That sounds very skeptical, but I feel that Emperor were true musical geniuses who would have flourished in any genre. "We" were lucky that they happened to make some black metal records, because their vision in black metal was both unique and deeply, individually expressive. One can ask with all seriousness, where would the genre be without Emperor? Like few other bands, music seems to be the "first language" of its members. On the other hand, Emperor's second language has to be self-presentation.
For a band without any "hits," a set-list is somewhat arbitrary. Some tracks in extreme metal are obvious standouts, but albums tend to be conceived as albums, rather than as having singles mixed in with filler. It is the mark of a better-than-average extreme metal band if they even HAVE recognizable individual songs. "Oh, I love *this* one!" is high praise for black metal or death metal.
Emperor, however, have been suspiciously clever in picking their set-list for this live album. They include songs from all their albums (to date, this being recorded before Prometheus), but I think the selection is itself an *interpretation* of their career, one which I disagree with. For instance, the song from the Enslaved split, "Night of the Graveless Souls," is a great song, but the one in which keyboards feature most prominently. "Inno A Satana" from In the Nightside Eclipse, again a great song, is the song off that album that introduces "clean" singing to Emperor, a feature much taken up later in their career. It might be coincidence that these forward-looking songs were chosen, but only "I am the Black Wizards" seems the truly obvious choice made off those records.
The two later albums represented here, Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk and IX Equilibrium, seem much "moreso" in the context of each other and of *these* particular early songs. That is to say, the whole effect of the album, excepting the primitive "Black Wizards" and "Graveless Souls," is to make one view Emperor from In the Nightside Eclipse to IX Equilibrium as of a piece--consistent in their sound and development. This is an interesting effect, but it is also a fantasy.
However, this record also demonstrates a point I have always argued: that music is itself an interpretation OF music; of a band's influences, or of their own discography. The best/worst example of this is the Ramones Phil Spector album End of the Century: interpreting the Ramones as the Ronettes-meets-punk act that critics (then and now) have always insisted upon. It's a disaster and yet definitely an interpretation of the earlier Ramones records, which it attempts to emphasize in all the wrong ways. Here, the vast creativity of Emperor is re-interpreted on its "progressive" basis, much to its detriment.
What does the album sound like? A bunch of very well-executed songs, excellent sound (much better than the early album), hundreds of "neat parts," and very little in the way of banter. If you are like me, you already own this because it came in the Emperor vinyl box set, and you never listen to it. The main effect is to make Anthems seem like an inferior, noodly "later" work, more akin to IX Equilibrium than to its predecessor. That is not my "standard" position on that album, but this live record is definitely the best evidence for this view.
Score: 3/5 stars (***)
Best songs: (relative to their album version) "Inno a Satana," "With Strength I Burn"