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In what lands away from the razor-sharp and forthright beginnings of the Hordanes Land EP, debut Vikingligr Veldi and runner up, Frost, distanced from that blackened approach and those distinctive cold symphonic atmospheres, a significant stylistic shift occurs in Eld. Instead, the introduction of a dry rock-like production has warmer organic elements breaking ground in an altogether more elegant and traditional-sounding metal album. Save some thematic likeness to its forerunners, the abovementioned take on a more unambiguous approach leaving less room for the epic and leaning heavily instead on edgier elements in thunderous drums, high-pitched synths, and chainsaw guitars. These cut-throat elements don’t fall entirely unto deaf ears in Eld – a fitting distant overtone, fierce, balls-out riffery, grim vocals, and furious blastbeats proving suggestive elements of a hard-hitting, high-energy album akin to the likes of the early band. But these seem lavished by the majesty of a more definite and meaningful undertone, emanations from a grander approach emphasizing elements of expectable intensity as well as those of a much more profound noble-like grandeur. Though darker shades are cast in both its predecessors and successor, Blodhemn, alike, credit is nonetheless due in what is perhaps the most iconic representation of the identity of Enslaved and in what truly contends to be the poster-child of the “Viking Metal” genre. Eld shines among the discography in this role with a laudable offering of consistent musicianship, strong thematic content, and lean on a generally warmer approach.
The album‘s face track checks off all three points, “793 (slaget om Lindisfarne)” hailing a vintage backdrop, expansive phrasings, and very textured melodies in a potently progressive albeit tastefully arranged saga. Although this sort of approach bleeds throughout the album, all succeeding tracks showcase a more desirable display of heaviness and diversity as meatier riffs and altogether more drastic progressions embody the greater gist of Eld. That said, each track has something of similar value to offer in terms of style, feel, and flow of energy, each housing in one form or another the critical elements (in progressive-inspired riffs or structural likenesses with predictable later-plopped interludes – not to be scrutinized) that adorn an otherwise parched and unforgiving sound with a very listenable undercoat. Notably, a distinct journey-like feel is well-preserved track-to-track, each soundly supporting the next in terms of both content and approach. Indeed, it is this consistency that alludes to the pioneering nature of Eld and as well to a reprisal of the sheer quality of earlier works; after all, still fresh in an evolution eventually falling short of any perceivable link to its roots in “Black Metal”, deviation from the raw palatable essence of the early band is a non-issue.
Perhaps still the album’s most attractive qualities are in a balance of this crude aggression and a brand-new eloquence in composition. “Kvasir’s Blod“, in combing through a heavy half-time intro, fast attack-minded verse, and openly progressive midsection, will gladly entertain a steady nod as well as bring deeper, more no-nonsense moments that reach beyond tremolo-picking, distortion, and blasts. A like approach is seen in epics “Glemt”, “Alfablot”, and “Eld”, each housing elements both dynamic and melodic of grand and heroic passages. Suffice it to say that Enslaved showcases a good deal of maturity weaving through more traditional ideas while identifying with an all-important rustic feel throughout the album. Less an adequate lack of the overall ear-splitting ferocity one would expect from a chronological sift through the discography, Eld, in its thematic strength, remains not only a highlight of the collection but reigns – goblet in hand – a staple album of its genre. Not only is it strong musically in and of itself, providing a hearty helping of extreme metal to any-caliber listener, but in the grander scheme it is a pioneering record venturing to curious new grounds while still capturing a titan’s early genius. No glittery plastic sounds prevailing here – not but a medievally-influenced metal master class of truly epic proportions.