Before I go any further it should be known that is probably my favorite metal album, or at the very least, my favorite black metal album, by a band who, in my opinion, are very important to the genre.
Emperor’s career, like In the Nightside Eclipse, always seemed so brief to me. While others like Motörhead (30+), Mayhem (20+), and Satyricon (15+) continue to record and perform live, Emperor were only around for ten years, and not all of them were spent releasing material or playing live. When they did create an album, it was serious work, and this is no exception. It should also be remembered that most of the musicians were still in their teens at the time of recording, adding to the belief by some that “real” black metal can only be made by pissed off teenagers, but also that a certain level of experience is not necessary for good music. Whether either is true, this never ends up sounding immature or juvenile for even a second. As Emperor progressed in sound, style, and even musicianship, they grew up a little, utilizing more clean vocals, and dropping the use of corpsepaint. Though highly regarded, their work here would never be repeated, and is what some consider the last of “old” Emperor, but easily the best of them as well.
One of the most common complaints about this album is the quality of its production (or lack thereof), but this has also been frequently touted as a redeeming characteristic. Frontman Ihsahn has stated that they would probably never rerecord it to get better sound because the album owes much of its appeal to the production, which adds to the atmosphere and overall dark mood. Though better production could improve the quality of the sound, it could also very likely take away from its feeling, and the spirit of those involved in its creation. It is better than much of their fellow countrymen at the time, and is a considerable improvement from Wrath of the Tyrant + Emperor. Regardless, I find it is best played at a loud volume, where it can more easily flow from the speakers, creating its own dark sonic environment.
Many outside extreme metal will probably never understand In the Nightside Eclipse. Along with its production, the album has few clean vocals, and those present are different from the group’s later work. Vocals are frequently harsh, not so much sung as they are screamed, and lyrics are caught in this maelstrom, rendering them close to indecipherable. This is also not a musical love letter to Satan or Death, though both subjects are addressed, albeit creatively and somewhat symbolically. This is simply Emperor, and above all this is black metal: aggressive, fierce, and very dark, and at many times quite beautiful. Essential Emperor and essential black metal!