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Enslaved have always had a taste for the progressive. Even “Vikigir Veldi”, one of the high points of the second wave of black metal, contains a sprinkling of psychedelic synths and distinctly progressive song structures. Since the addition of drummer Cato Bekkvold and singer/keyboardist Herbrand Larson in 2004, Enslaved have significantly increased the amount of progressive and psychedelic elements, with varying degrees of success. With 2008’s “Vertebrae,” the progressive, viking and black metal elements melded into a near perfect album. Much of the success of “Vertebrae” was due to the simplification of the format. The songs centered on excellent melodies, steady mid-tempo rhythms and strong yet even contrasts between growled and clean passages. This “no frills” approach lead to Enslaved’s best release since 1994’s “Frost”.
“Axiom Ethica Odini” veers away from some of the elements that made its predecessor such a great work, opting for a more varied and dramatic sound. Many passages are good, some even great. However, most the songs also contain passages or transitions that are simply lacking in one respect or another. A number of songs on “Axiom…” are hurt when Larson overreaches on the clean vocals. When Larson stays in a low pitch he sounds like the second coming of David Gilmore. However, his voice is not as strong on the high end of the scale. On songs like “Singular” and “Raidho” Larson just isn’t able to belt out the powerful vocals needed to match the big, epic melodies. Another problem on “Axiom…” is that some passages are too dissimilar; consequently the transitions sound forced.
In spite of these weaknesses, “Axiom…” still has its virtues. There are a wide variety of great riffs and melodies throughout the album. In addition to plenty of black and progressive metal passages, “Axiom…” also contains some slow, heavy, head-banging passages (i.e. the lead riff of “Waruun”) that were absent from the past few releases. There are also some soft prog rock passages (i.e. the intro and verse of “Nightside”), which add a more relaxed dimension to the album.
Furthermore, the first and last songs of the album are just out of this world. The opener, “Ethica Ondini” contrasts an epic, fast paced verse, with a big, anthem-like chorus, building toward a glorious, soulful ending. The outro, “Lightning”, blends some catchy hooks with a dark, ominous chorus. Both songs contain a number of well-crafted twists.
Since 2004, Enslaved have explored a range of progressive styles. Albums like “Isa” and “Ruun” took influence from the more dynamic prog legends, such as Yes. “Vertebrae” slowed down the tempo, taking inspiration from the mellow sounds of mid-era Pink Floyd. “Axiom…” can be seen as a synthesis of the two styles, deploying the dynamic structures of “Isa” and “Ruun”, but infusing them with the lush, entrapping melodies found on “Vertebrae”. Overall the synthesis is interesting, but not nearly as much as the smooth, steady sound of “Vertbrae”. Ultimately “Axiom…” a solid addition to the Enslaved cannon—certainly not top tier, but still an enjoyable and engaging listen.
(Originally written for http://listenwell-nocturnal.blogspot.com)
Back in 2008, Enslaved released the "Vertebrae" album, and after listening to it, I concluded that Enslaved weren' really my style. A viking black metal band (which they helped to pioneer the sound of) incorporating 70's progressive rock influence wasn't very appealing to me at the time. So upon listening to it, I never checked out anything else by them, and sorta forgot about their existance.
Fast forward 2 years, in the autumn of 2010, a friend of mine mentioned that Enslaved had a new album out, titled "Axioma Ethica Odini". I figured, ok I wasn't that big a fan of "Vertabrae", but maybe they toned down on the progginess for this one. So while I was at the local HMV, I saw it there and decided to buy it. I can safely say that no other album I've heard this year (or last year, even) has amazed me like "Axioma Ethica Odini".
The opening track, "Ethica Odini", starts off with some ambience and sound effects (after a closer listen, it sounded to me like a boat), then erupts into an immense, melodic, unbelievably epic riff. The chorus of this song is another very strong point, with singer Grutle Kjellson delivering some very harsh black metal shrieks and surprisingly tuneful clean vocals.
Upon hearing the first song, I didn't think the album could really get any better. But as the album progressed, each song seemed to improve on the previous one. The second song, "Raidho" starts out with a great opening string riff, and some very cool drumming. The song also has a really cool guitar solo towards the ending.
But for me, the real highlight of the album was "Giants". Beginning with a really heavy riff, and featuring the most agressive vocals on the album and an absolutely epic-beyond-belief chorus, I was immediately enthralled. Amazing song.
The one negative thing I had to say about the album is that the song "Nightsight", while still good, sort of felt our of place. It seemed to kill all of the momentum all of the other songs had gained. I think it would've been a good song to end the album with.
In conclusion, Enslaved have truly outdone themselves with "Axioma Ethica Odini". They have created an absolute masterpiece, one that I have absolutely fallen in love with and continue to listen to on a daily basis. If you're a fan of black metal, I would say buy this album. Even if you're not that into black metal, I'm sure you will at leat be able to appreciate the epicness of Enslaved's songwriting and their ability to fuse genres seamlessly.
There's no way I could have foreseen the utter brilliance found here. As mostly a fan of progressive, power and thrash metal, I just took a completely blind, impulsive shot in the dark here, convinced by many who seemed to believe this thing holy and frustrated with an absolutely dismal appearing year of music (I missed some releases, however). The reason I'm telling you this is to emphasize the point that anyone and any fan of any genre can appreciate this creative masterpiece, because that was the best impulse acquisition anybody could dream to make; Axioma Ethica Odini is unbelievable.
The album didn't strike me as magnificent immediately; of course, they rarely do, and even more rarely in this genre. Starting off with the clean, sweeping riffs of Ethica Odini, however, a few things did catch my ear and serve as harbinger to how I would feel about it. First off, the simplicity, oh, the beautiful simplicity. In a modern era of nothing but suffocating and numbing overindulgence in guitar tone and fast, complex riffs that leave you struggling to catch up, Enslaved settle for the basics, sacrificing their vain sides for the greater good of the songwriting. Such is the root of why I'm typically indifferent to this style, but they completely got me with a wonderful, almost lighthearted (albeit dark) mood that never ceases to be pleasing to the ear. It really is memorable, too; most bands in progressive black betal will just play ten minutes of incoherent riffs and chanting and call it a song. Not here. There are repeating parts-a-plenty, athough it never gets boring or repetitive.
Another factor that I immediately knew I liked was the inclusion of clean vocals, and I tend to be a sucker for vocal mix hybrids. I usually don't take to them as much as I do here, though, as they provide an essential element to the memorability of the record and its uniqueness. The calm, somewhat low-pitched tone of the vocals (characteristic of post-rock) is used to perfection in slow passages and mindblowing choruses albumwide. Some of these caught my ear the very first time I heard it, which is quite an anomaly among difficultly perceived projects such as this. This is one of those albums that may require a lot of patience and repeated listens to enjoy; I can't emphasize this enough.
It didn't take long for me, though. After a few listens, everything fell into place and I realized how profound and masterfully crafted Axioma Ethica Odini is. The songs (all of them are brilliant highlights; I wouldn't insult any of them with separate mentions) started infiltrating my mind and really took hold of me. I even found myself singing along to the shrieky black metal vocals in parts. I believe that in some cases, people can't appreciate music not because it can't fully grasp the listener, but because the listener won't let it grasp them. Unfortunately, many will let this divine experience slip away with few listens, if any, because of a general closemindedness or absentmindedness. Don't be that guy, because after nine spins in one day, I can tell you that this is the last thing you want to miss. This is THE album of 2010.
After a very impressive introduction to this band with their 2008 release 'Vertebrae,' there's no denying that progressive black metal act Enslaved were on my radar as 2010 rolled around. Being known both for their epic take on the black metal sound and their consistent quality, Enslaved takes both of those traits and churns out yet another near-perfect masterpiece in 'Axioma Ethica Odini.' Never before has the band better incorporated their melodic influences, and created such a work that has pulled Enslaved's strengths together as they do here. In a year defined by the advent of quite a few significant black metal releases, Enslaved distinguish themselves.
To a newcomer, 'Axioma Ethica Odini' is best described as a melting pot of technical black metal and classic progressive rock. Comparisons to metal frontrunners Opeth are inevitable here; Enslaved takes the progressive landscape and polarizes it with heavy, complex metal sections and lighter atmospheric passages. While Enslaved may not hold a monopoly on the dark/light dynamic in the metal world, they certainly paint it with their unique sense of style.While black metal was typically very rough and primal in it's inception, Enslaved sees the genre to new heights. Among the blastbeats and near-inhuman growls are sounds that may seem alien to the black metal style; a wide array of keyboard sounds, varied guitar work and the warm, clean tone of vocalist Herbrand Larson's voice all play big roles in the music.
The album opens up with one of it's most epic and profound tracks, 'Ethica Odini.' A soaring guitar riff and grim growling vocals lead into a more complex section that melds catchy vocal melodies with some complex guitarwork. From there on, 'Ethica Odini' builds into an absolutely devastating track, and easily one of the best the album has to offer. Virtually every song here is solid throughout, although some tracks stand out more than others; the opener, 'The Beacon,' 'Giants,' and the closer 'Lightening' come to mind. The only song here that doesn't achieve excellence is the short interlude 'Axioma,' which certainly isn't meant to be considered anything more than a mere respite between album sides, but doesn't go anywhere beyond some fleeting ambience, and marks a small, if insignificant imperfection on the album.
Enslaved have certainly come a long way from their origins as orthodox black metal warriors. Although the band had already made their talent and warrant to acclaim clear with such earlier masterpieces as 'Isa' and 'Vertebrae,' 'Axioma Ethica Odini' only serves to reinforce Enslaved's place as one of the scene's leading acts.
Is there a more frustrating band in metal than Enslaved? Most hilariously bad bands are just that, hilariously bad. At worst, they elicit a chuckle or a groan or a fleeting moment of irritation at the idiots who lap it up. Enslaved, on the other hand, actively piss me off, because they have a proven track record of actually reaching a level that might fairly be called greatness, an there are about a million ways they could still be relevant. Unfortunately, it seems they've made a conscious decision to suck instead. Yeah, I get it, they're never going to return to what made them elite artists 15 years and more ago. They don't have the motivation or the mindset to further explore the territory mapped out by Vikingligr Veldi or Frost in a way that would do justice to those landmarks, but there are other avenues available to them that needn't involve churning out tepid, confused hybrids of metal and mainstream music so teenagers with low self-esteem can feel like they're listening to something "experimental" while they waste time on LastFM.
Enslaved's latest offering, Axioma Ethica Odini, is of a piece with the rest of the band's work over the last 7-10 years. At its heart, Axioma Ethica Odini is basically an indie rock album. That is to say, it is a stylistic pastiche, with the chief constituent elements being stadium heavy metal, shoegaze and (ewww!) "post-rock" (which serves here - as almost everywhere else - as an excuse to strum aimlessly and fill up space that otherwise might have to be occupied by actual ideas). Additionally, like a lot of bad indie rock, Enslaved rely upon gestures that simulate emotion, without actually displaying the balls to commit to anything genuinely emotional. The predictable result is an album long on wishy-washy affect and short on the internal drama or aestheticized experience of life from which great art is crafted.
The defects inherent in the indie approach are not mitigated by Enslaved's curious decision to retain a core of heavy metal and black metal technique. Indeed, they are exacerbated by it. Lurking somewhere in this album are the vestigial remains of the artistry that once was the band's calling card. When Enslaved fully indulges the shoegaze impulse, the instinct for epic but subtly unsettling melody comes to the fore. Unfortunately, the harsh black metal derived vocals are wildly out of place in most of the passages in which they appear (although they are positively glorious compared to the "clean" vocals, which sound more like a self-esteem building exercise for someone's sp-ed brother than actual music). Worse, the band's continued adherence to metal percussion, distortion texture and production values thoroughly ruins the best aspects of the album's sound: there's no space for the shoegazing element breathe and soar, and the drumming leaves the music stiff and ponderous where it needs to be dreamlike and airy.
In the end, that's the most frustrating aspect of Axioma Ethica Odini. Somewhere, beneath the lukewarm pander, there's still a good (if no longer great) band. It's just that the good-band-in-suck's-clothing isn't a metal band, and the pretense that Enslaved is still a metal band keeps their music from being anything more than a confused, boring spiral into irrelevance.
Finally! Legends of extreme viking metal, Enslaved, returns with another masterpiece. While some people found Vertebrae to be a step in the wrong direction, and hated the new, more post-rock, influences, I absolutely loved it. And let me tell you, my anticipations for their new album Axioma Ethica Odini
was indeed huge and I went straight for the vinyl edition as soon as it was released.
Already from the first track on the album, "Ethica Odini", I was blown away. I never thought anything could top Vertebrae, but this takes it all to a new level, while still following the same path as the previous album. There are both harder headbaning material like found on "The Beacon" and more mellow, clean, Opeth-sounding stuff, like parts of "Night Sight". Which all in all creates a very solid, yet varied album and it never gets boring.
My impression is still that Axioma Ethica Odini is a bit harder and more-riff based, but still uses a lot of the same, great synth work and clean vocals like on Vertebrae. Herbrand Larsen is a master of the synth and his clean vocals has in my opinion really strengthened Enslaved`s sound. Grutle delivers some great screams, not as sharp as earlier releases maybe, but I like this just as good. The drumming is tight and solid as always and Ivar`s riffs are based more around tremolo-picking whole chords than most riffs from albums like Isa and Ruun.
It`s not really much to say about the production, it`s crystal clear and organic, warm, but still rough when it needs to be. Perfect! On Axioma Ethica Odini Enslaved again demonstrates that they are indeed among the strongest and most interesting bands in the extreme metal scene today, and I already think that this well might be among the top releases of 2010.
Right off the bat I'll say this. 20 points comes from the first song, and the other 5 come from the track "Axioma."
Enslaved is one of the most commendable bands in extreme music, and especially in the realm of metal. I won't bore you with their trajectory, but the reason why I, myself, celebrate them so much is that I love something about every single release of theirs, my favorite being Isa (one of my top 5 albums of all time).
That said, since RUUN, Enslaved have been on a decline. RUUN had excellent tracks (Entroper, Essence, and Api-vat- the rest varied in levels of mediocrity), whereas Vertebrae had one stellar track (The Watcher, amongst one of my favorite Enslaved songs) while the rest sucked. Axioma Ethica Odini is very similar to Vertebrae in that regard.
Axioma Ethica Odini Starts off strong, with Ethica Odini. It's a very typical later era style Enslaved song, mid-paced and up beat with a repeating section that stops momentum and sucks, but offers contrast to the great main riff. It progresses, and builds up tension until the last two minutes play out some blissful kind of post-rock climax. This section is beautiful,simply put. Grutle's clean vocals sound pretty corny throughout the track until they hit this part and it's just completely sublime.
After that things quickly go wrong as each track gets progressively more and more mediocre and uninteresting until we get to "Night Sight" with it's smooth jazz wanna be intro (sounds like they're ripping off their own material, see Queen of Night for a better version). In fact, they seem to repeat a lot of tropes they've used before with this album. Waruun sounds a lot like Return To Yggdrasill off of Isa.
I suppose the diversity of songs offers radio versatility, because it certainly doesn't make the album any better. I like variety, but not when it's jarring, unnecessary or detrimental to the work. Slayer didn't need a ballad on Reign in Blood, Enslaved don't need a stock heavy song, a stock slow song, a stock somber song, a stock mid-paced aggressive song, etc.
Axioma is the only other track besides the first that stands out. It's just a little over 2 minutes of calming waves of synth paired with little ambient noises and a distant, under-water like recording of someone talking. This is peaceful and serene, maybe an attempt for the listener to forget the crap they were just subjected to.
Anyway, it's hard to be so harsh on a band I truly love, but then again maybe that's why I am so harsh. This band still has the potential, as shown with he first track, let's just hope they do it right next time.
When it comes to long-time Enslaved fans, they seem to fall into two distinct camps - those who basically like all of the band's work and those who like the band's output up until it got "too weird." If you long for Enslaved's blackened Viking metal days and hate the newer stuff, you might as well stop reading now. But you probably already know that. Who would expect Enslaved to revert back to that style at this stage anyhow? The band has been traveling on its own experimental path for quite some time. As one might expect, Axioma Ethica Odini is a continuation of this trailblazing.
Axioma Ethica Odini is basically all of the best parts of Enslaved's recent catalog galvanized and forged into a flawless broadsword that will slice the listener to the core. The finger-contorting chord voicings are back and ringing loud and clear. They are especially evident in "Waruun" and "The Beacon." The rhythms and time signatures in these two songs as well as the track "Giants" help engage the listener. In fact, a majority of the album is rhythmically interesting. Enslaved also manages to strike the perfect balance between harsh and clean vocals on Axioma Ethica Odini. The harsh vocals are as heavy as ever, but it's the clean vocals that truly shine. The "real singing" has never sounded so strong and confident. At times these vocals are triumphant and powerful like at the end of the opening track, "Ethica Odini." However, the clean vocals can also sound like a specter, floating and ethereal, calling out to you and beckoning you to sing along. Both "The Beacon" and "Giants" feature these hauntingly irresistible vocals.
Besides drawing the best from its recent releases, Enslaved also brings a few more influences on board for Axioma Ethica Odini. However, these influences are heavily filtered through the Enslaved sound before they finally reach your ears. The seventies prog rock of King Crimson and Yes can be heard in riffs found in both "Singular" and "Night Sight." The guitar parts in "Giants" are heavily rooted in the Sabbath style of doom. This song also features closely stacked, nearly sour harmonized vocals that sound like what one would imagine to hear from Alice in Chains had the band joined a monastery. There's even an instrumental track called "Axioma" consisting of a wash of keyboards that conjure images of some kind of futuristic Blade Runner-like world. But remember, all of these influences are interwoven into the fabric of Enslaved's basic sound. Nothing feels clunky or out of place. The band members take these ideas, make them their own and form an album that has variety while remaining surprisingly cohesive. Despite all of the talk of these different influences, above all this album is metal. Axioma Ethica Odini is the most heavy music Enslaved has released recently. Gone is the weak, nearly clean guitar tone of Vertebrae. Fortunately, Enslaved now chooses to use a guitar sound that is simultaneously thick, heavy, and clear. And despite the abundance of clean vocals, there's still plenty of powerful black metal screams which are delivered with severe force. The bass guitar rounds out the sound with a warm and fat tone, while the drums will pummel you like a schoolyard bully intent on stealing your lunch money. If you're looking for a heavier, more metal Enslaved, you'll find it with Axioma Ethica Odini. If you're looking for variety that includes moments of melodic beauty, you will definitely find that too. Axioma Ethica Odini has something for any Enslaved fan who approaches the album with an open mind.
Enslaved has come a long way since its early days, and with Axioma Ethica Odini the band proves that trip has been well worth it. With this album, the group manages to evolve and blend styles in a natural way that never feels forced. This is not an easy task, as some would say Nachtmystium proved with Addicts. Axioma Ethica Odini feels like the culmination of the most recent chapter of Enslaved. Really the only negative thing I can say about Axioma Ethica Odini is that Enslaved is going to have a hard time topping it on the next release.
Originally written for http://www.metalpsalter.com
While many did not take to the Norse legends' previous effort Vertebrae, I found it a flawless presentation, a proof of concept to where the band had been steering for a great many years as they grafted a myriad of progressive rock influences into their core Viking black metal aesthetics, exploring their culture and roots in ways few if any bands had dared to tread. I still listen to that album on a regular basis, along with many in the band's history, yet they've already delivered a follow-up here that will also serve me for many years to come, a step backwards and forward simultaneously. Yes, Axioma Ethica Odini has a clear possibility to reinstate those that were dispossessed with the prior record (their loss!), as well as continue to breathe new life into the band's evolving mythology, as a wealth of new fans are bound to pour through the floodgates.
This is a heavier record than Vertebrae, and as I have said, somewhat a step back to other records like Ruun or Isa, in that the band better envelop the progressive rock influences of a Pink Floyd, etc. with more aggressive guitars. However, at the same time, this has the best clean vocals of any Enslaved effort to date, and the consistent lineup here (now four albums deep) ensures that this is perhaps the most coherent writing and execution of their career. Many have complained before that the harsh and clean vocals of the band created a bizarre dichotomy that did not sit well in their ears, and while I've never had this problem myself, I feel like the naysayers should be pleased here, since they are fused together wonderfully. The guitar tones here are brilliant, thick and punctual while incessantly manifesting mood through the well placed chord changes, and Grutle's bass and Bekkevold's drumming are likewise impressive, tethers to the world of iron and bloodshed that the band's dream-like vistas threaten to escape.
You're still running the gamut of the band's sonic exploration here, with numbing, Roger Waters style vocals and an almost jazzy undercurrent to some of the guitars, but Axioma Ethica Odini offers to steer this into newer, bolder territories. "Night Sight" offers mellowing folk extractions that loosely congregate to the foothills of a gathered storm, erupting into a brilliant sequence of jarring rock guitars and then the escalation of granite through earth, as if a mountain to were rise straight from the crust, rather than wait out the millenia for the natural process of erosion. "Lightening" circles about one of the most eerie and fluid guitar riffs the band has written before it slams you straight in the chest with sheer melodic force. "Giants" emphasizes strong Sabbath influence, organs grazing in the distance before the elevating, trippy verse that yet again births a thundering depth and force, as if the leviathans of the title slowly strode across a primordial landscape. "Axioma" itself is a brief yet scintillating, proggish ambient piece, quirky little guitars and echoing narrative placed against the searing, lush synthesizer.
Of course, this wouldn't be an Enslaved record without a few more glorious, direct undertakings, and these populate the rest of the album. "Ethica Odini" transforms from creepy, creaking intro to a surge of driving if predictable chords that foster a highland majesty in between the wild and mighty guitar fills inextricably linked to the soaring cleans. "Raidho" seems a little less stunning at first, but once it builds to the clean/snarl trade-off at its core, you can feel all the pieces to its puzzle locking in step and rapture welling inside the chest. "Waruun" steps carefully, as if through a landscape of sharp rock, creepy chords ringing off against the rhythmic undertow, a minimalist intent betrayed by the sheer sense of adventure this band provokes, while "The Beacon" plays it fairly straight with savage, driving force and another dreamy bridge sequence. "Singular" builds calm but cresting onslaughts of guitar, clean vocals coming at the peaks of waves and the listener can feel the temperature shifting with each rhythm, easily the most interesting guitars on the entire album.
Considering the stunning level of grace and power the band balance here for nearly an hour of playtime, I have had no choice but to become increasingly absorbed into the longing flood of emotion here that achieves almost mythical proportions. My first few runs through its content were met with mixed levels of adoration. I felt it was a far less dry sound than on Vertebrae (which never dulled my appreciation), but wasn't sure if it took me to quite that same level of investment. Having now listened through over a dozen times, finding new steel glinting upon the curves of each consecutive dive, I can once again see that the band have managed to carry the essence of their entire discography forward into a new clime, not shedding their former skins but devouring them, like fine chefs so confident with their previous culinary masterpieces that they have no choice but to once again define themselves, best themselves and blow the tastebuds of every attentive glutton that walks through their kitchen doors. Axioma Ethica Odini deserves top honors. The fact that it is not the first Enslaved album to achieve this is testament to the band's commitment to music above all else. To greatness.
Enslaved is one of those bands who always seems to offer something different with each album while staying true to themselves at the same time. They have offered such gems as "Blodhemn", Below the Lights, and Ruun." All of which had something unique to offer.
Enslaved's 2008 offering "Vertebrae", was somewhat of a mellower record, however it was a very fine effort in it's own right. Then a little taste of the band's latest offering emerges. The song Ethica Odini becomes available for streaming and as soon as I heard that song I knew to expect something truly extraordinary. So in eager anticipation I pre-ordered the album.
To say I was not disappointed would be an understatement. Axioma Ethica Odini is easily one of Enslaved's premiere releases. Prior to the release I read a review of the album and the person who wrote it stated that on this album "Enslaved stayed true to form while taking their limits of experimenting with genres to the fullest." That cannot be more true.
On the record you have songs that start off with a slow doom inspired riff and as soon as you become accustomed to it the song changes into something that makes you wonder if you are listening to the same band let alone the same song.
On this album vocalist Grutle Kjellson demonstrates the full range of his vocal talents. At times he almost sounds like he is belting out traditional black metal shrieks, blended with death metal growls, with elements of folk singing and other clean vocals, when all mixed together provide one of the best variation of vocal styles to come along in quite some time.
Axioma Ethica Odini is making a strong case for best album of 2010. It does this with it's varied vocal style, creative song writing, combined with elements of previous Enslaved releases and new exciting musical directions. It will take a lot to rival this album and I'm not sure if anyone will even come close to this brilliant piece of modern art.
It is not hard to accept one fundamental axiom of the post-black metal Norway that I have referred to recently: Enslaved is easily Norway’s finest band. From the beginning the band has always been strong; grown-ups in a room filled with angry teenagers. This sense has not lessened with the passage of time. While certain members of the scene will forever be singing their equivalent of Alice Cooper ridiculous teen hits as 45 year olds (or older, like the man himself), Enslaved will continue to push the boundaries of black metal with a mature and progressive sound. Starting with the release of Below the Lights in 2003 (or Monumension in 2001), Enslaved has produced four modern classics of “progressive, psychedelic black metal.” The fourth of this string of amazing albums was Vertebrae, which was released in 2008 and landed the band a tour with Opeth as well as more recognition than they had ever received worldwide. And with good reason: it was the best record the band had written to date.
I never had the good fortunate to review Vertebrae, but I can easily say that it was a perfect album. It advanced the sound of Enslaved, while staying on the trajectory the band had been on since 2001/2003. The record had a still greater progressive feel due to an unusually large amount of clean vocals that the band had written, something that differentiated the album from its predecessors and gave it a unique feel all its own. The production was thick, but organic (if loud) and the song writing had the kind of energy that you get from a band that is in the middle of their prime, not a band producing their eleventh full length. For whatever reason the writing on that album burrowed right into my Angry Metal Heart and set down roots.
And really, Axioma Ethica Odini is more of the same when it comes right down to it. The sound that has been articulated here is quite similar to the Enslaved that we have grown to love (and/or have loved for a long time). The tracks are mid-paced, and chuggy with the occasional bursts of speed and blasts that indicate the band’s history. For example, the track “Ethica Odini” breaks out of the gate in a much more simplistic style than we’ve heard from the band in a long time (“it is perhaps our most repetitive song in 15 years,” says Grutle Kjellson), but instead of upping “the black metal” they stuck with the vocal approach that made Vertebrae such a huge success with new fans and old alike. Another track that stands out is “Waruun”, which starts out with a classic Enslaved riff reminiscent of “Havenless” from Below the Lights, and continues into the trademark clean vocals, again.
So, from those descriptions, you can see this as the natural outcome of the band’s movement forward. Stepping back a bit from the progressiveness of Vertebrae, without abandoning it entirely—certainly the tracks “Giants”, with its heavy keyboards and clean harmonies and “Night Sight” with its very 70s prog intro (a little Wishbone Ash and a little Yes?) maintain the progressive trajectory. And all of this is really embodied in “Lightening”, which I think is one of the finest Enslaved tracks ever written. It starts out beautifully, with a heavy groove/prog part with a fantastic delayed lead that really just rocks my world and contains probably the band’s finest vocals on the whole record. But after this intro it jumps into heavy, powerful black metal riffing which contrasts with a chorus that I cannot describe as anything other than ethereal: it just floats over the tribal drumming and keyboards creating an indescribable atmosphere. There is very little “weird” or “progressive” about the song in the traditional sense, but the structure is perfect in its simplicity and melodic nature. It is a pure moment of musical ecstasy that really pulls up the end of this album.
But it is this final track that also casts a pall over the rest of this record for me. I was expecting this whole album to be as phenomenal as “Lightening” was. But instead, of the 9 tracks, 3 of them (“The Beacon”, “Axioma” and “Giants”) leave me cold, and others are good but they don’t have the same kind of kick that Vertebrae did. There is just something here that doesn’t feel like it’s clicking. Like somehow that x factor just didn’t fall into place somewhere along the line and I am left with the feeling that despite liking this album a lot, I could just as easily go and pop in Vertebrae or Below the Lights and be just as (or more) pleased. This could be the outcome of excessively high expectations, I admit. Enslaved is one of my favorite bands in the modern era and I guess I’m feeling a bit disappointed that I wasn’t laying flat on my back after the first play through. Instead, the record has had to grow for me—something that can be either good or bad (as, for example, both my favorite Katatonia and my favorite Opeth records were growers that I was disappointed with at first). But my gut instinct tells me that while the vocal approach on Vertebrae just sort of “snuck up on” the band, it was a more conscious effort on Axioma Ethica Odini—making it feel more forced; a feeling that I had a hell of a time ignoring as I was listening to the album.
Of course, given everything I’ve read about this record online, everyone is making it out to be the best thing since the beginning of the creation of music. I’m not sure whether or not it’s wise to buy into the hype, but it’s hard for me to deny that this record still contains some very high quality material that will definitely please long time (and new) fans of the band. But I was hoping to give this album a 5/5 because I love the music this band has created so much, but I just can’t. Four outta five it is—but let’s not kid ourselves: Enslaved is still basically the only band from the original wave of black metal that’s still doing anything this original or interesting.
Originally posted at AngryMetalGuy.com.