Live: Reunited Black Metal OGs Emperor

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And that's how they do it in Norway

Emperor + Daylight Dies
BB King Blues Club
July 13, 2006

It's a big deal, the Emperor reunion: Norwegian black metal OGs playing their first US reunion tour since breaking up in 2001. I didn't realize there were enough black metal fans in New York to sell out BB King's, but there are, two nights running, and they all paid $65 to get in; a few dropped an extra $40 on a VIP ticket that included an autographed poster or something. I've always looked at black metal with a sort of removed awe: weird Scandinavian people slathering themselves in corpsepaint, burning churches, murdering each other, and playing impossibly fast and grandiose music, all ethereal keyboards and unrelenting blastbeats and larynx-shredding yowls. There's so much mystery and foreboding surrounding the whole 90s scene that it's something of a jolt to actually go to an Emperor show and see that most of the crowd looks pretty geeky and normal, not a whole lot different from the people who walk into Forbidden Planet every Wednesday morning, even if a couple of them were wearing corpsepaint. The crowd wasn't anywhere near overwhelmingly white, something of a shock considering that it's hard to imagine a form of music more primally and militantly European than black metal. The crowd is overwhelmingly male, shockingly enough. Almost every single person in the crowd is wearing a shirt advertising some metal band or other, and more than a few of them are being that guy. I was half-expecting people to show up drenched in goat's blood or something, and I was disappointed.

Emperor can sound impossibly majestic and frightening on record. In the Nightside Eclipse, which I'm told is their best album, is a messy but utterly compelling pileup of demon-roars and Angelo Badalementi keyboards and lurching, atmospheric guitars. It's fast and brutal, but it's also somehow soothing. It's total studio stuff, and it didn't translate to the stage all that well last night. It's probably not the band's fault; they were playing without one member, as founding guitarist Samoth was being kept out of the country by immigragration officials who understandably enough reluctant to let a convicted arsonist with a cathedral-burning spree on his resume into the country. But I was expecting something a little more theatrical. The band had lights and fog machines and a demented-looking keyboardist in heavy eyeshadow, but that was it. Frontman Ihsahn kind of reminded me of the guy from Godsmack: short slicked-back hair, neck-beard, severe demeanor (his evil laugh was pretty great, though). On record, the band pushes guitars and keyboards to the front of the mix, but last night they were overwhelmed by the constant double-bass drums. Things only got awesome in the rare moments when the drums slowed down and the guitars soared up. Everything else was jackhammer sludge, and if the songs had any structure whatsoever, I couldn't hear it. The crowd certainly ate it up, though, so maybe it's an acquired taste.

Voice review: Hilary Chute on Emperor's IX Equilibrium

I was more taken with openers Daylight Dies, a North Carolina band who play a slow, churning form of metal that doesn't fall into any subgenre I can immediately name (Wikipedia says doom metal/melodic death metal). All five guys in the band have extremely long and straight hair, and they all have impressive headbanging skills, but that's not why I liked them. They play their megaton riffs slow enough that they hit hard without sacrificing any grandeur, and they counterpoint their cookie-monster vocal roar with pretty neoclassical guitar solos. They didn't reinvent the wheel, but had force and authority and hooks, and you can't really ask for a whole lot more from a metal band.



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