Let’s set things straight from the outset: Emperor are one of the greatest black metal bands of all time. Their influence, alongside Mayhem and Darkthrone, can be felt in every black metal band to this day. While the ‘first wave’ such as Venom and Bathory planted the seeds for what was to follow, it was Emperor and their peers who formed the blueprints of black metal and continue to inspire today.
Emperor, of course, came up in Norway – the (un)holy land for this genre – and started out with a the raw, lofi sound the scene was known for at the time. However, over the subsequent years, Emperor evolved their sound and style, innovating the oft-steadfast genre drastically.
Among other things, Emperor dropped the corpse paint, incorporated symphonic elements and keys, and even occasional clean vocals. At the time, this was groundbreaking. Frontman Ihsahn’s growth as an artist helped propel Emperor to bold new frontiers in black metal – a journey he has continued with his solo career ever since.
As an active writing/recording unit, Emperor’s story is short. They only ever released four full-length albums, but all four were incredibly well received. In fact, their first two albums (‘In the Nightside Eclipse’ and ‘Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk’) are considered two of the most important black metal albums in history.
Their initial run as a band ended in 2001 when they decided to disband. Since then the band has periodically reunited to tour (to enormous enthusiasm from fans) but they have maintained they have no desire to release new music.
Still, when Emperor does come back out of hiatus for a tour or two it is cause for celebration in the metal world. They frequently perform incredible shows for enormous festival crowds. I myself finally got to see them when they came to Australia for the first time a couple of years ago. It was a (nearly) lifelong dream come true. They lived up to my lofty expectations.
And at 3am tomorrow my alarm will go off and I’ll get up to watch the Emperor live stream event, because that’s worth a 3am start on a Monday. Because it’s fucking Emperor. Black metal royalty.
In another reality, Emperor might have been considered rule-breakers, but in our reality they wrote the rule book. Their bold and innovative approach within a genre they helped define makes them a band of immeasurable importance in the story of metal.