The Scandanavian black metal invasion of America 2007 is officially underway! Emperor have made their triumphant return to the States, starting off a year that will include visits by other Norwegian legends Immortal and Mayhem over the summer, to be followed up in the fall by Swedish bands Dark Funeral and Naglfar. Emperor, Immortal and Mayhem, all in New York within about two months of each other? What more could any black metal fan ask for? It just doesn't get any better than this.
After a successful trip to the United States in 2006 that saw them play 4 nights in New York City and L.A., Emperor have come back for a bit of an encore set of performances. On this ever so brief tour of America the band will be playing three nights in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Three nights, three shows, with there being a lot of talk focusing on this being Emepror's swan song in America.
Sea of Tranquility writers Ken Sanford and Ken Pierce had the honor of being at BB King's in New York City on June 1st for one of these landmark performances. Read on for their full reviews of the festivities.
Eyes of the Dead
New Haven CT's Eyes of the Dead kicked off the evening with their brand of melodic thrash/death hybrid metal. The band played a set consisting of material from their debut album, What Nightmares Are Made Of. Vocalist Frank Connors stalked the stage really trying to rile everyone up and did his best to give this mostly black metal crowd a good show. What really got everyone's attention was their set closer, a cover of Slayer's "Raining Blood", which was so-so. If you're going to do a classic song, you better nail it, which unfortunately they didn't. This is a pretty good young band though, who works hard. They've previously held opening slots for Anthrax, Overkill and Exodus. They definitely have something to build upon. While nothing overwhelming the crowd did seem to appreciate the effort the band put in.
Next up were Austin Texas' black metal trio Averse Sefira. These guys have gained quite a following not only in the States, but in Europe and South America as well. As a matter of fact, they've garnered such a huge following in South America they have a section of their website produced in Portuguese. They are one of the few really good Black Metal bands to hail from the U.S. Make no mistake these guys are old school, raw black metal through and through, no symphonic stuff here. They took the stage in imposing fashion in full black metal regalia, full corpse paint, leather and spikes. Looks weren't deceiving either. They unleashed a barrage of true black metal ferocity on the crowd at BB Kings. Vocalist/guitarist Sanguine Mapsama proved to be quite an ominous figure as he played and screamed out vocals that would make the Norse founding fathers proud. And to think they come from Texas! (I know Austin is a hotbed for all types of music, but I love the idea of these guys in a rehearsal studio, what people must think) The band covered material from all three of their studio releases, Tetragrammatical Astygmata being the latest of original material, with the album prior to that, Battle's Clarion recently being re released now that the band signed with Candlelight Records. The band was very vicious and raw, while showing off their technical ability and capability of really filling a room with rich textures even as a three piece. These guys were proof that there actually is a chance for some good black metal to come out of America. True black metal fans should check them out when they come to your town.
Metal historians may nit pick about who "started" black metal, Venom, Hellhammer, Bathory; let that debate rage on. It wouldn't be very hard to debate who the most influential black metal band of all time has been; there's really only one place to look and one band to look at. The place is Norway, and the band is the mighty Emperor. Emperor did for black metal what Led Zeppelin did for hard rock. They made the rules, then they broke them; then they rewrote them all over again. They continually treaded new ground and took chances that pushed black metal past any previously perceived limits. It's amazing how such a relatively small body of work could have such an immense impact on music. After releasing 2001's Prometheus: the Discipline of Fire & Demise, the band decided to call it quits. Since then the band has gotten together for a few reunion shows, such as four shows in the U.S. in 2006. Two each in both New York and L.A. Unfortunately guitarist Samoth was unable to enter the States in 2006 due to visa problems, so vocalist/guitarist Ihsahn covered all guitar duties for those shows. With their fan base stronger than ever, and after the success in 2006, Emperor have decided to return to the U.S. for three encore performances in New York, Chicago, and L.A. Joining original member vocalist/guitarist Ihsahn, would be long time Emperor drummer Trym, session bassist Secthdamon (Odd Tony), and keyboard player Einar Solberg . Is there a piece missing? Yes! Making his glorious return to America would be the other founding member and guitarist, Samoth.
Coming to the show I was curious to what type of crowd we would encounter. A sellout was expected, but who would be in attendance? One rumor that's been swirling around is that these three gigs will in fact be the final time Emperor ever plays together in the United States. So would BB kings be full of true Emperor fans, or would there be a bunch of media types and industry people who felt this was "the place to be", with a legendary band making what could possibly be their final appearance in New York City?
Well of course there were a few of the aforementioned media and industry types, they're easy to spot, but they were by far the minority as this was one wild crowd full of true black metal Emperor fans.
As the lights go down electricity fills the air at the intimate NYC venue. The stage is dark as the band make their entrance and there's an overwhelming show of loyalty from their fans in attendance as a familiar sound fills the air, the intro to "Into The Infinity Of Thoughts". The stage illuminates as the band rips into this classic opening track from In The Nightside Eclipse. They stay true to that album and do a medley of sorts as they segue into "The Burning Shadows Of Silence". After the opening barrage the crowd chants "EMPEROR, EMPEROR!" The next classic is unveiled as Ihsahn plays the opening riff to "Cosmic Keys To My Creations & Times". Another classic that drives the crowd into a frenzy. If not special enough already it was at this point where you started to realize that you were a part of something truly magical. As the slower ending section of "Cosmic Keys" was played the crowd began chanting along, "AY, AY, AY!" This continued throughout the night whenever given the chance. As the band ended this opening trio of songs from their famous debut album Ihsahn took the opportunity to greet the NYC crowd. After welcoming everyone to the show he pointed to Samoth and commented, "and we've brought an old friend back." The crowd showed its loyalty and began chanting "SAMOTH, SAMOTH, SAMOTH!" Samoth acknowledged the crowd and was visible touched by the show of affection from the loyal fans who were so happy to have him back. The crowd at BB Kings helped make the night so special. Besides chanting at every given opportunity, the crowd proved their allegiance by singing along to every song. These were real Emperor fans. And there was quite a fair amount of pit action, as well as crowd surfing and even some stage diving. The band never broke stride as several times fans got on the stage, gave an obligatory fist or horns in the air, then sent themselves flying back into the crowd.
The band stuck with their first three albums for a majority of the show. After an unbelievable version of "The Loss and Curse Of Reverence" from the Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk album, Ihsahn almost silenced the capacity crowd with one comment. He stepped to the mic and said, "now we're going to play something new." NEW! Emperor, something new?! For a second people were in shock, could it be? New Emperor material? People weren't sure whether to cheer or not it seemed. But alas, he was teasing us all. After a pause to let people think about what he said he stepped to the mic again, "well, newest for Emperor, something off Prometheus. In A Wordless Chamber." This brought the crowd back to reality and while not really new, the crowd was frenzied once again. This would be the only track of the night from the Prometheus album. The set was then closed out with "Inno A Satana" followed by "Opus A Satana". The band then left as the stage darkened. The crowd milled around a bit and then chanted "EMPEROR, EMPEROR, EMPEROR!" After a few minutes the band was back for more, and the crowd was more than ready. Ihsahn and Samoth joined on guitar, one then the other, as the encore was "I Am the Black Wizards". As this classic came to an end you could only wonder what was next; hopefully something, anything, don't let this end! Not to disappoint, the full onslaught of "Ye Entrancemperium" begins and the band plays it mercilessly. From here it still wasn't time to go, as they break back into "Opus A Satana" for a final rousing goodbye to their fans in New York City.
Watching an amazing band, play their amazing songs in such a way; it was as if they never had stopped touring, never stopped playing together, as if things had never changed. The fire was still burning on this night. If this was in fact their last ever appearance in New York City, they certainly made it a memorable one; as I'm sure anyone in attendance will attest to. It was simply magical, which is what Emperor is all about.
Ken Pierce: "Let us all Hail and raise the horns high for the Emperor has returned to guide us into the Darkness of Black Metal once again". Sorry readers, I honestly felt the need to grab your attention here and given their scope and influence on the Black Metal genre as a whole I am sure that you can agree that Emperor deserves nothing less than words both majestic and grandiose. We are just short of the month and day one year ago where on this very same ground the legions and acolytes to these dark lords stood once before as Emperor made their first appearance in some years. Their absence had seemed like forever but it did make sense since all of the members were now involved in other projects such as solo work and bands like Zyklon. The shows that made it to the states were long sold out and found each venue visited filled to their maximum capacity. It was a great experience to behold as a crowd like this was not easy to get at a show, but we are referring to Emperor. The enthusiasm remained high even though a wrench was tossed into the works as it became clear that their guitarist Samoth would not be able to join these visits based on VISA issues he had encountered. Isahn and company made sure to leave the audience wanting more but the missing guitarist did take something away from the overall sound for that night. In any event it was a memorable show that was talked about for weeks to come on websites and blogs everywhere.
Tonight we would find the band returning to the States for the second of three shows that had been arranged and the lucky cities outside of New York would be Chicago and Los Angeles. I know that putting a tour package together is tough and expensive but I really felt that a band whose power over the genre is so potent should have done a full-scale extensive tour for the fans. The limited dates made each show a special occasion and tickets were very pricy and hard to come by. These shows would also feature two support acts with Eyes Of The Dead and Averse Sefira getting everyone warmed up and feeling the Metal blood flow strong inside them. I walked in as EOTD were performing and caught a few numbers but not their entire set. They were pretty good I would admit but they were getting mixed response from the folks in the front. I viewed this as just an impatience for things Emperor. Their music is a solid blend of Metal genres and focuses on the Black meets Death angle. In addition to their originals they would choose to close with a cover of Slayer's "Raining Blood". While I loved the way they handled it I am not sure that they should have chosen this particular song because it ended up as the best number. I don't think that they would want to be remembered as the band that did the Slayer cover. Averse Sefira was next and this was Black Metal without a doubt. They look and sound a lot like 1349 in my opinion but they were not as blistering as I felt that band was. There was intensity in their approach and one would expect this from any of these Swedish and Norwegian bands but therein lies the problem – Averse Sefira is from Austin, Texas. I found it cool to see such a true and back to basics portrayal of this genre from the States as it gives us hope and continued belief that Metal is growing stronger day by day. Before tonight I will have only heard the bands name but despite this I was finding them impressive for the manner in which they carried themselves and truly got your attention with every tune. The three piece group is fronted by Sanguine Mapsama who both sings and plays the guitar - all members sport corpse paint and are rather intimidating to observe. They are a perfect addition to the Candlelight Records family and should fit in well with a number of the acts that this label is making more prominent of late. Now it would be time for all to take a deep breath and raise their voices to maximum volume as Emperor's arrival was but moments away.
To me, Emperor represents the best from the time when the Symphonic Black Metal genre began and despite those who feel that the original Black Metal form was started by Venom, I still find myself referring to the power and majesty of their classic tunes when I speak of beginnings. I will take anything from "Into The Nightside Eclipse" and "Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk" over Venom's entire early back catalog when it comes down to it. As a band they showed that this genre was not a one-trick pony but instead a widely expanding canvas that could be painted with musical colors of many different shades. To define the air as electrically charged tonight would be an understatement and many of the audience attendees crammed their way to the main floor area to get a better feel of the night. While this appeared to be a sold out event it did not strike me that it was as jam packed as the last time around. This could have been based on where I positioned myself because it was still quite crowded. The audience was made up of both industry regulars and diehard fans. I liked the fact that a lot of familiar faces were present which proves their continued support of the bands that pass through town. As we noted, the last time around in 2006, the band would appear minus guitarist Samoth and this made Isahn focus his energy on filling as much of the guitar void left behind. Tonight, Samoth would be here and as he walked onto the stage the response was incredible. I spoke to a fan at the side stage and he said very simply that "Samoth represents the brutality in Emperor" and while this is his view I had to admit that I found myself in agreement with him. They jumped into their set very quickly and Isahn was totally on point and seemed a little more comfortable now with the added presence of Samoth to help make this music sound its best. Drummer Trym was absolutely punishing his massive drum kit tonight and could hardly be seen by the audience based on the amount of cymbals and drums he had at hand. His movements and sound were literally a super sonic blur that made you wonder how he could physically undertake this. As a writer & photographer I am fortunate enough to be able to do some work in the photo pit when these shows first begin and tonight this area was filled with more cameras than I had ever seen. There was also a large amount of video being shot and it seemed to be under the bands direction. Odds are that this particular tour will find some sort of presence on DVD, and we can only hope for this to be the case. As the set progressed I realized that it was the exact same set as they performed last time around and I think that this was done on purpose for the band has made it very clear that their time together as Emperor is pretty much done. It was supposed to happen last year, but with the VISA issues for Samoth they decided to swing around one more time to give the fans the show that they had expected and deserved. Musically this was one of the tightest performances I had witnessed and this is crucial for a band that moves at such a blistering pace. Having Samoth back also allowed the fullness and richness that is Emperors brand of Symphonics to flow seamlessly. Once again the band would find their live session players of Secthdamon (Odd Tony) on bass and Einar Solberg on the keyboards. Odd Tony is also a member of the band Zyklon with Samoth.
Isahn spoke to the crowd on a number of occasions but clearly he was trying to be more about the music tonight and give everyone present their money's worth. To be honest I prefer less talk and more music when it's a band like this. One of the main things he brought up was about the last time they performed here and how it was different without Samoth, but now we are ok since he was among them once more. Samoth himself seemed very pleased with the reaction he was causing which was definitely a good thing as I felt that this brought even more intensity out of the guitarist. When they brought forth "Thus Spake The Nightspirit", the entire audience was singing along with Isahn and made this one of the night's earliest highlights. The lack of difference in the set list found the group once again concentrating on the first three albums but also making a little room for a track from "Prometheus" with "In A Wordless Chamber". The track shows a little added Progressive aspect to the band which of course proves further that their creativity did not cease as their career continued over the years. There would be more musical highlights to enjoy and with the rich history of their back catalog and how it was received last time had no one complaining about the songs being the same. The played a little over an hour and a half and to the raging screams of the crowd the band briefly returned with "I Am The Black Wizard" as one of their three encores. It was one of the best displays of Metal power I have seen in awhile.
There are many who feel that this was the last chance to see Emperor and that if you were not there then you missed out and don't count on any return. My views on this are different because in Metal it's not often wise to speak in such absolutes. We continually find bands who the world thought would never return come back from the brink of historical memory and perhaps after some more time doing projects and other adventures that the world will find that the Emperor needs to visit their loyal subjects once again.
Emperor Set List
01. Into The Infinity of Thoughts/Burning Shadows of Silence
02. Cosmic Keys To My Creations & Times
03. Thus Spake The Nightspirit
04. An Elegy Of Icaros
05. Curse You All Men!
06. With Strength I Burn
07. Towards The Pantheon
08. The Majesty Of The Nightsky
09. The Loss And Curse Of Reverence
10. In The Wordless Chamber
11. Inno A Satana
12. Opus A Satana Part 1
13. I Am The Black Wizards
14. Ye Entrancemperium
15. Opus A Satana Part 2
Photos by Pete Pardo