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The best thing about Enslaved has been their grand-scale evolution over years. The gradual shift from Nordic black metal to full-blown progressive metal sounds incredibly natural if you listen to the albums in order. More importantly, they managed to sound great at virtually every stage of their career. Even people who have never heard more than the band's name usually know of their organic progression. The thing that feels less-recognized, however, is the amount of variety they demonstrated within each era. I may not love all of Enslaved's music, but I could recognize the style of each of their albums as a distinct entity. Even on their shadiest days, they were making music that sounded unique.
It is wonderful how revisiting an album can completely change the story about it. For whatever reason, Blodhemn fell to the back of my memory. Like their previous album Eld, I thought it represented a slump in Enslaved's career that lacked the distinctive scope I'd expect to hear from them. Now, like Eld, I'm asking myself how I could have ever had that kind of impression from Blodhemn. Sure, it's straightforward even when compared to Frost, but Blodhemn is easily the most ravenous and aggressive outing from Enslaved's entire career. This coming from a band that's sometimes bored me for the fact they usually sound so goddamn restrained.
Would it be fair to call Blodhemn Enslaved's own Damned in Black? Yeah, the guys in Immortal put out that album a few years after this, but it's got a much stronger reputation as an album where thrash metal was injected into the blackened framework. Anyone who's listened to Immortal attentively enough could have seen those influences coming from a mile away. I don't think the same can be said in Enslaved's case. On Frost and Eld, the closest they ever came to thrash was being influenced by bands who were, in turn, themselves influenced by thrash-- namely Immortal. It's surprising enough that they took to thrash metal's riffs and greasy vibes on Blodhemn, and more surprising still that they nail it on the first try. Especially compared to the sleepy material post-Below the Lights which all sounds like it was produced by one of the knobs from AC/DC, I'm sort of shocked Enslaved had this sort of biting aggression in them.
If Eld mellowed out their sound at all, Blodhemn surely offered an opposing view of what Enslaved could sound by turning the table on themselves. Comparisons could probably be made between this pair, and the raw shift they took on Frost following the debut. Starting with the one-minute ambient intro (which sounds like Hawkwind inadvertently dropped in on the Battle of Lindisfarne) Blodhemn hints at their proggish influences without losing touch with speed and intensity. It's a lesson I wish some of Enslaved's later work had gleaned something from.
I’m just going to throw it out there. Of Enslaved’s work in the 90’s, Blodhemn is my favorite. The foundational elements of Vikingligr Veldi, improved structure of Frost, and increased folk style of Eld are distilled down into a brew that is fit for Oden himself. Tracks like “I Lenker Til Ragnarok” and Urtical Gods” are gripping stories of Norwegian mythology told through a thrashy, head-banging BM so coveted by other groups like Absu and Taake.
A vast improvement over the slip-shod construction of Eld, Blodhemn’s tracks feature a near endless stream of memorable riffs that play off of each other perfectly. The guitar sound is fuzzier in a way that helps even out the tone and make the trademark tremolos balance out with the other elements at play. Likewise, the blastbeats are a bit more subdued and bassy in the mix, allowing them to create a more hypnotic quality.
The vocals are excellent. Deep, folky chants echo hauntingly on the fringes of distorted soundscapes. Snarls are aggressive and imposing. Sometimes the two play off of one another as on the excellent “Nidingaslakt.” The incredible staccato pieces on this track are like a blueprint for Proscriptor’s performance on 2001’s Tara. Throw in the occasional death metal growl for good measure and you have the recipe for a helm-splitting good time.
Accolades to the musicianship all around. Riffs are varied and well-constructed. The usual bag of tricks is complemented by some 80’s chord-heavy Bathory worship, nods to Immortal, and more traditional rock sections as well. The tremolos are stronger than ever with melodies that could herald nothing less than a massive army riding to war. The drums crush their way through double bass rhythms, breakneck blasts, and various little touches that help further emphasize the Viking aesthetic. Everything is capped off by some sparing use of atmospheric keys.
I could go on, but it would be redundant. Nearly every track on here is a winner from start to finish. They range from awesome to fucking awesome. By the time my foot is tapping to “Brisinghamen,” I am ready to grab an axe and start swinging. Buy this album now and thank me later.
After the incredibly disappointing Eld, Enslaved appeared to realize that something had gone terribly wrong, in just about every manner possible. From the production to the songwriting to the playing, itself, that record did nothing but stain the band's reputation. The following year, in 1998, they returned with Blodhemn. While this L.P. is a a few steps above its predecessor, in all aspects, it still fails to match the band's earlier output and even manages to give rise to new problems.
From the very beginning of the record, one does not even have to bother checking the liner notes to tell that this album was recorded in Studio Abyss, produced by Peter Tägtgren. This was mistake number one, though it was a common thing for black metal bands in the late '90s. As a songwriter and musician, Peter is excellent. Anyone with the old Hypocrisy and Abyss albums in their collection is well aware of this. As a producer, he really fails to capture the appropriate atmosphere and seems to often mold the band's sound to the way he thinks it should be. The worst curse that this album can suffer from is the stench of modern production, which absolutely ruins it. From beginning to end, one cannot help but think how much better this would have sounded if recorded elsewhere, or maybe some years earlier. By the late '90s, this plastic sound was becoming more and more prevalent and was seemingly impossible to avoid. Truth be told, one could make a fair assessment that this album is worthless based off of the info in the booklet, before ever hearing a single note.
With regards to the music, Enslaved really went out of their way to try getting back to their roots, to an extent. Songs like "I Lenker Til Ragnarok" and "Eit Auga Til Mimir" hearken back to the fast-paced and intense songs from Vikingligr Veldi and Frost, possessing much more of a typical Norwegian black metal vibe than one the last L.P. The clean vocals, introduced on Eld, are still present but they are done in a much more tasteful manner. In the case of the former, I am 100% convinced that Peter came up with the vocal melodies, as they sound so similar to something that one would expect from Hypocrisy's middle period. In the case of some of the other tracks, the modern feeling is present even with the songwriting, with too much reliance on double bass, at times. "Ansuz Astral" even includes some really terrible synth that kills the supposed 'Viking' atmosphere and gives one the impression that the Martians have landed. For the most part, the bulk of the material is generic and uninspired, even if it is an improvement over their last effort.
Every band is allowed to slip up and put out a bad record, but Blodhemn makes two horrible albums in a row. As a result, any and all credibility that Enslaved ever had was wiped away and forgotten. While the songwriting is somewhat stronger and the production a little more suitable for the material than on Eld, the fact is that the music and the sound reeks of a modern, sterile sound that renders it all worthless. It is a shame that Darkthrone was not more productive during the late '90s, as the rest of the Norwegian black metal scene were either wimping out and jumping on trends or just making lousy records. This release by Enslaved is a good example of both.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com
Perhaps more than any other in Enslaved's extensive back catalog, Blodhemn is the album most intent on slapping the listeners in the face and making them its bitch. Some no doubt consider it a stylistic regression from where the Norwegians were headed with the prior record Eld, and there are certainly grounds for such an argument, as the primary motif here is the black metal genre from which the band carved out its name. Sure, there are a few folkish nuances here, like the clean vocals, given a stronger and more somber presence than the previous outing, and a touch of prog in the searing synth opener "Audhumla; Birth of the Worlds", but for almost 40 minutes, the quartet is quite content smack your jaw left and right, heavy handed hammerblows that remind the audience that this is a metal record.
Some fraction of this impetus might stem from the fact that Enslaved hired on a few new faces for this album, in Dirge Rep and Roy Kronheim. Rep is an extremely hard hitter, a fact he made clear on the great Gehenna album Malice, and it would almost seem a waste if Grutle and Ivar were to use him at less than full potential. Naturally, this means a blast-fest, and a number of the songs here thunder forth like a sea storm on fast-forward, though never mindless or excessively repetitious, to their credit. Another change here is in the guitar tone. These are louder, and far more full-bodied riffs than any of the previous albums, and what little synthesizer is used is relegated to the backdrop. Blodhemn is all about Ivar and Roy's blazing aggression, and yet there is often a particular lightness and dynamic strength to the fixation of notes which was clearly not present on any of the earlier full-lengths. The leads were probably the most accessible and hard rock influenced to date, listen in particular to the bridge of "Brsinghamen" for a firm example.
A few of these are definitely among my favorite Enslaved tracks, at least when it comes to their more volatile material outside of Frost. "Urtical Gods" is fucking lethal, alternating corpulent and punk-ish chords with intricate, lightning grooves in the verse that give it a hyper, blackened thrash atmosphere which is enough to peel the paint off any enemy vessel. And then there is the aforementioned "Brsinghamen", with these dense and melodic chord progressions that create a truly, epic momentum. Both of these are quite short, to their credit, and in fact most of the songs are (similar to Frost), so it's essentially an antithesis to Vikingligr Veldi or "793 (Slaget om Lindisfarne)". Not a problem for me, since this selection of songs seems utterly trimmed of any unwelcome fat that would no-doubt prove a hollow attempt at bloated grandeur.
In general, though, there are a few here which are simply catchier than others. For instance, "Urtical Gods" is more savage and memorable than "I Lenker Til Ragnarok" or "Blodhemn" itself, even if those are both still consistent within themselves. Perhaps the most eclectic piece comes in the form of the closer "Suttungs Mjod (Suttung's Mead)", which features a lot of Grutle's clean vocals layered in a yawning, remorseful and engaging sludge towards the finale. The production is frankly monolithic, especially in the vocals and guitars, the former had never before seemed quite this loud, and even the rasps take on an additional boldness over the tidal surge of the axe patterns. In fact, it's probably the most massive studio sound the band would inhabit until Axioma Ethica Odini, 12 years later. Those who favor the band's more progressive leanings in the 21st century will probably find Blodhemn to be one of the least interesting Enslaved efforts overall, and I can't deny that there is a lot less range to the writing, but that doesn't hold it back from some occasional ass kicking, and in this it almost feels unique among its studio siblings.
Admittedly, I am a pretty new Enslaved fan. I first heard "Isa" on a CD named Pagan Fire. "Isa" was pretty decent, but nothing which blew me out of the water. About two months ago, I was bored and on YouTube and managed to stumble upon "I Lenker til Ragnarok" aka "In Chains Until Ragnarok" and my mind was blown! So, after listening to a few others, I rushed to download the album from Amazon because I am both cheap and impatient. I think I listened to this CD alone for nearly 2 or 3 weeks straight. Now on to Vikingligr Veldi and Hordanes Land, but that's another review.
This album starts up with one of the oddest instrumental intros I think I have ever heard. It sounds very much like marching into a misty battle field, only to encounter some sort of alien spacecraft instead of another human army. At least to me. But then again, that kind of thing is right up my alley, since I love both sci-fi and vikings. Either way, it is very pretty. A nice little foray into the incredible, furious power of "I Lenker Til Ragnarok". This song always amazes me, even though I have probably listened to it over a hundred times by now. Everything about this song is just what viking metal should be: deep, bellowing chants, a vocalist who is at least semi-high pitched, incredibly fast drums, icy guitar riffs and maybe a bit of synth thrown in for good measure. This is a song that makes you just want to go to battle.
The next two songs, "Urtical Gods" and "Ansuz Astral" are both good songs, but do not stand out to me as much as the rest of the album. Admittedly, I usually just skip over these two and head right on to my second favorite, "Nidingaslakt". At only 3 minutes and 23 seconds, this song is REALLY short for Enslaved, and most other bands in this sub genre. This song is incredible enough to make up for this. This length also makes it very convenient to repeat as many times as you can stand, which for me is about twenty at one time. The guitar riffs are perfect to windmill to, and once again, the chanting is an excellent addition. "Eit Auga Til Mimir" or "An Eye for Mimir" starts off with a furious introduction, slowing down to more melodic chanting and guitar to match. And then of course comes the ending. Beginning with this sound of a horn (or a very good replication of one), the song erupts into the same intensity as the beginning. Another excellent song. "Blodhemn", the title track throws in quite a bit of chanting, plus a much deeper, darker segment in the middle which is very lovely. I have no idea the musical technique used to make this, because I am no musician, but it is absolutely beautiful. The incredible guitar toward the end is also another great addition to this song. "Brisinghamen" is another song similar to "Nidingaslakt" in song length and speed, only with more chanting this time around and an excellent riff toward the end. But still, a great song. The final song, "Suttungs Mjod", is a lovely melodic instrumental with lots of chanting thrown in. A bit reminiscent of "Ildnatten" from "The Return of the Black Death" by Antestor, at least to me. But instead of setting something on fire, they decide to return to heavier guitars and drumming, but at a slower pace than the rest of the album. Reminds me of snow, cold, and the majestic landscape of Norway. A great way to end this album.
Overall, this CD is a work of art! It is beautiful, intense, and absolutely powerful. If you have any inclination toward a love of Viking/Black metal, you should definitely pick this up. It is a classic, and one I am so glad to have finally discovered after 6 years of listening to metal. How did it take me so long? Who knows. All I know is that I am very glad to have been awakened to Enslaved!
As most of you know, Enslaved is a big name out there in the Metal scene. Along with Dimmu Borgir and Satyricon, they are a second-wave Norwegian Black Metal band that has received exceptional popularity in recent years. Like the other two mentioned, they accomplished this by branching out and fusing styles. Enslaved, even from the start, had a progressive edge over their more predictable countrymen. Many BM stalwarts hail their debut Vikigligr Veldi as their first and finest hour. Balancing that out are the prog fanboys going gaga over their latest outputs.
However, it is the middle of the spectrum that deserves the most attention, and Blodhemn is the least appreciated of this transition period. It’s deeply rooted in the harsh, Viking-themed Metal of its three predecessors, but it hints at the unique progressions (and dilutions) of its posterity. This is not ambiguity. This is the peak of their power, before the future digressions watered it down.
The production is clean and sharp, like a storm of razor blades backed by thunderous artillery. Gone is the murky atmosphere of the past, but that merely turns up the barometric pressure, and you’re breathing fresh air, charging across the battlefield in broad daylight. This top-gun production is also necessary to showcase the complexity of every second of music. But even with clinical production, you can still lose yourself in a monolithic wall of sound.
Not one musician underplays his role, from the unique drum patterns, to the mind-bending riffs, to the hypnotic clean vocals interplaying with Grutle Kjellson’s vitriolic growls. This album is consistently fast, and takes a few listens to keep track of what’s going on. Pleasing from the start, and forever enduring, are the quality riffs, such as the opener to “Eit Auga Til Mimir” (one of my favorite riffs of all time), which has a resemblance to Mayhem. The melodies are evocative and overwhelmingly triumphant.
I’m baffled by how underrated this album is. Its songs are rarely played live, as if this were a chapter the band soon forgot. Perhaps the gratuitous amounts of energy required to record this album simply couldn’t be matched in a live setting. All the Pink Floyd-related substances must have weakened their Viking resolve.
Whoever said that Black Metal died in the late 90’s has likely never heard Blodhemn.
For over 15 years, Enslaved have shown the metal community that they are one of the superior black metal bands out there; even before their more "progressive phase", Enslaved were bringing originality to the table in large helpings. Blodhemn - meaning "vengeance in blood" - is no exception.
Blodhemn at first may seem like a typical black metal album: rapid tremelo-picked riffs, inaudible bass, spastic drumming, supplemental synths, and shrieked (and sung) vocals, but the album's true colors will grow on the listener.
The album begins with a brief, entirely synthesized, spacey introduction before letting loose the heaviness. Before one knows it, catchy-ass riffs and relentless drumming are swarming by. The guitars are gnawing and catchy - "Anuz Astral" and "An Eye for Mimir" are especially catchy. The drumwork is fast, aggresssive, and largey repetetive, but well-done nonetheless. The vocals are excellently done, ranging from larynx-shredding shrieks to soothing melodic singing, which, combined with the catchy riffs, give off a very "Viking" feel in some songs, particularly on "An Eye for Mimir" and "In Chains Until Ragnarok". And the syths are barely present, but add to the music substantially when used, and the bass largely inaudible. The album slows down considerably on the slow, doomy, melodic closing track "Suttung's Mead", starting with a slow, melancholy riff, overlapped with soothingly sung, almost chanted, vocals, before crashing down on the listener with a slow, plodding, doomy transition, and fading out as noise sounding much like wind blowing against flags, ending the album on a calm and relaxing note.
Aside from rather poor production value (which may not be a bad thing for many listeners), Blodhemn is nearly flawless and a top-notch black metal album, and definitely worth whatever expense one may pay for it - especially for black metal fans.