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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.