2012-08-24

Henrik tries to understand ... Enslaved

In this section I will try to understand the greatness of a certain band that many people within the metal community seems to like. Or love. I will really try to get into the music and to listen to one (or more if I feel like it) song from each album the band has done. I don't have any real hopes that it will change my perspective or the way I feel about the band - but it could just remove some grudges or perhaps burn away some preconceptions that I might have. Some of these bands I have tried to understand before and some will be entirely new to me. Read and you'll see...

So here we are again. Compared to the previous bands I've covered in this section (Opeth, Sabaton & In Flames) I have much less of a relation with Norway's Enslaved. But the funny thing is that - compared to the others - I actually own a record with Enslaved (more of that mystery later) which never really got me hooked, so they kind of drifted off into the periphery. I know that they started out playing some sort of black/viking metal and have later drifted into a more progressive field. I also know they have released a shitload of albums and that's basically all. Oh, I also know that someone in the band is called Grutle. And I wouldn't be surprised if there's a Rune in there as well - there usually is when it comes to Norwegian bands...

So let's start this, in chronological order as usual, with the band's first sign of life; the apparently Icelandic titled album "Vikingligr Veldi" from 1994. It seems as though all the titles are written in the same language as well, and since my knowledge of Icelandic is zero to none, I just chose the first song - "Lifandi Liv Undir Hamri".
First thing I realize is that this song is 11½ minutes long. Woah, I kind of get the Opeth-vibe here before it has even started. The riff that begins the song is good indeed and in combination with the weird keyboards it gets really good. The vocals (screams) are nothing exceptional since they sound totally incomprehensible. I am usually quite good at deciphering black metal screams, but here it is close to impossible. I realize that it could have something to do with the fact that they are in Icelandic. Or are they? When I search the web, I can only find them in English. Oh, nevermind - the vocals are too low in the mix anyway.
Musically, I can understand why the band got the tag black/viking metal early on, because it doesn't sound anything like the black metal from Norway that was current at the time. Still, it manages to sound very Norwegian at the same time, which is kind of impressive I guess.
The riffs and the musicianship is alright, but nothing too special and I wonder how they are going to keep my interest through the entire song. Because here I am, just waiting for the mandatory acoustic guitar-interlude, but it never comes. Instead, what I get is 11½ minutes of, basically, the same riffing all the time and no breaks or breath-takers. Sure, there's a doomier and slower part in there, but the song just keep dragging on and on for fucking ever. As I mentioned in the beginning, I get the Opeth-vibe here and there, only these guys doesn't quite have the same progressiveness (at least not yet). Still, I kinda prefer this over Opeth's "Orchid".

Their second album shares name with the drummer of Satyricon and thankfully, "Frost" offers more and shorter songs than the viking-debut. Anyway, for the previous song I completely forgot that I asked a guy - who's very into Enslaved - which song I would choose from each album. So the next 10 songs (Fuck me, 11 albums to go through!) are actually his choices. I thought this would make it a bit more fair to Enslaved and even though the songs here are his favorites - at least I wont be choosing any intros or weird interludes or shit like that. So thanks a lot for making it easier for me Vegard!
But for "Frost" I noticed that he chose a song from the band's 3rd album (maybe he's not such a big fan as I thought, hehe), so I guess I have to choose this one myself. This is "Yggdrasil" and it starts very different from the debut album with acoustic guitars, mouth-harp and deep, chanted vocals in Norwegian. It sounds very folk and I like it. I would probably have loved this if I had heard it back in the late 90's but nevertheless, I find myself enjoying the melody and nod my head along to the music.
At first, I thought this would be an all-acoustic folk song but the electric guitars enters after 1½ minute or so and it sounds remarkably close to Isengard and Storm, sadly without Fenriz on vocals though. They add more layers to the vocals to imitate a choir, but the sound of the vocals are sadly way too loud.
I realize I have probably chosen a song that could very well be far from how the rest of "Satyricon's female drummer-guy" sounds like. So I take a quick listen to another track from said album and as I guessed, it's very fast-paced black metal with keyboards here and there. But I'm glad that I went with "Yggdrasil", because it actually sounds better than the band's attempt at black metal has. At least so far.

Time for their third album "Eld" and here is Vegard's (my personal Enslaved-lexicon) first choice. It's called "For Lenge Siden" and I sit back, relax and prepare myself to be amazed.
Before I listen to the song, I just have to point out that that album cover is so legendary ridiculous it's amazing! The guy's gaze is almost hypnotizing and I'm betting my left ball that he must be Grutle.
Anyway, the song starts with some spoken word (from a movie I guess) and then turns into a cool mid-tempo song with a really annoying drum-sound. I find myself enjoying the melodies a lot, but I cannot look past the sound of the drums which sounds really out of place. Sadly, once again it takes too long before I hear any vocals and I wonder why some bands make these 8.10 minutes long songs when for three minutes they basically play the same thing over and over?
Anyway, I recognize the vocals straight away, sounding quite similar to the vocals on the debut album. I'm having a hard time enjoying this type of screamed vocals - same as I have with Ihsahn and Emperor [dodging for incoming punches]. I would like to hear a slightly sharper pronunciation and a little more "personality".
Still, this ain't bad in any way - it's contemporary 90's Norwegian black metal with a Nordic folk-touch that I really enjoy. At about 6 minutes into the song, we get to hear a guitar solo that really isn't a solo but more of a melody. It totally slays and I actually raise my eyebrows in disbelief. I can most definitely hear the potential here, but they really don't deliver the goods in my opinion. Too bad, because this could have been really good. Now it's just around average.

One year later (1998), Enslaved released their fourth album "Blodhemn" and the cover seems less rushed than past albums, even though it again features the band in viking outfits. Sorry if it sounds like I'm bashing the band now, because I really don't. I just find it funny today, but had I seen this cover in 1998 I would probably have thought it looked absolutely awesome - as I'm sure Enslaved did back then.
Vegard has chosen the sixth song "Eit Auga Til Mimir" which is relatively short and starts with furious blast beats and a great black metal melody. The screams - which still is something I do not prefer - thankfully have those deep chanted clean vocals to compete with here and there. That adds a lot of dynamics in the vocal-section and the song is also thankful to listen to since it changes pace a few times. Despite (or is it because?) being only 4.26 long, this is easily the best song I've heard with Enslaved so far. Good job Vegard!

Before I listen to the song "Større enn Tid - Tyngre enn Natt" I just want to point out that I think this was the album when Enslaved kind of left the black/viking metal sound behind them and moved towards a more progressive metal field. I'm not sure though, but I just wanted to get it written down before I listen to the song. Get it? Oh, this is from the album "Mardraum - Beyond the Within" (first album title partly in English).
This song is over 10 minutes long (thank you for that Vegard :-P) and I brace myself for some serious Opeth-technicalities and my preconceptions of guitar-wankery. Here we go!
It begins in a very calm and soothing manner and once the guitars gets angrier, it kind of reminds me of In The Woods... during "HEart of the Ages"/"Omino". But then, the similarities ends as Enslaved goes into a groovier, almost death metalesque sound. Then they break that off with acoustic guitars and drumming that actually reminds me of Opeth. But I really like what I'm hearing so far. Over four minutes into the song there's still no vocals, but compared to what they did on their first two albums with long songs, it doesn't bother me here. That's because they've changed the structure and the riffs during the song a lot already. It feels so much more refreshing.
Enslaved 2012 (I think)
Once the vocals starts, it's once more a mix between clean- and screaming vocals. Dynamics rules again! Also, I should point out that whoever is singing those clean vocals (probably that Grutle-guy) have really improved A LOT since "Blodhemn". Gone are the classic mid-90's chants and you can really feel that he's a lot more comfortable here. There's also some growling here and there which fits the song during the death metal-parts.
When the song is over, it feels like only 5-6 minutes have passed and that my friends, is a really good grade in my book: When a 10+ minute song feels like it's only half of it. In this case, it has much to do with the fact that the song keeps changing all the time and it never gets old or tiring - I applaud the band for making this happen. I should also point out that the ending with the spoken vocals are fucking ace and again, the band topped themselves from the previous song! "Mardraum" is definitely an album that I seriously will be checking out if all the songs are this good.

Now here comes the tricky part for my Enslaved-guy Vegard (hope that didn't come out too weird): The band's 6th album "Monumension" is an album that I actually bought when it was released back in 2001. I picked it out of the blue without having heard one single note from the band before. I had heard that they played some sort of black/viking metal and I thought that it would be perfect for my taste. I really wanted to like it and I have tried listening to it for about 6-7 times during the years, but it always ends up sounding like drug-infused shit without any clear aim or purpose and I absolutely hate every second of it. Also, the band has a lot to live up to after listening to "Større enn Tid - Tyngre enn Natt".
The song is called "Vision: Sphere of the Elements - A Monument Part II" and the title alone gives me the suspicion that things have weirded out completely in the Enslaved-camp. It actually starts with a riff that doesn't sound like horse-shit and I am surprised that anything off the album sounded this good. Though I seriously question each song that begins with a guitar solo before you've heard any vocals. That doesn't sit good with me at all. The song itself might very well be the best song off the album and has some cool melodies and riffs here and there, but as I mentioned in the preamble - it lacks any real direction. Also, when compared to the previous song I heard - these close-to-5 minutes sounds like the double and I sit and yawn. Booooring!
Note: A funny thing is the current top comment on this song on YouTube reads:
"When I have a bad day at work I come home and I listen to Enslaved, Opeth and Emperor and it cures my stress:) These 3 bands are the best in their class."
These are the 3 bands that I have always had a problem to understand. Coincidence? I think not.

Next up is "As Fire Swept the Earth Clean" from "Below the Lights" and the title alone promises more structure and better songwriting than the previous disaster.
I like the fact that I get to hear the band from many different angles (thanks again Vegard) and this mid-tempo semi-black metal gives me shelter from the shit-storm I just heard (See what I did there? I just referenced Bob Dylan in a text about Enslaved. Give me some credit at least). But I must say that it still is a bit too much weirdness (read: progressive) for my taste. Also, due to the clean vocals having improved so much over the years, I'm disappointed that the screams haven't. It's still that boring Ihsahn-style (IMHO, the most overrated black metal-vocalist ever), but at least the growls are prominent enough to give me some satisfaction.
Not the worst song I've heard from the band, but I'm beginning to feel a little anxious now that they've dropped so much in quality since the fantastic "Større enn Tid - Tyngre enn Natt". Yes, I will be comparing each following song to that one until I hear something equally as good.

Their eight album is called "Isa" and Vegard has chosen the song "Return to Yggrasil" which seems fitting since I chose "Yggdrasil" for their second album.
Once again, we get some mid-tempo semi-black metal with good groove. Combine that with some (for once) thoughtful acoustic guitars that actually adds to the song's overall feeling. I immediately like this better than the two previous tracks and I also feel that I must give an extra plus to the cool drumming here. The part where the clean vocals come in adds extra atmosphere and the decision to go back into the mid-tempo with screams right after is a really good move.
I actually feel like I'm running out of things to say about Enslaved's music right now as I kind of think I've figured out what they are all about right now. I feel I almost know how what the general direction of the following three albums might be, but I will listen to them anyway.

Well, here's the video to "Path to Vanir" from "Ruun".
Not sure if this is the band's first video, but it's the first that Vegard has chosen anyway. The main riff is kind of weird compared to what I've heard from this band earlier and I both like and dislike it. On one hand - it has a really cool groove that you instantly feel. On the other hand - it's more hard rock than metal and feel kind of lame. But combined with beard-Grutle's screams, it feels very much like Enslaved. That same main riff is a bit too repetitive for my taste though.
But the clean vocal-part and the melodic black metal that comes after it, saves the song a little bit. Too bad they only used that supreme riff a little bit towards the end. It annoys me when a band does that; comes up with an awesome part in a song and more or less throws it away :-(
And much to my surprise, I see here that the keyboardist - and not Grutle - is the one doing the clean vocals. I guess that's how he improved them ;-) You learn something new each day.

Tenth album "Vertebrae" was released in 2008 and Vegard has chosen a song called "New Dawn". Hopefully, it's more interesting than it's title.
This starts very promising with a main riff that makes me handbang straight away. Add to that, that Grutle's vocals actually have changed a little bit. Having added a little snare in his voice, he's now sounding like a mix between Ihsahn and Abbath.
Musically, it is much more interesting than the title comes off as. Here's much more dynamics and changes in the song than the previous one had. Also, there's even more dynamics in the vocal-department which I find really entertaining. Overall, this is the second best song I've heard from the band. Still, it's nothing that makes me want to rush out and buy any Enslaved-album.

Here we are then, at the end of all things. Enslaved's latest offering at the altar of the gods is called "Axioma Ethica Odini" and the song Vegard has chosen is called "Giants".
This being the last song, I'm hoping for something out of the ordinary now. An epic chorus with clean vocals would easily make my day. What I'm hearing so far is progressive metal in the vein of Opeth - though without being as boring as the Swedes.
Surprisingly, my wishes almost comes true in the chorus - there's clean vocals and some screaming in there. But since the music by that point has turned into one big heap of porridge, I'm having difficulties deciphering what's verses and what's the chorus. The song kind of just drags on and that really doesn't do it for me. But again, I have to applaud the drumming which I think is really cool and fits the music perfectly. Too bad I don't orgasm to this sort of music though...

I actually enjoyed Enslaved much, much more than I thought I would. That of course had a lot to do with my past encounter with the dreadful "Monumension". But my main complaints still remains and should come as no surprise to anyone who's read the entire text above here:

  • Grutle's screams are too monotone and boring for my taste.
  • The music has the tendency to drone on without any direction for too long - giving the band that Opeth-problem without really sounding anything like Opeth.
  • Some of their earlier stuff are not well balanced enough and just becomes half-boring half-black metal.

What I do like is the fact that they are (at some points) very good when it comes to create dynamics between the vocals and the music. They can conjure some pretty fucking good guitar melodies here and there and they also know how to keep things heavy and groovy. It's just too bad that I find them a little to uneven. They are able to keep me really keen and interested for many long minutes (such as on "Større enn Tid - Tyngre enn Natt") and in the next song bore me to death for five minutes. And as you know by now, I really enjoy "Større enn Tid - Tyngre enn Natt" and I stand by what I wrote earlier - I will most definitely take a serious listening session of the entire "Mardraum"-album. This is something I never thought I'd do before getting acquainted with Enslaved.
The band had my respect before I heard this much from them and I'll be damned if that respect hasn't gone up a little bit more now. This far into their career, Enslaved can pretty much do what they want and if they want to snowball themselves into an even weirder progressive landscape for their next album, I think they have their fans' blessings to do so.

1 comment:

  1. I think you must spend your time to listen several Enslaved releases. I'd choose a little different choice of songs. For example, I recommend you to listen:

    "Ethica Odini" from Axioma...
    "To the Coast" from Vertebrae.
    "Ascension" from Isa.

    Let me know!!

    ReplyDelete