Review by Ben for Emperor - Reverence (1997)
As a teaser for the approaching masterpiece, Reverence eased our concern that Emperor's best might be behind them. Excellent stuff!
It hadn’t been all fun and games for Emperor since 1994’s brilliant In the Nightside Eclipse album. The band seemingly had the black metal world at their feet and fans were fervent to see what these Norwegians would produce next. But as is the case with many black metal bands of this era, the apparent commitment of the band members went far beyond the music itself, which inevitably resulted in some time behind bars. The band’s guitarist Samoth was sentenced to 16 months in prison for arson after being found guilty, along with Varg Vikernes (who would also be charged with the murder of Mayhem’s Euronymous and several other arson counts), for his part in the burning down of Skjold Church in Vindafjord. To make matters worse, drummer Bard G. Eithun (aka Faust) was convicted of the murder of a homosexual man two years after the crime and was sentenced to fourteen years in prison (of which he would serve just over nine). With half the band out of action, bassist Tchort (who was also arrested a couple of years earlier for burglary, knife assault and grave desecration) also departed the band leaving Ihsahn to ponder what might have been.
It didn’t seem all that likely that Emperor would be able to remain a force, let alone produce anything close to the quality of their debut. Yet hindsight shows that this is the perfect example of “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”. Once Samoth was released from prison, he and Ihsahn set about trying to find replacements for Tchort and Faust, with more desire than ever to take Emperor to the pinnacle of black metal music. They handpicked Alver from Dødheimsgard to perform bass duties and, in what turned out to be a brilliant decision, drummer Trym from Enslaved. If there was ever any doubt that Emperor’s new line-up could deliver the goods, the Reverence EP would wipe them away in no uncertain terms. The Loss of Curse and Reverence displayed Emperor at their most epic, inimitable and close to impenetrable best. In Longing Spirit showcased a newer, more refined Emperor, full of the same grand atmosphere in a less chaotic form. Finally, Opus a Satana proved that not only could Ihsahn maintain the band’s majestic tone without the need for typical metal instruments, he had musicianship skills far surpassing the average black metal performer.
The new Emperor was compositionally more sophisticated and we all knew that it wouldn’t be too long before we held something truly special in our hands. Trym had added a terrifyingly brutal element to the band and the whole production was given far more punch while losing none of the wall of sound effect that their work was renowned for. This release was always intended to be a teaser rather than an essential piece in Emperor’s history, with both The Loss and Curse of Reverence and In Longing Spirit both set to hold a place on the planned full length Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk release later in the year. That would have left only the instrumental version of Inno a Satana (entitled Opus a Satana) as the only real reason for fans to track the Reverence EP down. The band’s decision to leave In Longing Spirit off the album soon changed that, but the fact that pretty much every version of Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk contains both In Longing Spirit and Opus a Satana as bonus tracks these days means it should not be difficult for anyone to own these tracks in some form or another. You should too because it’s…well, it’s Emperor!