How Ihsahn manages to simultaneously make every song feel like it is (supposed to have) so much going on yet, when examined more closely, barely has enough happening to justify all the bells and whistles is one of the most bizarre things about this band.
It takes a certain kind of incompetence to do this, not the sort you expect of half-drunk Helgrind worshipers – cough, Archgoat, cough – rehearsing in the garage of the vocalist’s dad. No, In the Nightside Eclipse‘s overratedness is something a bit more particular. Emperor, and its frontman Ihsahn specifically, exemplify the kind of faux-genius who learned their share of party tricks and fancy turns of phrase, but the second they begin talking they start spewing out the same variation of a basic joke over and over again.
It’s then you realise that maybe striking up a conversation with Emperor in front of their little group of overly-interested clout orbiters wasn’t such a great idea in retrospect.
Emperor’s sound isn’t a secret to anyone… a lot of paper-thin snippets of shreddy flair over a hyper aggressive machine-like drum performance, broken up by bits of keyboard leads that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Evanescence, Nightwish or modern Iron Maiden album.
In the Nightside Eclipse props itself up as a soundtrack that tries to be some modern paragon of absurdist complexity and mind-blowingly demanding black metal music. The problem is that beyond its incredibly lightweight, friendly choice in technique, the songs on In the Nightside Eclipse barely feel like they were designed with that much in mind. Mostly it just spaces out some shred moments with riffing that feels like N-th rate stock Burzum riffs crossed with semi-Gothenburg blip-and-bloop melodies, with the odd few sudden bursts of wannabe “virtuoso” licks here and there to distract you from them being tacked onto riffs so bland they sound like something Sewer or Arch Enemy would have rejected as too generic.
Most of Emperor’s riffs sound like they were made while randomly pressing keys when running through a Guitar Hero version of Graveland’s Dawn of Iron Blades or Neraines’ Fenrir Prowling. Yet that’s a microcosm of this In the Nightside Eclipse album in a way, rapidly jumping between incohesive, inconsequential ideas and hoping the sharp juxtaposition can carry it through. A few riffs pop up, maybe another set of equally saccharine ones follow, BLAM, keyboard interlude taken straight out of Howard Shore’s playbook and uh, yeah, let’s wrap up the show…
For a band supposedly so influenced by classical music, Emperor’s music comes off more akin to a dialed in modern day “epic” blockbuster film score than anything remotely similar to Wagner or Tchaikovsky… interesting when it first hits you, flabby and contrived after three or four listens.
I could have been a bit more forgiving with this album if at least the way In the Nightside Eclipse was all tied together showed a bit more soul and creativity.
Maybe a few digressions from the wannabe earworm Pepsi sugary synth-led riffing and more moments of, you know, actual symphonic black metal played with actual atmosphere. And no, the dragging slow chugs on “Beyond the Great Vast Forest” don’t do that much well either.
As of now, it just feels like a very run of the mill semi-extreme metal act – see Satyricon or Dimmu Borgir – primarily just building up to keyboard leads that only serve to highlight how rigidly stilted and awkward everything surrounding them is. Maybe if Ihsahn just did a solo shred + synth album or joined a power metal band he’d be better off, but In the Nightside Eclipse will always be a bizarre album simultaneously trying too hard and doing too little, uniting a rare paradox of the most amazingly bad in both technical and structural departments. Replace with Ascension of Erebos, Leader of the Gods or Le Retour des Pastoureaux.