57. Emperor, 'Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk' (1997)
Three years after Emperor released their stunning debut, 1991's hyper-speed black-metal statement In the Nightside Eclipse, the band was in a sorry state. Two members had been serving prison sentences, one for arson, the other for murder, so singer-guitarist Ihsahn had to soldier on with a new lineup until his guitar foil, founding member Samoth, was released from behind bars. Once reunited, the guitarists penned an LP that retained its predecessor's grandiose atmosphere but added greater focus and darker textures that cast long shadows. Most impressive is how Ihsahn's neoclassical ambitions became more apparent, with theatrical warblings about Satanism and aggressive keyboard flourishes. Ethereal atmospherics soar over "The Loss and Curse of Reverence," enmeshing themselves with his harsh vocals and drummer Trym's incessant blastbeats. An imperial klaxon opens "Thus Spake the Nightspirit" before Ihsahn's vocal croak and panicked synth lines stir up a sonic snowstorm; "Ensorcelled by Khaos" kicks straight out into pure black-metal savagery before a carnival-esque melody gives way to gothic triumphalism. Each song is a journey through curious sounds and grim moods that most extreme-metal bands only hint at, and the album ultimately represented a sea change, inspiring a new generation of extreme-metal acts to experiment with classicism and cite Emperor as an influence, bringing them to a larger audience. "Some people aren't too into our lyrics, but they enjoy the extremity of our music," Ihsahn said around the album's release. "So they can listen to both Machine Head and Emperor, because it is the aggression that appeals to them. There was a point in time where [we] felt that certain people didn't deserve to listen to Black metal, but the fact is that the people who really understand the music will get the albums anyway." K.K.