Emperor – Prometheus: The Discipline Of Fire & Demise

While any further commentary on Emperor and their works is probably unnecessary at this point, I can’t help but have some desire to let my opinion on their final album be heard, despite how my views are most certainly not very unique in the metal community. Like most others, I see ‘In The Nightside Eclipse’ as by far the band’s greatest work, and everything else as a steady decline from there, with ‘Prometheus: The Discipline Of Fire & Demise’ being the ultimate nadir of their artistic output. That fact isn’t really in question- what is in question is what ‘nadir’ would precisely mean when it comes to Emperor; some people (like me) find it mediocre or even terrible, while others find it to be an incredible work. There’s a few weird people that think this is their finest work, but such people are generally filthy commies. What I find consistently surprising is the number of people who profess to enjoy this release, or even find it to be a masterpiece of heavy metal. I’ve owned this album for several years now, and have listened to it a huge number of times, and I have simply not grown to enjoy it. I have grown to understand what Emperor were attempting, and to appreciate the craftsmanship and ambition involved, but I do not like hearing it anymore now than I did when I first placed it in my CD player. Conclusion: it’s a great idea executed completely terribly.

As numerous others have stated, calling this an Emperor album is quite dubious. Properly, this is an Ihsahn album before his solo project even began. All music was composed by Ihsahn, all lyrics were written by Ihsahn, shit, Ihsahn practically plays all the instruments, though Trym still provided percussion and Samoth is given the hilariously minimal credit of ‘additional guitars’ (no wonder they broke up so soon after this). The music really has nothing to do with black metal apart from appearing to be derived from it; it’s actually so far from black metal that it even seems unconnected to the previous LP, ‘IX Equilibrium’. The label ‘symphonic extreme metal’ has been applied to this sort of thing: the most obvious other bearer of such a title being Dimmu Borgir. And when you examine the music, it’s not too far removed from Dimmu Borgir: yeah, it’s a great deal more complex and ornamental, but it depends on the same general ingredients to cement its style. Massive, overpowering keyboards and swells of symphonic score, dramatic vocal performance composed of ‘black metal’ rasps and screams and clean choruses, bombastic, fill-laden drum performance, frequent tempo changes; the two artists share quite a surprising commonality, don’t they? Yes, one could argue that those elements are pretty vague and could be applied to numerous bands, but listen to this album side by side with ‘Death Cult Armageddon’ and tell me that you can’t hear any similarities in delivery. The riffing is more complex, and the overall tempo is generally faster, but that’s about where the differences really end.

You know, the faster something goes, the closer it gets to standing still, and the more noise something makes, the closer it is to being silent, and in this case, the more that’s musically going on in this record, the less content there really is. ‘Prometheus: The Discipline Of Fire & Demise’ is packed to the brim with musical detail, with multiple layers of sound, varied melodies, and various tones and timbres of delivery being changed constantly. So with all this going on, why is the music so, for lack of a better word, boring? Why can I remember all the riffs but not particularly like any of them? It’s a ‘progressive’ record, but it doesn’t really seem to be ‘progressing’ towards anything at all. That word, at least in the metal community, seems to be related to things that aren’t very progressive at all: keyboards, atypical song structures (which metal is packed with regularly anyway), unusual instruments or methods of playing, and generally, a high degree of technicality. All these things are present on Emperor’s final work, but they don’t construct anything at all. It’s just a jumble of elements, given some degree of cohesion, but still essentially insignificant on the bigger scale. The band is trying almost unbearably hard to impress upon the listener that they’re talented, and they lose sight of actual songwriting in the process.

Much ado is made of this being a concept album, but this concept is pretty damned loose as a narrative. It seems that most bands who make ‘concept albums’ like to make them intentionally vague because, well, they didn’t have much of a concept to begin with. Case in point: ‘Once Was Not’. The same syndrome is here: the band is attempting to communicate some overreaching idea or meaning in the songs that just isn’t present, or if it is, only in a very raw and imprecise form. And it’s not that I ‘just don’t get it’, because there’s about five different interpretations of the fantastically obscure lyrics that all seem just as valid. Of course, many would say that this is a good thing, that it leaves the album up to the interpretation of the listener. But isn’t a ‘concept album’ supposed to be a bit more direct in its delivery? Isn’t it supposed to communicate ONE narrative, not the possibility of multiple? And if not, what makes it a ‘concept album’ at all when there’s no specific concept to be communicated? To me, there isn’t one. I’ve never been one to pick apart metal lyrics anyway, particularly on ‘concept albums’ like this one.

For an album of such variation, it seems to repeat itself a hell of a lot. The worst crime of this is Ihsahn’s vocals: on literally almost every line, he uses the EXACT SAME VOCAL RHYTHM. Raspy, rolling words that end in a screech on the last syllable. Really, say “The dog jumped over the feeeeeeence. The dog ran across the fieeeeeeeeeld. The dog enjoyed chasing miiiiiiiiiiice.” out loud. Doesn’t it sound stupid? Now do it in a black metal rasp and think about repeating that for the better part of an hour. It’s bad. The clean vocals use the same delivery, and they were never very good to begin with. It’s not just the vocals though: the riffs are surprisingly generic as well. Atonal, death metal derived midpaced stuff mixes with atonal tremolo riffing; note the conspicuous lack of melody? That’s because it’s pretty much missing entirely. All the riffs are awkward, craggy, atonal things that, while memorable just based on how bizarre they are, aren’t actually enjoyable to listen to at all. I can appreciate a band wanting to be atonal and atypical; I love many bands in that vein. But the least Emperor could have done is give a couple throwaway references to ‘I Am The Black Wizards’ instead of this endless field of squealy, twitchy riffs. Some melody is provided by the keyboards, but when I listen to a metal album, I’m not in it for the keyboards. Keyboards are to be used as a counterpart to the guitar riffs, not as the only purveyor of melody at all.

There are only two songs on here that I listen to with any regularity at all, and that’s because they’re the closest to black metal and ‘traditional’ music, and these are the opening and closing tracks. ‘The Eruption’ has some cool riffs and a good set of blastbeats, and ‘Thorns On My Grave’ actually uses the keyboards gracefully and packs the best riffs on the album. Both these tracks are great when they’re going fast, but then they feel the need to drop into that midpaced bullshit that no one except Ihsahn likes. Why do bands do this? It’s like late Cradle Of Filth, where they feel some compulsive need to put shitty, boring parts into songs because they think it has to be there. WHY. Why is it necessary, when you’ve got really good tremolo riffs and blasting, to drop into those goddamn wonky chords instead of continuing with what’s good? I think it all comes right down to Ihsahn, whose entire musical career has been based on his own sense of self-worth and pretense instead of actually making something enjoyable to listen to. You know, such distaste for the audience is generally something I like, but I’m hard pressed to think of an instance of it that’s more malicious yet retardedly designed than on this album. It’s not just that Ihsahn hates the metal scene, it’s that he’s not even good at repeating the stuff that makes it generally good: it’s like someone laughing at you for stumbling right before they walk into a tree. And before you say that it’s not Ihsahn, and that he created great, traditional black metal early in Emperor’s career, let your gaze rest back on ‘Samoth – Additional guitars’ and tell me that doesn’t speak VOLUMES about the musical goals of Ihsahn and the members of Emperor in general.

No one’s going to be able to convince the people that love this album that it sucks, nor will anyone ever convince me that it’s brilliant. I quite simply don’t like it and think it’s an empty album that doesn’t stand up in any way to Emperor’s previous works. But if there’s one overriding thing about this album that is important to remember, it’s that, despite the logo on the cover, this isn’t an Emperor album. This is an Ihsahn album with some well known session musicians. I just wish its delivery was a little more genuine and a little less pretentious: it would have made this CD a lot better.

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~ by noktorn on September 11, 2007.

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