Emperor – The Powerstation: May 22, 2023 (Concert Review)

Emperor
Emperor at The Powerstation, Auckland, 22/05/2023 Photo credit: Mark Derricut & Ambient Light

Emperor is a Norwegian black metal band. Black metal can be traced culturally back to the 1980s, to a wave of UK bands led by Venom and Swedish group Bathory.

Who then influenced a wave of Scandinavian bands in the 1990s, ergo Emperor. The sound is somewhere between death metal and thrash metal, and the fascination with satanic imagery can be traced even further back to Black Sabbath, there’s a lot more to it but that’s a rudimentary insight into black metal (don’t get me started on the face-paint, King Diamond have a lot to answer for)

Emperor

 Emperor formed in 1991 by Ihsahn (vocals and guitars) and Samoth (guitars, originally on drums) they lasted until 2001, and in this short decade (of controversy: arson and murder) released four albums, two of which are classics, and one in particular In the Nightside Eclipse is regarded as the flag bearer for the genre. Given their influence they have reunited multiple times in 2005, 2013 and 2016 and previously played Australia in 2019, it was only post-covid that Aotearoa/New Zealand were tagged onto the return to Australia.

It’s a Monday night, possibly the hardest night to fill a show, but Tamaki Makaurau/Auckland’s metal sub-genre(s) have come out (as well as a few from down the line) and the Powerstation fill comfortably (probably it would’ve been a sell-out on a weekend night). It is a flood of black, chrome and long hair. t-shirts and jackets are emblazoned with Judas Priest, Bathory, Venom and even Sisters of Mercy, though they are soon swamped by a sea of Emperor t-shirts freshly purchased from the almost overwhelmed merch stand.

Exordium Mors
Exordium Mors
Exordium Mors

Exordium MorsAlready onstage, half an hour after doors opened are Tamaki Makaurau four-piece Exordium Mors. Formed in 2004, this self-proclaimed black metal group currently made up of Santi – Guitars/Vocals, Black Mortum – Guitars/Vocals, Assailant – Bass/Vocals and CjS – Drums released their second full-length album As Legends Fade and Gods Die just last year. Squeezed upfront with an impressive-looking drumkit and array of ‘star-shaped’ guitars. Exordium Mors created a wall of noise, with vocals as you would expect, as they played (I suspect) a selection of songs from the latest album. Black Mortum seemed the more enthralled of the four on stage, though I’m sure I saw the bassist crack a smile. Seasoned at what they do, and with all three axemen three singing, they seemed masters at their (demonic) practice.

Emperor
Emperor

In an almost Monty Pythonesque parody, Emperor’s (I assume) tour manager, likely from Oslo, talks up/in the band as they come onstage, I didn’t think anyone did that anymore…

As the band enter stage right, Ihsahn and Samoth are joined by the hooded one on keys – Jørgen Munkebye, Tony “Secthdamon” Ingebrigtsen on Bass (looking like he just stepped off the ‘Sons of Anarchy’ set) and long time drummer (since 1996) Trym Torson, (mostly)hidden behind an even more impressive double-kick drum kit.

With a no-nonsense approach, Emperor launches into a full performance of In the EmperorNightside Eclipse, all nine songs, including the intro. The sound is orchestral and controlled, melodic and projects energy. There is a lot of melody and clarity, Ihsahn and Samoth’s guitar playing is impressive, with Samoth creating the rhythm wall and Ihsahn orchestrating in layers with deft intricate.

As Emperor weaves through their first saga, Ihsahn’s guitar-playing acts as a storyteller, creating narratives, with (the no longer hooded) Jørgen Munkebye keyboards adding ephemeral elements. I hear elements from Venom and Bathory, UK 80’s Crass bands like Rudimentary Peni, and the melodic power of Slayer aka thrash metal punk.

As the first part of the night comes to an end, Ihsahn has become much more chatty with the audience (though the rest of the band mainly rely on hand signals) and he conveys their excitement at being in Aotearoa at last, and appreciation for the fans coming out tonight.

EmperorThe second half of the show features material from the ‘other’ three albums including a magnificent version of The Loss and Curse of Reverence from 1997’s Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, IX Equilibrium’s Curse You All Men!, and even a song from the band’s 2001 ‘progressive’ album, Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire & DemiseIn The Wordless Chamber. It feels like a reset to a much faster and heavy metal guitar set, still guided by Ihsahn and Samoth guitar intricate guitar playing and operatic feel perhaps the bassist’s hair twirling is a signifier of change?

Throughout the performance, what was impressive was the expertise and consistency of the musicianship and stage persona of Emperor. Added was the exquisite sound, no attempt to be the loudest band in creation, clarity and quality ruled the kingdom, and in tandem, no cursory light show, the band’s looming backdrop was embellished by a vibrant and foreboding light show.

Emperor

From start to finish, Emperor made their mark in Tamaki Makaurau, and confirmed their standing in music history, as Wizards of the North that laid waste in the Powerstation tonight.

Simon Coffey

Click any icon to view a gallery of photos. All photos by Veronica McLaughlin Photography, except where credited to Mark Derricut & Ambient Light.

Photographer’s note: First time ever – the card in one of my cameras was corrupted! All my beautiful wide shots of Emperor were lost! Painful anytime, but especially last night – Emperor are a band! Not five solo artists on stage together… fortunately, I got few two shots… Grateful to Mark Derricut and Ambient Light for the lovely feature photo!

Emperor
Exordium Mors

Setlist
Into the Infinity of Thoughts
The Burning Shadows of Silence
Cosmic Keys to My Creations & Times
Beyond the Great Vast Forest
Towards the Pantheon
The Majesty of the Nightsky
I Am the Black Wizards
Inno a Satana
Curse You All Men!
Thus Spake the Nightspirit
The Loss and Curse of Reverence
With Strength I Burn
In the Wordless Chamber
Ye Entrancemperium

Simon Coffey