With the remainder of Emperor's lineup in jail, bandleader and chief composer Ihsahn returned to his rural home near the town of Notodden and began writing the band's second album. Once his longtime collaborator Samoth was freed and able to help complete the material, Emperor regrouped with a new rhythm section consisting of bassist Alver and warp-speed drummer Trym (ex-Enslaved). The result was Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, a magnificently conceived and executed opus that fulfills all of Emperor's promise and ambition. The biggest difference from its predecessor is the crisper, clearer production, which allows details in the arrangements to emerge far more readily. While black metal purists might miss the rawness of the debut -- and/or decry this move toward (relative) accessibility -- Anthems is still widely viewed as an uncompromising work of art that immediately announces itself a masterpiece. "Emperor performs Sophisticated Black Metal Art exclusively!" boasts the back cover, and in truth that's a pretty accurate assessment. Everything about Anthems feels more fully realized than its already classic predecessor. There's greater use of classical flourishes, heightening the majestic feel of the band's already epic compositions; the keyboard work is more complex and melodic; there's more audible guitar interplay between Ihsahn and Samoth; and there's greater variety in Ihsahn's vocals, including more clean chanting à la the last album's "Inno a Satana." The album is both a refinement and expansion of the band's core sound, maintaining the vicious wall-of-noise attack of In the Nightside Eclipse while fleshing out the more progressive and esoteric influences that album merely hinted at. It definitely builds on the groundwork laid by extreme metal pioneers Celtic Frost and Bathory: the former with its restless experimentalism, and the latter with its determination to create something quintessentially Scandinavian. Indeed, Emperor has never sounded more Norwegian than on the multi-faceted epic "With Strength I Burn," which covers just about everything in their bag of tricks and marks one of the high points of their career. Highlights abound; elsewhere, the band pays tribute to scene godfather Euronymous by building album-opener "Ye Entrancemperium" on a riff borrowed from an obscure, bootleg-only Mayhem song, and offers their first music video for "The Loss and Curse of Reverence." Taken as a whole, Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk cemented Emperor's reputation as black metal's greatest band, and Ihsahn as its foremost musical visionary; it also firmly established black metal as an art form that wasn't going away any time soon, and opened up a wide range of creative possibilities to the more progressive, eccentric wing of the genre. In the Nightside Eclipse might epitomize black metal better than any other album, but divorced from outside context, Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk is black metal's greatest stand-alone creative achievement.
AllMusic Review by Steve Huey