For Fans Of is a column that takes one very well-known and popular band that our writers and readers are fans of, and then our staff write about a small group of lesser-known bands that do similar things and who we think you all might like as well and give a listen to. Check out past entries here.
It’s amazing how much ground Emperor covered over the course of just four albums. From helping to pioneer black metal to introducing symphonics and progressive elements to the BM formula, there really aren’t many more important bands within the Norweigan scene, or even the genre as a whole. Back-to-Back classics In the Nightside Eclipse and Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk may be two of the best introductory black metal albums, as they make the harshest parts of the genre accessible without losing an ounce of immaculate songwriting prowess. We now welcome you to a different form of introduction, exploring six bands that have taken influence from Emperor, added their own unique, bold twists and churned out records that more than capably carry the torch onward into a world of textured symphonics and atmosphere. Head past the jump to enter our inaugural black metal FFO; there couldn’t be a better band to commence the frost and torment.
Akhyls – The Dreaming I
From the beginning, Emperor has been about creating dark, lush, organic forests of sound, landscapes ripe for exploration and for losing oneself in. Evil abounds around every corner, just waiting to catch and ensnare you for some dark ritual, and overhead, the sky crackles and rolls with furious omnipresent storm clouds that partially obscure the moon, blocking out your only guiding light. On The Dreaming I, Akhlys, the one-man project from Naas Alcameth, the mastermind behind Nightbringer (mentioned further down on the list) calls forth an ancient, eldritch horror that evokes the same sort of terror and sonic fury as is present on such classics as In The Nightside Eclipse and Anthems To The Welkins At Dusk, but this time, with a touch of Lovecraftian existential dread and scope that adds a totally new sense of grandeur to the whole ordeal. Worth a listen for any fan of Emperor’s more horror-movie-esque qualities in their music, The Dreaming I is everything right about Emperor’s classic formula, viewed through a slightly different lens.
Thy Darkened Shade – Liber Lvcifer I: Khem Sedjet
Channeling the ethereally beautiful yet abrasively dark qualities of early to Mid era Emperor with a dash of death metal, Germany’s Thy Darkened Shade are one of the most underrated black metal acts in the scene today. Calling their work “Acausal Necrosophic Black Metal”, the window dressing to the actual music is very typical of the genre, but if you’re into that kind of thing, it’s done well. Where this band stands out is the actual music, which perfectly modernizes the genre defining elements of In The Nightside Eclipse and Anthems To The Welkins at Dusk without diluting the core of what made those albums such timeless classics. Combined with production that’s clear, punchy and listenable without sounding too sterile or overly processed, Thy Darkened Shade have crafted a modern black metal gem with Liber Lvcifer I: Khem Sedjet, and if you have even a passing interest in the genre, you owe it to yourself to check this album out.
Windir – Arntor
Though multi-instrumentalist Valfar was unfortunately caught in a blizzard and died of hypothermia while travelling through the forests of Norway (seriously), his work with Windir was some of the last truly fantastic black metal to emerge from the country during the late 90s. With Windir’s second LP, the masterful Arntor, Valfar helped accelerate the folk/viking metal movement, all while delivering some of the finest atmospheric black metal of the time. Handling every instrument which even includes the occasional accordion solo, the album’s seven tracks brought forth some of the most impressively concise, well-written, and progressive black metal at the time, but never straying too far into overindulgence and pretension. It’s got more than enough catchy melodies, loads of frigid riffing and vicious blasts and does a better job at incorporating symphonic elements than practically every other band that was attempting it at the time. You’d be hard-pressed to find another track within black metal that’s as good as transporting the listener into another realm as “Svartesmeden og Lundamyrstrollet.” Norwegian black metal wasn’t as successful at making music as truly transcendental since, well, Emperor. Make no mistake here: this is an extreme metal fan’s dream.
Lychgate – An Antidote for the Glass Pill
Fortunately for Emperor, their veteran status has saved them from the (unfair) stigma surrounding symphonic black metal. Acts like Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir – who’ve had their moments, to be fair – sullied the public perception of symphonic BM and made it synonymous with kitsch and campiness. It wasn’t supposed to be like this; Emperor’s lush, symphonic soundscapes were meant to compliment the evocative nature of black metal, not soften and supplement shoddy songwriting. Lychgate understand this impeccably, as is showcased on 2015 gem An Antidote for the Glass Pill. Every twisted organ and echoing oddity conjures the feeling of a desolate church haunted by a horrendous past being torn to shreds by the spectres that endlessly roam its halls. Emperor’s persistent, ripping BM and steadily broadening progressive experimentations are obviously channeled here, and the results Lychgate achieve should intrigue even the most fervent symphonic BM detractor.
Nightbringer – Ego Dominus Tuus
One of Emperor’s best known songs is “Thus Spake the Nightspirit,” and Colorado’s Nightbringer conjures the nightspirit in spades. Their sound is a 90s black metal aficionado’s dream, combining the lightning speed blast antics of Dark Funeral with the reverb drenched atmosphere, slight orchestral elements, and melodic sensibilities of Emperor’s earliest days. They’ve even managed to completely perfect the Norwegian’s echo-laden pinch harmonics, best evidenced in the main riff of the classic track “The Loss and Curse of Reverence” from the much revered Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, which along with In the Nightside Eclipse are the albums Nightbringer seems to reference the most. Despite such close comparisons, Ego Dominus Tuus is not simply a rehash of old ideas. Although the band certainly wouldn’t exist without Emperor paving the way, Nightbringer are harnessing the aesthetic laid forth and ramping it all up a notch, darkening it up with gloomy atmosphere and occult lyrics to create a spooky slab of near perfect Scandinavian inspired black metal. The only companion you need for a night drive, walk, or jog under a full moon.
Wodensthrone – Loss
Typically what is associated with Emperor is massive, melodic synth lines that draw the listener in, providing an almost warm ambiance that contrasts the frigid tundra the rest of the instrumentation creates. Wodensthrone uses synth to their advantage in a similar way, except in their realm of symphonic black metal, they do not treck through raging winter storms on lone mountain sides but wander through mossy forests, only occasionally catching glimpses of light as it is filtered through the canopy. The synth lines are that light, dipping below the harsh black metal riffs and vocals, creating an underlying reminiscent and warm tone before driving to the forefront and allowing the ambiance to be the focus of the music. Overall, Wodensthrone is monumental, epic in a way that is founded in tradition yet still distinctly their own, a combination that should please those die hard symphonic black metal fans while still winning over those skeptical of black metal’s old ways.