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Symphonic Black Metal incorporates symphonic or orchestral elements as a backdrop for a number of other black metal sounds (such as atmospheric or melodic black metal), while also being a distinct genre in its own right.

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EMPEROR Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk Album Cover Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk
4.36 | 68 ratings
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EMPEROR In the Nightside Eclipse Album Cover In the Nightside Eclipse
4.35 | 73 ratings
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CHTHONIC Seediq Bale Album Cover Seediq Bale
4.48 | 10 ratings
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AQUILUS Griseus Album Cover Griseus
4.41 | 12 ratings
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NOKTURNAL MORTUM Lunar Poetry Album Cover Lunar Poetry
4.33 | 13 ratings
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CRADLE OF FILTH Dusk and Her Embrace Album Cover Dusk and Her Embrace
4.19 | 40 ratings
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MASTER'S HAMMER The Jilemnice Occultist Album Cover The Jilemnice Occultist
4.45 | 7 ratings
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DIMMU BORGIR Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia Album Cover Puritanical Euphoric Misanthropia
4.07 | 37 ratings
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CARACH ANGREN This Is No Fairytale Album Cover This Is No Fairytale
4.14 | 12 ratings
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CRADLE OF FILTH V Empire or Dark Faerytales in Phallustein Album Cover V Empire or Dark Faerytales in Phallustein
4.08 | 18 ratings
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CARACH ANGREN Where The Corpses Sink Forever Album Cover Where The Corpses Sink Forever
4.07 | 20 ratings
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SAMAEL Passage Album Cover Passage
4.05 | 19 ratings
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EMPEROR Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire & Demise

Album · 2001 · Symphonic Black Metal
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I went through the whole discography again so that I could flesh out my black metal opinions even more. I've been very serious about this for a couple weeks, and I pretty much have them sorted out. There are just a couple things I need to get clear, especially concerning the band I went through the whole studio catalog of today (for the second time this month): Emperor, one of the most influential black metal bands in the world for creating, pioneering and perfecting the symphonic black metal sound.

A little Emperor history. They invented a new black metal genre, and it's considered one of the greatest albums of all time. They change up their sound, and it's considered one of the greatest albums of all time. This says something about Emperor: they are NOT conformists, and they weren't gonna stay that way. I may seriously piss somebody off when I speak honestly: if you won't let the non-conformists change their style, then you're not a real fan of them. In short, if you don't like Prometheus just because it doesn't sound like either of the first two albums, then you're not a real Emperor fan. It's one thing to say you prefer the original sound(s), but to act like they're not supposed to sound any other way in general is just unfair to the constant renovators.

Because of its shifting riffs and melodies within the same songs, a trait often found on Emperor songs, it is given a progressive tag. I think a couple songs are prog, mostly "Grey," but this just feels like a different sounding Emperor album with more influences than anything, rather than progressive black. I mean, come on. I've even read criticisms for how often In the Nightside Eclipse shifted its riffs. If people are worried that the progressive metal status and the heavy metal behavior of some of these songs takes away from the true blackness, I find that appalling to even consider. Songs like "The Prophet" and especially the thunderstorm that is "In the Wordless Chamber" have plenty of black attitude and blastbeats to maintain the status, and it's not alone. On a secondary note, what is "tr00 black metal?" I've heard various definitions of that as well. The most common answer when naming the perfect black metal sound, as I have researched, seems to be one of several classic Darkthrone's, usually A Blaze in the Northern Sky. That clean, sympho-gothic work is so far from Blaze that I feel like vomiting when I hear Welkin called "tr00." You might get away with that argument concerning Nightside, but I still find that album very cleanly produced. On the subject of Welkin's sound, I think one of the biggest underlying differences is the large lack of the gothic behavior of the synths, as well as the slight downgrade of necessity in place of more riffs. I have no problem with the decision itself; all I want is to see if it works.

Now that I'm done combining deconstruction of the album with my own personal ranting, I'm ready to go into the more detailed side of the review. Prometheus is, like Welkin was, a collection of various metal genres working together to create something unheard and new. That's Emperor's specialty. Why can't most war metal bands try this out for once? We have storms of fire, ice, wind, water and lightning all taking turns amazing with some of Emperor's healthiest melodic structures. Oh, forgot the earthquakes. Working with the elements of nature re a variety of different vocals all being perfectly delivered by Ihsahn, be it the high-pitched demonic squeals of Nightside, the more nocturnal growls of Welkin or some straight up operatic heavy metal singing and harmonies. He even get a couple 80's metal wails. And the best part? Each song has its own identity, standing out from the rest without any trouble. This is a feat that Emperor struggled with in past albums, even if they were able to bring together a collection of various influences together in shifting ways on Welkin.

What we're facing is the final metamorphosis of a modern Proteus. Emperor were a like a tiny larvae that made a big impact on the world, and once it became a butterfly, half of the metal community wanted them to be a larvae again. Prometheus is a concept album about the titular myth, but is that really what makes the album so strong when a large part of the idea is not to understand the lyrics? It's the monolithic power. This is a collection of a symphonic metal opera, the raging storms of ancient traditions, the further steps of prog, as well as so much more. I'd say that Emperor "accomplished" more on this album than they ever did. If I had to be fully honest, I consider this one of the very few albums that I feel represents a whole side of metal itself, rather than one or two genres. This is about all the extremities that black metal can achieve rather than just being another black metal album. Because of this, I know find myself in a very rare state of mind: I rank this above PARANOID.

Now my third best metal album of all time.

EMPEROR IX Equilibrium

Album · 1999 · Symphonic Black Metal
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Emperor had made it into the big leagues and stayed there forever thanks to only two albums: In the Nightsdie Eclipse and Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk. One was a new take on traditional black metal with a whole new sound, and the second was a more cleanly-polished take on the original which a very notcurnal vibe. Emperor always loved trying new things, so where were their ventures going to take them next? Into... straightforward original black metal, apparently. This really isn't a bad decision just because of that, but could Emperor pull it off? Let's see if they "sold themselves out" instead of wanting to try a new vibe.

In some cases, Emperor were attempting straightforward black metal. And if track one, Curse You All Men, proves anything, it's that they can pull it off effortlessly. This is more brutal and maniacal than anything Darkthrone or Immortal ever put out. This is a first time for them when you think about the genre! ANd once again they shift their symphonic sound for a new vibe. It seems that the point of IX Equilibrium is to once again try new things with a very different mood from what we got before. Unfortunately, while this mood has been rarely perfected, this is the first Emperor album featuring an atmosphere that's already been attempted. This is one of the reasons it's considered inferior. But damn if that black metal energy isn't extremely thick and dense. I can't even see out the window of this aural hurricane. Rain covers everything, although I can occasionally hear the symphonic parade of musicians and soldiers marching, as if the stabbing rain didn't hurt them.

Unfortunately, because they're acting more straightforward on this album, a couple of the songs are a little too long, so they tire out pretty quickly. As for any flaws pertaining to other songs, this one's a really easy one. While the absolute maelstrom of sound on this album is nothing short of formidable, there's typical blastbeating mixed in with Emperor's strongest point: melody, so it's easy for one to outshine the other. Now the album has its share of diversity. It covers Emperor's symphonic sound with the newfound original black sound while adding bits of new stuff, including the heavier prog which would be more fleshed out on Prometheus, as well as bits of speed and thrash in sparse places. But that's also a little bit of a con as these little bits are sparse and scattered. This includes the gothic sound of Welkin, which thankfully makes it onto this release, especially during the final track, "Of Blindness & Subsequent Seers" which carries a surreal tone to it.

This third Emperor album is the point where they stopped being "just" a new sound. In an attempt to gain the favor of the followers of ancient tradition, they took part in it. There was some excellent skill in sound, technicality and melody, but there was little drawbacks to this new sound. In other words, Emperor could do just about anything, but couldn't perfect this is it was their first attempt. This is excellent black metal, but not the best compliment to Emperor's prowess.

EMPEROR Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk

Album · 1997 · Symphonic Black Metal
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Emperor's debut, In the Nightside Eclipse is a classic for many reasons, notably all of the things that made it so unique for its time. Emperor created the symphonic black metal genre by committing a taboo worse than human transmutation, killing your parents or putting pineapple on pizza: synths in black metal. Cue Carmax commercial ending. But because the group took it seriously by using a thin layer throughout the whole with a more gothic and cinematic approach than anything, as well as going head-to-head with some astounding riffs and melodies, Nightside Eclipse became an instant classic.

What we have here is a thematic improvement on every aspect of Nightside. The elements that comprise Nightside are a heavily present but thin layer of dungeon synths, melo-traditional behavior and clean production. On Welkins, everything here is not only improved, but refined like a purified crystal, now with some or another power of night, darkness, yadda yadda. The album is one of those that goes through a plethora of influences ranging from some of the most blatantly gothic synth the genre has, newly found progressive styles, and the original genre components of Nightside, all purified... but like Butcher the Weak, it recycles the same influences throughout more than half of these songs. This is because of the final element of Nightside: the shifting riffs and layouts. This is what united the identities of Nightside as one whole, and it largely does the same here. But I'll be damned if I didn't honestly say that each melody and riff wasn't great if not incredible. I gave Butcher the Weak five-stars for that behavior because it worked, and this 40-minute maelstrom of gothic evil lasts without a real blemish throughout its 40 minutes. I mean, technically each song is predictable when you think about it: heavy start, several symphonic riffs, abrupt ending. But each song is pulled off in an almost beautiful manner.

There is dirty, edgy and speed-based metal like Darkthrone or Immortal which knows how to amaze, and then there's the orchestral presence of Emperor, especially on Welkins, where the album doesn't simply "emit demonic energy: it glows black and violet behind its thickly green album cover, never oozing or dripping, just glowing. The definition of the album is majesty, and is a rare example of me giving an album with "technically" samey behavior on a song-to-song basis five stars. The finest tuned axample of symphonic black metal I can think of, Welkins is a rare breed by a band all about crafting a different kind of breed each album. All of these songs amaze with the various influences, and that shows something: Emperor can actually get away with the behavior that leads many bands to write the same song over and over again, because Emperor still had new rhythmic and melodic tricks up their sleeves.

EMPEROR In the Nightside Eclipse

Album · 1994 · Symphonic Black Metal
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Black Metal had been out for about a decade by the point of this album's release. We already had a revolution that was beating Venom at their own game, a dorky club pretending to be a cult before someone killed the founder of the club, and of the genre, and the same year as this album was the long awaited release of Mayhem's debut studio album. By this point, Darkthrone had cemented itself as one of the greatest metal bands on Earth to the masses, and Immortal was just starting. It had a crazy run before we finally got to Emperor. Unlike grunge, black metal lived on because it was a niche market that relied on negative rep. Emperor might've lost their lead influence, but they didn't lose their willpower.

In the Nightside Eclipse was their first outing, and to this day it remains one of the most emulated black metal albums on Earth. In fact, this album represents a lot of firsts. The most notable "first" of this album is the dungeon synthesizers, which were an unholy sin that even black metal fans wouldn't commit. That's boldness for ya'. And it's not ham-fisted or cheesy in anyway shape or form; they're gorgeous in their Gothic behavior, creepy as hell and add a thick layer of personality without being overused. Another one is the clearer production. The guitars might be quite dirty, but through the clean production you get not only the most of the beautiful synths, but the most of the guitars. let the shredding handle the, ahem, dirty work.

Our singer, Ihsahn, has that absolutely perfect voice for the job. If you're familiar with their second album, Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, you might recognize something about this album. It sounds more like typical black metal, right? Right and wrong. These guys were one of the first bands to really perfect what the pure sound of black metal is with the right production, except they also had a symphonic sound to work with. So instead of being Darkthrone knockoffs, they became something more medieval, fantasy-inspired and epic. In a way, they totally beat Darkthrone, making a new sound even more fresh, something these guys would do continuously throughout their four album streak. They were a great bridge between melodic, traditional and the newly formed symphonic brands of black metal. In other words, this album is purely essential by any definition for technical and melodic proficiency. On top of that, it sounds exactly like its incredible cover wants you to think it sounds like, so there's a perfectly fitting cover, and one of my personal favorites.

Although it must be said that most of these songs sound very much the same. I wouldn't be true to myself if I didn't point that out. Maybe I need to compare this to their "worst" release, Equilibrium IX, but I feel that they had every ability to try to write songs with different approaches and they completely neglected that in the long run, relying on smaller surprises in a few areas rather than trying new things. At least the album never gets boring. But on top of that, I think there's a newfound diversity that's still there, especially for its time. On top of the aforementioned balance between traditional, melodic and symphonic black metal, there are notable traces of gothic metal and prog metal to it, so despite its obvious flaw it's actually quite revolutionary. Because of this, there's a constant aura eminating from what could be a perfect black metal sound in general, something that's difficult to achieve, and Emperor somehow found a way to make it look easy on their first album.

In the Nightside Eclispe will be iconic throughout the rest of metal history. It's going to serve as an example of how to perfect the black metal sound, even though it suffers from monotony in comparison to more creative outings by not only Emperor but by other bands. If your going to check out Emperor, I suggest you do it in chronological fashion. This is the kind of album that will keep you headbanging throughout its entire run. For all of its innovations, this is at least a mile ahead of the earlier traditional black metal classic, A Blaze in the Northern Sky by Darkthrone.

EMPEROR Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk

Album · 1997 · Symphonic Black Metal
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Much like the debut, Anthems is a crowning achievement of Symphonic Black Metal. Incredibly talented musicians play extreme music with much more competence and ability than most Black Metal players, and the compositions are complex and layered. Every instrument is ever busy, a cacophony of epic darkness assaulting the listener with nonstop force. This thing is dense with complex arrangements, and despite all instruments staying at overdrive territory much of the time, the songs are written well (and production is strong too) so that no piece overpowers the other.

All of the main songs here are fantastic. Never a wasted moment with these compositions, full of unique riffing and deliciously icy keys, ominous choirs, and an insane rhythm section. The vocalist commands presence as well – really getting into some crazed dark fantasy persona in some of these tracks. We get classic Black Metal shrieks, but also some good operatic, layered cleans.

The non-Metal/filler tracks are a weakness. The intro is an offensive example that goes on almost 4 and a half minutes before letting us get to the meat, and the outro is good, but still the weakest real track to end on. Never understood why bands insisted on sandwiching albums between tracks like these. Still a fantastic album, but it hurts the listening experience.

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