of Fire & Demise

Emperor

Candlelight

On its fourth and final full-length, Norwegian trio Emperor creates music that doesn’t quite jibe with the well-publicized murder and church-burning in its members’ troublesome pasts. Just as there were plenty of mild-mannered Delta blues musicians—Bukka White and Skip James, for example—who could whip up more ferocity than celebrated ex-con Leadbelly, many of Emperor’s law-abiding black-metal contemporaries are much better purveyors of ravishing grimness. Next to, say, Darkthrone or Enslaved, these guys sound like a bunch of pussies. Actually, that’s not really fair, given that founding vocalist-guitarist Ihsahn wrote and recorded most of Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire & Demise by himself: This guy sounds like a bunch of pussies. After all, he’s the one responsible for all the wimpy classical flourishes that keep this disc from being the least bit heavy. The lead-off track, “The Eruption,” perfectly exemplifies the problem with the album: Throughout, the band alternates between excellent blackened blizzard-beat thrash and unfortunate synth-gilded chamber music. Classical pretensions have long plagued metal, but Prometheus resembles overripe prog rock more than anything else in its dark ‘n’ icy subgenre. At least a few of the disc’s later tracks strike a better balance between Emperor’s punkass riffage and horror-movie keyboards: “Grey” buries the bad production beneath enough pick squeals to choke a goat, and “He Who Sought the Fire” summons raw blackness via tidal waves of guitar scales, machine-gun double-bass drumming, and frigid, raspy vocals. And when Ihsahn nails himself to the cross—”I am the father/I am the son”—on the album-closing “Thorns on My Grave,” he sounds downright unholy. Obviously, this dude’s got the power; he just doesn’t quite know how to use it.

—Brent Burton