Emperor's eponymous mLP release might have seemed menacing and sophisticated for its time, but as a standalone 'product', it does suffer from the inconsistency of its contents and the fact that it's also available in far more viable formats. For example, it appeared on a split with countrymen Enslaved's Hordanes Land EP in the same year, which is where most people were likely first exposed to both of the bands. In 1998, it was re-released with the original Wrath of the Tyrant demo, for a more complete package of the band's formative material. Obviously, both are better bargains than attempting to track down the original, isolated Candlelight 12" and pay exorbitant prices for a copy (there were so few made), and there's also the fact that two of the songs will be re-recorded for In the Nightside Eclipse, in a more potent, obsessive and symphonic format that I have always preferred.
That said, I'm certainly not trying to play down the significance of what is on this EP. Two of the tunes are culled from the Wrath of the Tyrant demo and have this utterly disgusting aggression to them which merges simplistic riffing in the vein of Hellhammer or Bathory with some of the most filth-caked, lunatic rasping the genre had produced by this time. It might have come six years later than Deathcrush, but clearly Ihsahn was giving Maniac a run for his money, and it's so abrasively loud and resonant throughout the mix that it actually smudges up the grimy guitar tone a bit. Not that either of these tracks features the most superb riffs of the Emperor catalog, but "Wrath of the Tyrant" and "Night of the Graveless Souls" represent an important, early stage of their composition that would dramatically evolve. Hell, it evolves right on this disc, as we are also treated to the legendary cuts "Cosmic Keys to My Creations and Times" and "I Am the Black Wizards", both with a more buzzing tone to the guitars than one would recognize from the ensuing, flawless full-length, and some slight variation in the keyboards.
Both are longer and considerably superior in structure to their elder siblings here, and for this reason I feel that the EP creates a bit of a dichotomy that stands out like a sore thumb on such a brief release. I can recognize the cult appeal of their earlier material, but I'm sorry, there is just no contest with the ambition and attitude the band had begun to shift towards, and even the lyrics seem like they're escaping from the ghoulish grave-soil of the demo and exploding out into the universe, a poignant projection of the Norwegians' ego. To be fair though, I do feel like these earlier interpretations of the new songs are wretched enough to sate fans of that dirtier tone, so something might be said for the crude approach in its entirety.
Ultimately, Emperor is rendered retroactively inert due to its presence elsewhere, and the fact that none of its content is exclusive. Record collectors would and should go bat shit over this if they can track a copy down, but for everyone else, there are better alternatives, especially a chance to check out Hordanes Land (which came out only about a month later). As a forceful introduction to Emperor and what they do, it's adequate, but as a 'product', I'm indifferent to its long term appeal, especially since the band's evolution was so swift in such a short time, and the best songs here sound far better to me amidst their peers on the full-length debut.
Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10] (prepare to crawl and run)