Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Again We Rise: Emperor - The Discipline of Fire & Demise

True to Iron Maiden's promise at Madison Square Garden in 2000, the decade that followed has seen a resurgence of metal that not only obliterated the specter of death staking the genre in the 1990s, but makes previous heydays seem puny in comparison. Metal in the 2000s was all about proliferation: new styles emerged, old ones regenerated, and - thanks to the Internet - exposure spread like a virus. To highlight all of that success , we're launching Again We Rise, an occasional feature that will celebrate the releases that rose above the voluminous crowd to become classics. Today, Emperor's Prometheus - The Discipline of Fire & Demise.

In the summer of 2000, I was working a job whose intellectual rigors were so intense that they permitted endless amounts of web surfing. On one of my journeys, I found an interview with Ihsahn where he discussed the dichotomy of quality: his dissatisfaction with the quality of Emperor's output to that point, but his hopefulness about the future, as each new release fixed the problems of the past. The statement related in part to the progress of recording Prometheus, which I bought a bit over a year later after hearing a sample of the first thirty seconds of "Thorns on My Grave" on Amazon: the layering of drums and guitar makes for such an impressively heavy composition that I had to hear more.

Despite my initial hopes, it took me a good four or five years to realize Prometheus's genius; perhaps because I was expecting another Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk or IX Equilibrium, I fell into later category of listeners described by the All Music Guide's John Serba:
"Those willing to invest a significant amount of time into Prometheus will be thoroughly rewarded on intellectual and emotional levels — especially when drawing parallels between the album's elaborate concept and Emperor's musical reign — while more practical listeners unwilling to slap on headphones and willfully ingest the lyrics will find the record impenetrable."
"Impenetrable" is the word: the album's multitude of layers, swirling textures, and dueling instruments; its rampaging melodies that present a nefarious mindfuck by individually stretching the very concept of tonality while collectively delivering some of music's more glorious aspirations; the lyrics, where a concept just barely comprehensible when read on a page stands nearly veiled by the individual phrases that describe the action; these are not the elements of an easy listen. Digging further, phrases start to collect in the brain and continuity establishes itself - I can remember how "Depraved" sounds, for example, because I remember the feeling evoked by the chilling arpeggio that opens the track - but on the whole there is the whispered beginning that starts the record, the final rush that ends it, and the wonderful, bleak-as-hell maelstrom in between. That Emperor managed to put together such an effort is impressive enough; that they did so while walking the tightrope between wankery and creative desire and emerged with something complex and cohesive is almost unbelievable.

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