowd of black metal screamers. Expect a lot of this, as this vocal torture is Ihsahn's primary tool for presenting his amazing lyrics. He also presents his "clean" voice on this album on some occasions...you can expect some on almost every song but one or two, sometimes they are subtle and choir-esque in the background and sometimes they are in the foreground. Ihsahn's clean vocals aren't for everybody and it's the main criticism that people have of this album....I didn't like them too much at first, but I've grown to really like them and just take them for what they are, this might take some open-mindedness though.
The lyrics are a very noteworthy aspect of this masterpiece. Metal bands with really amazing lyrics are incredibly scarce, in fact, it's hard to find ANY musician in ANY genre with great lyrics! Emperor's dark-spirited lyrics seeth with contempt for deceitful religions and extinguish the light of man and his gods...but often the lyrical subject matter doesn't portray this in a straight-forward manner, often metaphoric but with the same spirit beneath all these expertly crafted words. On the outside, the lyrics paint surreal pictures and imaginative events that are definitely interesting to those paying close attention. I love Emperor's lyrics and always recognize Ihsahn's talent for lyrical craft when I think of bands with good lyrics.
Overall, this is an EXCELLENT album, 5 stars all the way! 'Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk' is a crowning achievement in not only black metal, but extreme metal altogether. I couldn't recommend this album highly enough! If you are even remotely into metal, you should have this in your collection, this is totally essential! Every song on this album is outstanding in it's own way, each having their own feel and movements. "Ye Entrancemperium", "Ensorcelled By Khaos", "The Loss and Curse of Reverence", "The Acclamation of Bonds", "With Strength I Burn", "Opus a Satana"....these are all great songs that are very memorable in the long run. "The Loss and Curse of Reverence" is a song that I always hear from people being their favorite Emperor song, listen and understand why! "Opus a Satana" is a great piece that's done on all classical instruments, it's actually a song from the previous Emperor album "In the Nightside Eclipse" revised into a classical composition, entirely instrumental! "With Strength I Burn" is a long epic piece, probably the most epic Emperor song ever! The movement of the song is so undeniably epic...it's like a story unfolding, with climaxes and periods of rest...great song!
This whole album is a pro with one or two arguable con's. Because of the nature of the riffs and the instrumental layering, the production can seem a bit too cluttered and dense at times. I can see how this can be annoying to some, although it shouldn't bring your interest for this album down at all! It's nothing THAT bad at all really, the production is actually pretty good, especially when compared to other black metal works. The clean vocals are another thing that could be considered a con, although that is entirely up to an individual's particular taste. These "con's" are nothing oppressive to the music at all...
as the back of the CD says...
"Emperor plays sophisticated black metal exclusively!"
....let the music speak for itself....