By Jonathan Smith
Perhaps any meaning behind the release of Emperor’s most recent collection of live material is located in the final quote found in the accompanying booklet: “Emperor is dead, long live the Emperor.” Live Inferno is nothing less than a send-off from the canonical Norwegian black metal band. The package is a “boxed set” combination of two releases made up of audio recordings of Emperor’s 2006 performances at the Inferno Festival and at Wacken Open Air as well as a DVD version of the Wacken show. There is a bonus feature on the DVD as well, contextualizing the performances as part of Emperor’s final international tour. While the audio portions of Live Inferno are close to sheer symphonic black metal bliss, the DVD has its flaws.
The concerts that make up the two CDs in Live Inferno are fitting testaments to the power of Emperor’s live performances. For the most part, there are many similarities to be found with regard to both the set lists and the overall audio quality. Listening to both sets, it’s hard not to get goosebumps as the “Infinity Burning” instrumental section begins. The Inferno Festival set is the longer of two, featuring an extended encore portion and a refrain of “Opus a Satana.” The Wacken performance is shorter, but its show-closing version of “Inno a Satana” comes off as more powerful given that it’s immediately followed by its instrumental counterpart. By and large the set lists contain most of the staples one would expect, including”Thus Spake The Nightspirit,” “Curse You All Men,” and an ear-drum melting version of “Towards The Pantheon.” There’s even a nod to Prometheus – The Discipline of Fire and Demise, though the majority of songs come from both In The Nightside Eclipse and Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk. As evidence of what Emperor was like on the stage, and as a shining example of the epic nature of black metal, both concerts are musts for fans of the sub-genre and great examples of its appeal that could be offered to skeptics.
The DVD version of the Wacken Performance certainly has its moments. If viewed on the right TV with the right sound system, it too is likely an amazing experience. However, taken on its own merits, there are moments in which the footage is slowed down at perplexing moments, creating a disconnect with the visual images and the songs being played. Certainly this works during moments of emphasis, such as instances when there are slow-panning shots of the crowd during the more ambient pauses in the performance, but when Emperor is playing at top speed with epilepsy-inducing stage-lighting, an image of Samoth twirling his hair in slow-motion is just odd. The moments when things speed up are a little better worked in, but they still seem unnecessary. Less annoying is the mixing-in of black-and-white footage, but even that adds little to the experience. The bonus feature also comes off as almost entire superfluous. It’s mostly composed of boot-legged performances from the rest of tour. While this does mean that we get to hear what Ihsahn has to say in other contexts, the set list remains the same and things are largely reduced to the same songs we’ve already but at a much lower level of quality. You’ll grow sick of hearing repeated pieces of “Infinity Burning” and “Opus a Satana” by the time the credits roll. There is some footage of “meet the press” events and other behind-the-scenes moments, but they are often too short and too out of context to offer any real value. Notably absent are any structured interviews with Emperor’s members or any of the tour team. Overall, however, the DVD is a chance to see Emperor on stage, and the music itself is fantastic.
Emperor fans are strongly encouraged to check out Live Inferno, as overall the package is well worth the money. The audio performances are well-worth repeated listens, and the DVD version still has its grand moments despite its odd editing choices and somewhat boring extra footage. The included liner notes contain some great performance photos, and the featured quotes hint at how Emperor’s decision to disband has left a powerful black metal legacy. Live Inferno ensures that Emperor’s mark on extreme metal is as obvious now as it was in 2006.
Overall Rating: 8.0