Swansong isn’t always singing. Sometimes it’s a weak sigh of one who wished to reach the end crowned with olive leaves, and its strength is not heard. Sometimes it’s a mighty shout into fathomless void which the artist leaves after his departure, the very same dark cave that only a few selected ones can light. Facing this knowledge, the artist clears the stage and in the background the winds are howling – “let go of the leaving” and scatter the ashes of a gloomy farewell.
This shout is embodied in the last album of the best and most important black-metal band ever, Emperor. As a band that nourished courage and honesty within its music, Emperor did not hesitate to announce breaking-up after a decade. In a scene that recycles itself to death, where other bands are still struggling to pull their wagon and to extort last creativity sparks into an outcome that sheds black stains upon their repertoire and leaves a foul taste to their loyal audience, Emperor stands out as the ultimate lighthouse. Lending a comparison from another great band, this album is the “Strangeways, here we come” of the metal scene.
The uncompromised artistic integrity characterizing the band led into a last and pure burst of creation in the very deep meaning. A whole bleeding creation delivered as a concept album describing the last journey of Prometheus, the man of fire.
It is him – the one who knows before, the silent prophet, the man of fire. The one chosen to carry the swansong. Emperor was chosen to tell its fall. The symbiosis is perfect. The band that carries the fire in the instruments, voices and above all, in stomachs, gives a new mouth to the man that is compassion, pride and love. The man who fights for human freedom marches its final way and the listener can only shrink. Emperor created for him, for us, a world of ice and flames, natural as the sky above and earth underneath, like the bitter truth and the bitten lips. The album’s cover is grey and the booklet too, ornamented with bits of black and white. This is the message, this is the world and the fire colors have no place in it.
Musically, the album is an upgrading of Emperor’s previous “IX Equilibrium”, which stood for intelligent tight music, rich in influences that is rare to find within the genre of progressive with death-metal, paper-thin electronic flickering opposite of classical orchestration moments, all sewed by Ihsahn. In the “Prometheus” effort the complexity gathers more depth, but not over the emotions account, dripping from every note. It seems like an evasive definition such as ‘progressive black-metal’ would not do well with the album, although it somehow catches its musical structures. The ornament of the basic metallic guitar cloak is quite ethereal. It winks at ambient directions and sometimes at blatant electronic. This gives the mystical shades from the days of the beloved Norwegian yarn. The symphonic neo-classical touches are substantial as well, represented by barrages of violins along with crawling blackish riffs or whining cello upon ambience keyboards platform. The guitar parts are inspirable and it’s truly a pleasure listening to and behold that it’s possible to renew even in the archaic metal scene.
The opening track, “The Eruption” starts with a silent pipe-organ and within seconds drives into a storm that is death-metal planted in black-metal aesthetics. The song, like the others, is ever-evolved – here a complex progressive riff is presented and there blinks a gentle melody. Never silent. Vocals-wise, Ihsahn is at its best – the operatic attitude, showcased since glorified “Anthems to the welkin at dusk” days, stands here with all its beauty and strength. His clean voice is deep and lucid, steady yet becomes rounded in corners. He is Prometheus himself.
None of the songs fails to thrive, as suitable from a concept album which keeps a unified level of its phases. Nevertheless, two songs are the weeping heart of the album: the seven-minuet epos “The tongue of fire” is stunning with its prickly guitar opening, poured into beautifully breaking chorus with lachrymatory elegy: “The soul is never silent, but wordless”. The very same soul is silent in the keyboards part, enchanting like heavenly bells, with whispering drumming and blunt distortion. After that comes a touching combination between violins and a choppy, furious riff that represents Emperor perfectly as the genre founders. With a strike of a finger they bury it all. The enormous passion taking place in the song, the extential need in fire and its fleeing into grey clouds are driving Prometheus like a madman.
“In the wordless chamber” is the sound of cessation. The soul, locked in the metaphorical cellar, weeps the ills of the world, cries the lack of hope, through low and gurgled singing, based on another death-metal riff and French horn blows. Even though the symphonic arrangement is pushed to the background one cannot ignore its beauty. Here as well, the song breaks into a quiet part, yet again this weak violin, searching its way through the darkness and exploding into thick riffs, singing of desperation and disappointment itself. Prometheus tries to get out of this hell-hole.
In this album and in contrast to the myth, Prometheus isn’t immortal. In the closing song and most vicious one “Thorns on my grave” he’s wrapped in plastic coil and in harsh riffs, brought into the heart of the soil, as he asks the most barbed thorns will bloom from his tombstone, as his body will remain deep under, for he holds every pain and every death he cannot be released from. Emperor has those two gifts in their palm and now, the album ends with great silence.
The greatness of this album is not only the magnificent musical display that once more made anew the bleak black-metal rather than its essence. Prometheus is not walking among the gods. He is walking among us and also in this modern age there’s a place for this prophecies. This is the poetic work of Ihsahn, who stroke once again the peak and turned Prometheus into one of us. This is nothing but sharp and heart-stabbing poetry, from the fire creator and its deliverer, and it burns the listener’s soul as he burns with Prometheus. His stomach turns over, for he knows or not, that the fire lies deep within, always burning, always scorching. Most of the time it won’t find solace and it will annihilate its environment just like this album does.
01 – The Eruption