Rube’s Metal Review: Emperor – In the Nightside Eclipse

Posted: June 12, 2014 in Rube's Metal Review
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Welcome (or welcome back) to Rube’s Metal Review, a guest post in which I, an ignorant lamb, sacrifice myself at the altar of metal.  This week’s assignment:  Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse.

emperor-in_the_nightside_eclipse1

The first experiment I ran this week was the “how many members of the band have murdered someone” evaluation. Emperor scored a 1 on that test, taking the cake (so far) for most shocking fact I’ve discovered in my “research.” In the Nightside Eclipse drummer Faust stabbed a guy to death in 1992 and went to prison from 1994 to 2003. Quoth Wikipedia: ‘Ihsahn, his bandmate in Emperor, said that Eithun “had been very fascinated by serial killers for a long time, and I guess he wanted to know what it’s like to kill a person”’ oh, okay.

I stuck primarily to the remastered 1999 version of the album, but I listened to other versions of certain tracks for comparison. Most notably, I conducted a “loudness wars” trial on Nightside Eclipse, in which I listened to 4 versions of a single song, “I am The Black Wizards” (the demo version, album version, remastered album version, and re-remastered album version).

Not surprisingly, the sharpest contrast in this comparison is the mix. As though through some metal mixing/mastering regulation that requires an increase in volume proportional to any increase in years, “remastering” seems to mean, mostly, “turning up.”

The 1993 version has lower levels for all the instrument tracks and the notes the guitar plays are easiest to hear, despite the constant fuzzy guitar noise on top of everything. The vocals are slightly more discernible as well because they have some space of their own; the guitar and drums sound farther away and less polished with post-production than in the later versions, and their mid-to-background location in the mix affords the all around clarity of this version.

The first remaster from 1999 adds modern oomph to the track, noticeable immediately in the balls-out wall of sound that is the introduction, but at the cost of clarity–the amped-up guitar covers its own distortion overtones nicely, but also diminishes some of the subtlety of its tone and timbre.

The 20th anniversary remaster from this year turns the previous remaster up another notch, though the increase is much less apparent.

Over the last 3 weeks of listening to and writing about metal, I’ve found that the English lexicon lacks terms to describe specific phenomena in metal. To fill this linguistic void I have begun constructing metal words, mostly portmanteaus. For Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse, the most important new term is “scrowling,” which denotes the album’s vocals, a mix of screaming and growling that raises the bar in the “no one can make out the lyrics” competition among metal bands. To my dismay, some ‘research’ revealed that scrowl as I use it has already been recorded, submitted to Urban Dictionary by user Big Doodle on 3 August, 2009, where it is currently the 4th definition of the term, appearing as follows:
Scrowl

n. A vocal sound resembling both a scream and a growl, which may be used to express exasperation or as an effect in some genres of music.

v. To emit a scrowl.

Vitas sang Schubert’s Ave Maria in his sweet choirboy voice then concluded his performance with a bizarre 10-second scrowl.

The best scrowl on Nightside Eclipse comes at the 1:20 mark in “Toward the Pantheon,” when Ihsahn unleashes a 23 second crescendo scrowl.
The vocals aren’t really about lyrics–you can’t understand the words and a quick google won’t return much that hasn’t been said before about darkness, Satan, and the like. However, they fill the textural space where vocals belong and Ihsahn’s performance sounds uniquely painful. My nit to pick is not that the vocal track is an atonal scrowl, but that it is buried in the mix beneath an endless torrent of ride cymbal, double kick bass, giant descending tom fills, and thick distorted guitar. The bass, likewise, sounds understated amid Faust’s percussion and Samoth’s guitar, although it’s hard to say for sure which tones in the lower end are coming from the guitar’s extreme amplification and which are coming from the bass–that is, I can’t make out all of the bassline, but I have a feeling I’d miss it if it were gone.

All the instruments are played with extreme technical discipline–the band plays together, quickly, in time, the drums so exhaustingly incessant, so persistent and rapid that it feels like the entire band is rushing when they’re not. In the Nightside Eclipse is another nonstop steam train of metal, barely containing a potentially boiler-detonating amount of musical energy.

The drums stick (heh) to a straight ahead pattern, alternating kick on downbeats and snare on upbeats, with eigths on a loosely closed hi hat or, most often, the bell of a (sometimes regrettably tinny sounding) ride cymbal (see Figure A) and punctuated by thundering fills (Figure B).

Figure A:

Figure A

Figure B:

Figure B

The guitar didn’t blow me away but it wasn’t bad–I liked the way Emperor build riffs in layers, but I wasn’t exactly surprised that most of it was tremolo picking through a dark, largely minor progression. There isn’t a lot of soloing or melody, and I’m beginning to wonder if the ‘verse, verse, guitar-solo-verse’ format is a rock staple, not a metal one.

This album is hard to place in my web of subgenres and styles, especially because the web contains only 2 other albums. The tempo and how the beat is expressed in the drums says “speed metal” to me, which I think falls somewhere in the extreme metal category. The Brain Trust informs me that Emperor is not speed metal but that’s where I’m filing them in the web for the time being.

The Brain Trust tells me the album for next week is “a classic Swedish Death Metal record,” but refuses to provide further information at this time. I guess we’ll discover together the only thing I am equipped to discover, which is whether Swedish death metal sounds more like Emperor, Mercyful Fate, or Carcass. Like a Satanic pentagram being inscribed in sheep’s blood on a candle lit floor, my web of metal genres grows by yet another stroke.

S. Douglas Miller

Read more of Rube’s Metal Reviews here.

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  1. […] Rube's Metal Review: Emperor – In the Nightside Eclipse […]

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