"Is there a boner emoji?" Such wise words, spoken by a wise man, and quite possibly the only way to sum up one's thoughts after witnessing Emperor perform Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, in its entirety, at Wacken this past year, in celebration of the album's 20th anniversary. I had nowhere near the familiarity with Emperor's second full-length album as my cohorts, but even I had a situation that needed walking off (not just the pleats). As moving as it was to witness the reunited black metal legends enlighten our black metal cravings, I was troubled. I was troubled by the fact that I wasn't more familiar with Anthems, which is to say, I was troubled by the fact that I'm an idiot. Clearly, this needed to change...immediately.
Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk is the second full-length album from Emperor. It was released in 1997, the year I graduated high school, which was musically a dark time in my life. Don't get me wrong, I had been listening to the likes of Fugazi, Quicksand, Helmet and Orange 9mm among others, bands I still respect to this day, but there was a dark cloud of a genre that crept its way into my life like The Nothing. That dark cloud is what we refer to today as nu-metal, a seven-stringed fanny pack filled with bad Kool-Aid, and I was chugging. Fortunately, Slayer released a nu-metal album the following year, after which, together, we sobered up.
Ideally, the depth of this subject matter is worthy of an episode of Dateline, or even 20/20, but I'll use the ol' keyboard as a medium to document the 'journey' as I metaphorically remove my head from my ass. Surrounded/preceded by the likes of Darkthrone, Venom, Bathory, Immortal, Mayhem and Satyricon, Emperor, in my mind are amongst the forefathers of black metal, specifically those originating from Norway. Strangely enough, I was far more familiar with frontman Ihsahn's solo work before I was all that up to speed on Emperor, but the reality is that he has his progressive metal shit together. He's six albums deep, and not showing signs of slowing down...I dig that. It speaks volumes in my mind. Not to mention, in all that I've read about the history of black metal via Lords of Chaos, etc., Ihsahn seemed far more interested in the music vs. the church burnings, animal sacrifices, etc.
It only takes one good listen, front to back, to realize Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk is the definition of epic. Literally. "Al Svart" encompasses the mind from the opening seconds, and slowing, methodically crescendos to its peak, then immediately tears into the dissonant chords and blast beats of "Ye Entrancemperium." What follows is an opus that encapsulates and helps define all qualities that make metal black...that make metal epic.
Through and through, it's "The Loss & Curse Of Reverence" and "The Acclimation of Bonds" that keep crawling back into my mind. It's those piercing, unnerving notes that meld with the traditional blast beats, elements that define both this album as well as the genre itself. And where I normally find myself disconnecting with black metal, it's Emperor's sound that prevents it from happening. It's the chaos fused with the sinister, fused with the raw sound of metal, that creates, of all things, harmony. With all their sound entails, it's Ihsahn's voice that sets them most apart for me. He's able to carry the notes of an operatic singer and blend them with the sinister sounds of one whose vocal chords sound like they're slowly tearing and bleeding, something both appealing as well as unique.
I should have learned all of this 20 years ago. One thing I have learned though is that it's never too late to fully appreciate Emperor. It's never too late to fully appreciate anything really (even nu-metal). I have no idea what Emperor's plans are, but rest assured, if there's a similar opportunity for the 25th-anniversary of Anthems, I'll be there. Sporting a black leather fanny pack filled with good kool-aid, and I'll be chugging.