Monday, May 17, 2010

Emperor - Emperial Live Ceremony

Emperor - Emperial Live Ceremony
1999, Candlelight Records

Reviewing a video release is a little different from critiquing an album, or an original work - it offers fewer alternatives in expression, and little room for originality in description. Because a live video is primarily a reproduction of material already released on prior albums, and at its best a presentation of a side of the band often far removed from listeners' minds - the live aspect, the power of performance - the criticism turns away from the music to focus on the presentation before you. It would be as senseless to criticize the music of Emperor in reviewing this video as it would be to comment derogatively (if such was ever my intention) on their live performances when taking a look at their albums. Also, in reviewing a video I think a lot of the emphasis should be on the quality of the production values - the assembling of the product, the filming of the video, the editing, the sound, and in general all the characteristics of the video that go into setting certain standards of excellence (or the opposite) for the reproduction of the live performance. How faithful, or authentic, is the performance on tape compared to the same in reality? Is it an adequate reflection of Emperor's true power when they play live? Does it add or take something away from the viewer's opinion of their performing ability? Is the video artistic in itself, enhancing your understanding of the band and their motives, or is it propaganda - seeking only to enforce a single image or view of the music? These are all questions that come to me when I think of the process of reviewing an official video release like this.

The tracklisting, before I begin: Curse You All Men!, Thus Spake the Nightspirit, I am the Black Wizards, An Elegy of Icaros, With Strength I Burn, Sworn, Night of the Graveless Souls, Inno a Satana, Ye Entrancemperium, and The Loss and Curse of Reverence video clip.

I am very pleased to say that I feel this is an excellent release, and the aesthetics of the video were planned to express a very simple, concise, and realistic editing style: you will not find many 'artistic' embellishments here (there are a few notable exceptions), no extended segments of quick cuts and strobe-flashing shots flying from one member of the band to another - no real attempt to make the images somehow 'reflect' the music itself, or become a demonstation of the pace or energy in the music. That is a relief for me: I don't need a video editor interpreting Emperor's music for me, and I don't need a demonstration of 'speed' for example, through pulsing cuts from camera to camera, when I can hear very well for myself that the music is indeed incredibly fast (this is a mistake the editor of the clip for 'The Loss and Curse of Reverence' made - there are few more impressive displays of speed in metal music than just seeing one wide-angled shot of a band as all the members bend themselves to their instruments, pushing them as fast as they can). For the most part the video switches from side to side through about four or five different camera angles, spending time on each member of the band - even though most of the time the cameras are trained on Ihsahn, as he is both the musical and visual center of the band. Standing in a white shirt, his close-shorn head contrasting with the wind-milling locks of Samoth and Tyr to his sides, dressed in darker clothes, he becomes the centerpiece and is often flooded with light. Wearing his guitar lightly strapped to his chest, he almost effortlessly moves between lead melodies and the lower, heavier rhythms, spinning in and out of the song structures while he holds the entire thing together. It is especially interesting to see him switch through all his different vocal styles, from death grunting to high screaming to operatic choruses with Tyr and the keyboards. I had heard, before I saw this video, of Ihsahn's true part in the band - his central position as song-writer, lyricist, and main composer - and now I must add central performer to that list as well, he is the heart of Emperor, and this video makes that reality very clear.

In between each song on this video there is a quick fade-to-black, and the song title is displayed - adding a little aesthetic touch to the progress of the show, and also serving to define each song as an entity in itself, almost splitting up this one performance into a collection of individual displays. It's a good idea, I feel - it serves to highlight the fact that Emperor's material, as technical, powerful, and groundbreaking as it is, is not merely a random collection of songs written on a single theme, under one voice (Ihsahn's), but rather a selection of different stories, with a distinctive evolution evident in each one, and with different patterns of relevance. That notion of the artistic importance of Emperor, their legacy and influence, is compounded by the song selection - they go all the way back to 'Night of the Graveless Souls', and it is very instructive to hear that song, for example, in between two slices of their current material. Have they really changed that much over the years? This video tries to answer that question, among others.

I would also like to add that the sound on this video is very good, reproducing all the instruments very clearly (especially the drums and Ihsahn's guitar), while filtering out most of the noise of the crowd, and so that only adds to the enjoyment - you can truly hear how well Emperor reproduces the material from their albums in a live setting, and in the few spaces where there have been changes, it is interesting to note what has been left out or added, and why. The good sound on this recording offers some viewpoints on the band not possible before.

Ultimately this video is a very entertaining work, both for the casual fan of the band and the more intent follower. I would recommend it in a second, if anyone - even a very knowledgeable Emperor devotee - asked me personally, and so I will also recommend it in this review. I have the feeling that this video will be especially popular in the areas (such as the US) where Emperor have not had the chance to tour widely, and I think it can only increase the hunger of those audiences for an authentic display, in the flesh. I, for one, hope to see Emperor on their next tour. This release is a powerful testament to their abilities as original and creative musicians.