I discovered Emperor, back in high school, hearing the song "Thus Spake the Nightspirit" on a college radio show called "The Haunted Mansion". This was not long after Anthems... was released. That would go on to be the first Emperor album I came across. It would be a year or so later before I discovered the earlier works; however, once I did I found myself much more drawn to them.
In 1991, Samoth and Ihsahn left Death Metal band Thou Shalt Suffer. They were joined by Mortiis. Probably being heavily inspired by bands such as Mayhem and Darkthrone, they abandoned their previous style to play primitive Black Metal In May 1992, they recorded Wrath of the Tyrant on a 4-track home studio. The sound quality is very necro, albeit needing some improvement. The songwriting shows a lot of promise and, in my opinion, Emperor would have done well to pursue this style rather than choosing to "progress" with each release.
The album begins with a short, creepy keyboard intro created by Samoth, leading into the first song, "Ancient Queen". The first thing that one notices is that the instruments seem to be down-tuned. Seeing as how Emperor jumped on the Black Metal bandwagon in a hurry, they may have forgotten to stop using the tuning from their Death Metal days. The sound is very harsh and crude, yet it has a deep low end in contrast with so many other Black Metal releases; Ihsahn's guitar and Mortiis's bass (both rather heavily distorted) have enough power to let the melodies break through the wall of static and invade the listener's ears without losing too much power. The drums are the lowest instrument in the mix, while Ihsahn's vocals are very loud and possess a lot of reverb. This song is decent enough, but nothing incredibly special.
"My Empire's Doom" is next, and is much more complex and layered; Samoth does a really nice job on drums, and Ihsahn's vocals follow the rhythm over the opening riff. This song would later find its way onto In the Nightside Eclipse, transforming into "Beyond the Great Vast Forest". Oddly, this version closes with a rather abrupt fade out, which makes one wonder if the closing riff that appears on the later version was added on or already existed at this stage but was cut off for some reason.
"Forgotten Centuries" begins with some indecipherable vocals and a fast tremolo-picked riff, before utilizing something more fitting of a Celtic Frost album. This is a short and complex song; featuring some of the most interesting riffs on the album. It's too bad that the sound quality isn't a little better. There is a nice, cold riff that would sound much better with more focus placed on the guitars and less low end.
"Night of the Graveless Souls" is another fast, straightforward Black Metal song. Again, there are some decent riffs that never seem to get enough room to breathe, due to the muffled sound and the down-tuning. It's not that I would prefer the over-produced sound of later Emperor albums, rather there needs to be more focus on the guitars. Transilvanian Hunger was recorded with similar equipment and yet it sounds far better. Also, I think there is a little too much reverb on the vocals. It only serves to drown out the rest of the music.
"Moon Over Kara-Shehr" has several killer riffs and equally numerous tonality and rhythm changes, though it features some Death Metal riffs that do not belong here as well as a continuation of the reverb overkill. As the album, or demo as it should be called, progresses it becomes more apparent that Emperor had not yet fully grasped what Black Metal was all about.
"Witches' Sabbath" is probably the best song on here. It begins with a mid-paced, oldschool riff and then Ihsahn's screaming actually helps the atmosphere, as well as the doom-filled riffs that follow. The haunting moans only add to this. Then, the song speeds up and one gets the impression that with clearer guitars (or the actual ability to have recorded a second guitar track) this would be a hell of a song.
Next is "Lord of the Storms". This is another short song, featuring only a couple of riffs. There is nothing really special about the song and it is, more or less, filler.
"Wrath of the Tyrant" begins with a horrific scream and decent primitive Black Metal riffs. After plodding along for a bit, there is a very promising riff that is gone all too soon. At this point, the drums seem to be the most dominant thing and little else can be heard. The song ends with an eerie spoken words part.
All in all, this demo shows quite a bit of promise, but it also displays the fact that Emperor had yet to shed their Death Metal tendencies, entirely. There are a handful of riffs that have no place on such a release, as well as several others that should have been expanded upon. This is raw and primitive and, despite its flaws, still more enjoyable to listen to then the last few albums they released.