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An EP that is possibly more notable for it's inclusion on a split effort with black metal legends Emperor, Enslaved's 'Hordanes Land' shows the band playing their earliest style; a symphonically influenced sound of lo-fi black metal. While the band would arguably go on to create much more fulfilling works with their later, more progressively inclined music, the tracks on this EP stand as being some of the more memorable pieces of the early 90's Norweigian black metal scene. By incorporating some sparse acoustic guitars, keyboard instrumentation and some more thoughtful guitar sections than you might typically find on a classic black metal album, 'Hordanes Land' should instantly appeal to a fan of the black metal style looking for something a little bit different from the technical onslaught of the genre.
While 'Hordanes Land' certainly has more of a forward-thinking sound to it than most it's contemporaries, make no mistake that this is a black metal album. Rapid bursts of guitar fury typically emphasize energy and power over technical achievement, and there are the typically harsh vocal snarls of frontman Grutle Kjellson to contend with in the mix. Although this maintains a pretty typical sound for black metal at it's core, it's what the band adds to the traditional formula that makes things interesting. There are some subtle sections of acoustic guitar thrown in at the right moments, and alot of different keyboard arrangements to give the music an added, epic flair.
The first track 'Slaget I Skogen Bortenfor' opens with some pretty fake sounding choral and symphonic arrangements as the traditional black metal fury erupts into something more conventional. With the speed and intensity in check under the blistering vocal display of Kjellson, the same fake symphonic tones are used, but to a surprisingly good effect. The second track 'Allfadr Odinn' revolves around the great god of Norse mythology, and has an almost medieval sound from it's use of haunting organ tones. The most keyboard heavy track on 'Hordanes' however is the epic song 'Balfar,' which does a very good job of showing the band's growing viking metal direction. This is certainly the highlight of the album, and unlike much black metal which appears to be an unrelenting assault, Enslaved makes 'Balfar' into a song of dynamic, throwing in heavier, darker sections, and lighter acoustic atmospherics to build the tension.
To the fans of Enslaved's later work, 'Hordanes Land' may sound a tad too unpolished and rough. Compared to their more recent material, it certainly is, but the haunting atmosphere and striking composition is in check. While it may be Emperor that gets the credit for introducing all of the symphonic elements to the realm of black metal, Enslaved shows here that they can do it just as well.