Emperor – Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk
Released July 8th, 1997 on Candlelight Records
Listen, In The Nightside Eclipse is a stone classic. It’s my favourite black metal record, although if you’re a purist I’ll probably say it’s Sunbather just to piss you off. Regardless, Nightside is the album I would point to and say “that’s black metal”, in case you were wondering. That said, Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk, the band’s second album, does everything Nightside does, only bigger, and in widescreen. While there are somewhat less keyboards overlaying the churn of Anthems, and it doesn’t have “I Am The Black Wizards” on it, it does work in a much clearer fashion, upping the production values and drilling down more on the intense blastbeats to anchor the songs, rather than mixing everything into a shoegazer-approved blur.
By 1997, of course, the Norwegian band was surrounded by a black haze of controversy, like the filth and the fury surrounding the Sex Pistols twenty years prior but much more viscerally psychotic. Original drummer Faust murdered a man in 1992 for making passes at him in a forest near Lillehammer; that day he went with Mayhem’s Euronymous and Burzum/Mayhem-affiliated pagan-fascist Varg Vikernes to burn down one of Norway’s ancient Christian stave churches (the latter two would later fall out, leading to Vikernes’ infamous murder of Euronymous in 1993). He and Emperor co-founder Samoth went to jail in 1994, shortly before the release of In The Nightside Eclipse, although Samoth was imprisoned for arson, having been caught burning down another church with Varg Vikernes. Anthems was recorded after Samoth was released on parole in 1996; still, most of the record is the brainchild of Ihsahn, vocalist, lead guitarist, and main arranger of the sumptuous, vile suites. Controversy followed them on tour (and again in 2015, when Faust was released from prison and went on tour with Emperor), but it only served to bring further notoriety and interest to the Norwegian black metal scene and Emperor specifically.
Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk is arguably (but only barely arguably) the peak of Norwegian black metal, from a technical and sonic standpoint. The band themselves would put out a wildly uneven third record (IX) and then turn into an endlessly-touring machine under the sole control of Ihsahn. The genre would burn out on cheesy adolescent theistic Satanism, cross the Atlantic, and be reborn first as paganism with the Nordic fascism removed (Wolves In The Throne Room) and then as a vehicle for hipster American musicians’ experiments in metal, both failed (Liturgy) and sublime (Deafheaven). Anthems, then, remains the high-water mark for purely Scandinavian black metal.