Words by Sam Wolstenholme
Pioneering black metal masters Emperor are one of those bands whose cult (or more accurately, occult) celebrity in the extreme metal world, and their infamous story, lend an inexplicably mystical quality and a dark thrill to their sinister, seditious brand of frost-bitten black metal. Their 30-year career has only spawned a handful of albums, yet such is their enduring legacy that said releases continue to captivate listeners across generations, by virtue of encapsulating a very unique, if controversial, chapter in modern music history. It’s fitting that for this return to Australian shores, this Emperor tour is occurring just as the first chills of winter arrive. It comes as something of an invitation, or invocation, to step into the shadow of the distant, frozen lands from whence this musical force has come. Joined by Sydney’s blackened industrial metal veterans The Amenta, Emperor promise a night of unadulterated extreme metal anarchy for the hordes of fans lining up in the cold at Eatons Hill Ballroom for the Brisbane leg of this tour revisiting their seminal album, ‘In The Nightside Eclipse’.
From the moment they stride confidently on stage in their crisp shirts and ties and 90s horror movie masks, The Amenta deliver a world-class performance imbued with palpable intensity, finesse and technical precision that is equal to the legendary act they are supporting. These guys are Australia’s answer to SepticFlesh with their notably theatrical take on dirty, aggressive blackened death metal. Their dark and thunderous live sound surges through the room like a swirling, gathering storm, and it’s like Pandora’s Box has been unlocked and spewing forth pure demonic chaos. Channelling strong The Crow-era Brandon Lee vibes, frontman Cain Cressall maintains a formidable, mesmerising presence and completely commands the stage with electric energy and an almost maniacal intensity. The sheer power of Cain’s harsh vocals is scorching, a feral, ferocious roar straight from the bowels of Hell itself.
The band rip through a catalogue of repertoire old and new, all equally crushing courtesy of the note-perfect rhythm section, who never miss a beat. Tech death shredding in tandem between guitar and bass, reminiscent of Beyond Creation, is underscored by a hurricane of laser-sharp double kicks during the most punishing death metal passages. It’s not long before the five-piece has the crowd chanting and breaking out a circle pit. The Amenta collectively have the immense presence of a band that belongs on a much larger stage as they ensconce us in their twisted world of darkness. Ending the set with the cataclysmic An Epoch Ellipsis, it’s the musical representation of what an exorcism might feel like. These guys have absolutely knocked it out of the park and blown me away tonight – and this is only the opening set. Imagine what they could do in a headlining show.
Winter has come at last, and the dark majesty of Nordic black metal descends upon us like an obsidian shroud. Opening with Into The Infinity of Thoughts, Emperor launch into their trademark insane black metal tremolo picking and shredding, courtesy of the legendary Ihsahn and Samoth, and Trym’s blast beats are blistering, like an actual blizzard crashing in from the frozen North. Touring keyboardist Jørgen Munkeby is a joy to watch too as he moves and grooves around, injecting a dash of playfulness into the otherwise grim and fierce audiovisual experience. Hearing Ihsahn’s famous feral shriek live is akin to serrated blades slashing mercilessly through the air, and the force and resonance he achieves with his vocal fry demonstrates some of the most astounding fry technique I’ve ever heard. Touring bassist Tony Ingebrigtsen really hits his stride and gets into it during Cosmic Keys To My Creations & Times, bolstered by positively infernal, lightning fast drums. Unsurprisingly, a mosh breaks out in response to this auditory anarchy; however, such is the immersive malevolence of the sound that most of the crowd simply stands and watches, utterly transfixed.
Even in quieter passages that are more orchestrations-driven, such as during The Majesty of the Nightsky, there is a sense of impending doom, like a slow march into the grave and further, further below. Munkeby showcases vocal chops in addition to his flourishes on keys, providing some impressive guttural growls at various points that contrast effectively with Ihsahn’s shrieks. Crowd-wide chants during I Am The Black Wizards give the impression of a dark and devilish army standing to attention. Audience favourite Inno a Satana inspires a rousing singalong during the clean chorus which, underscored by blast beats, creates an atmosphere that is equally immersive and oppressive.
This then concludes the ‘In The Nightside Eclipse’ chapter of the set, and after disappearing off stage for a brief moment, the band storm back on for Curse All You Men, which is a cacophony of searing riffs and drums powering yet again at breakneck speeds. There’s some trippy strobe lights flashing amidst almost constant blast beats during Thus Spake The Nightspirit, and it feels like a relentless, unsettling sonic attack. Towards the end of the set, when the lights turn red during a whirlwind black metal breakdown, it’s like the whole room is being bathed in blood, such is the thrill and intensity of the overall effect. There’s a resurgence in the mosh for final banger Ye Entrancemperium, and all too soon, Emperor’s expansive set has come to an end.
After more than 30 years, Emperor have maintained the power to shock and captivate with the unflinching brutality of their uniquely Norwegian brand of black metal and a live performance that takes no prisoners. Supported by a leading Australian extreme metal force in their own right – and who are vastly underrated, in my opinion – The Amenta were the perfect companion act for this tour. Here’s hoping the icy winds of Norway blow Emperor back our way once again before long.
Thanks to SWD Presents