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Enslaved is a band that has never been afraid to push the envelope. They arose out of the 2nd wave of Norwegian black metal, along bands like Mayhem, Burzum, and Darkthrone. Enslaved at first played much the same kind of black metal - viking themed straight-ahead blast-beat filled black metal. Enslaved, however, unlike the rest of their ilk, was never content to keep playing the same kind of music for any length of time and began to experiment with other sounds and themes to their music, constantly growing and changing - something that has both gained and lost them many fans. Enslaved today cannot really even be called a black metal act, as they have been slowly evolving further and further away from the kind of sound that they started off with, moving further and further into the world of progressive metal while still retaining an air of their viking roots. The change has not been swift by any means, and they have released many albums between 1991 and the present with a heavy black metal vibe but some really interesting influences and experimentation. Between 2001-2003 they released 3 of the most compelling works in their library - Mardraum: Beyond the Within, Monumension, and Below the Lights. All 3 are brilliant works in their own right, but today I'll be reviewing Monumension, which I picked up at War on Music in Winnipeg.
Monumension is a wall of an album. There is so much going on here that it's hard to know where to start when comprising an opinion, let alone a critical review on such an album. Nothing quite like this has been made before or since in my knowledge, so there is not a lot to compare it to. Monumension is essentially what happens when Norwegian Vikings with a flair for the experimental listen to way too much Pink Floyd. Yeah...exactly...
Enslaved have brought something to life here that is truly special. It retains a lot of the viking black metal style that helped make Enslaved popular, but blends it so perfectly into a 70's prog type feel that it's hard to believe no one has done this before. Everything just flows smoothly, like a bunch of tie-dye wearing vikings smoking a hookah on an ice flow riding down a river of blood.
It would take more than the space I have to go into each track in depth, so I'll pick some moments I found particularly memorable. The second track, "The Voices", begins with a killer black metal riff that continues to surface throughout the song, tying together the metal "majority" of the song with the bluesy riffs and synthesizer melodies that emerge throughout. The song maintains the feeling of an ass-kicking viking metal track, but also begins to reveal some of what is to come later on in the album. "Hollow Inside" is the first real dose of the Floydian influences at play here. Vocalist Grutle Kjellson takes on a very ethereal, dreamy tone as his vocals float about proggy blues riffs and keyboard melodies. It reminds me of kind of a Steven Wilson channeling Roger Waters voice, that suits the music perfectly. Half way through the song it builds and suddenly explodes in a very heavy version of what was previously playing accompanied by heavy, intricate drumming, guitars, and Grutle's very doomy sounding vocals. The change in pace is sudden, but flows so perfectly it gives me the chills every time I hear it.
"The Cromlech Gate" is probably my favourite track on the album. This track is heavy in a doomy sort of way, with vocals more reminiscent of doom/stoner metal than black metal a slow, prodding series of riffs that truly give you a mental image of the aforementioned tie-dye vikings coming across a monumental stone gate, adorned with gargoyles, impaled corpses, and a foreboding message of doom to any who traverse it, while being a little too high to deal with the situation. This song is just brilliant and serves as the perfect central point to the album. "Enemy I" has some really interesting overlays of spoken word with growled vocals, as well as harmonizing of high and low harsh vocals, over a very straight ahead viking metal style riff.
"The Sleep: Floating Diversity" is the other true standout track on the album. This song has a lot of sounds and vocal sections that sound straight off of "The Wall" and truly encompasses the influences behind the album as a whole. Grutle sounds exactly like Roger Waters in some parts of this song, so much so I thought it was a different vocalist at first. This song perfectly plays out the album and trails off into "Outro: Self-Zero" (which didn't need to have its own track IMO).
(Oh, there's also that weird viking chanting track, "Sigmundskvadet", that totally doesn't fit the album, but it's a bonus track, so I'm not counting it)
In closing, this album is the embodiment of genius when it comes to blending two very separate genres of music. It's works like this one that go to show how far separated Enslaved is from their peers in the Norwegian music scene - a band that has evolved, while still remembering their roots, bringing progressive viking metal to life in new ways with each release. If you're new to Enslaved I would recommend this album or their 2003 "Below the Lights" as a starting point, as both albums really show off their instrumental and compositional chops. Whichever you would choose doesn't change the fact that Monumension is a landmark album and should be owned by any progressive metal enthusiast.
Considered by some to be the mellower, matured sibling of the 2000 album Mardraum, and others to be the most contentious effort in all of Enslaved's body of work, I feel that there is perhaps no more divisive a recording in all of this Norwegian band's history. Granted, a lot of the smack I've seen leveled at this record comes from crass and foolish misconceptions rooted in factual inaccuracies. Monumension sounds like Pink Floyd! Yes, to an extent it does. Monumension does not have 100% Viking metal riffing, and it sounds like a famous band, therefor it is weak and the band has sold out! Oh noes! What sort of ass backwards conclusions are these? In what alternate reality is 70s psychedelic rock 'mainstream' or sellout? Pink Floyd might push a lot of records, and fill a lot of stadiums, as they've had decades to build a career thanks to their (largely) wonderful music, but even by 2001, how many newer, psychedelic/prog rock bands with that same, dreary and spacious sound are tearing up the charts alongside the hip hop, R&B and pop-country flavors of the week? Not fucking many. In fact, I'm willing to bet: none.
So then, why the hostility if Enslaved should draw upon some influence from a legendary band whose star shone highest 20-30 years in the past? And not just legendary because they sat around with thumbs up their ass, but because they wrote important, thoughtful, original and conceptual music which tackled their own ids and the social construct at large. Monumension certainly channels the 60s and 70s into numerous dramatic pauses through its runtime, but any assertion that this music suffers due to some imaginary 'lack of metal' is downright false. A large chunk of this record is still quite heavy, and the remainder, in which Enslaved lets their collective imagination out to breathe, is almost without exception a captivating experience. I'm not claiming that Monumension is the band's masterwork, nor even one of the band's most coherent and consistent efforts, but it certainly should not be written off due to some delusional misrepresentation of its content. It's not as if Enslaved cornered the market on incorporating a Floyd-like dreamstate into metal music (listen to Tiamat's excellent 1997 effort A Deeper Kind of Slumber), but I think they've done quite well with such elements here.
Monumension is nowhere near so spastic and jarring as Mardraum, but once again we have a band here which has never had any real intention of aping itself too closely. I found that the mix of the album was pretty close, with a lot of grime attached to the heavier guitars, but there are some notable differences despite the consistent lineup. For one, Grutle's vocals have a more phlegm-choked sound during the rasped sequences, though they also integrate the death growls of the previous album ("Convoys to Nothingness"), and some psychedelic cleans as in "Hollow Inside". In addition, there's this wavering, creepy cleaner voice used almost like some decrepit narrative (again, "Hollow Inside"). The guitar lines feel far more focused than Mardraum, more intent on oppression than acrobatics, so the layered, slower tremolo picked lines in "Convoys..." or the Sabbath-born drudging doom of "The Cromlech Gate" and its excellent gutturals seem perfectly intense.
Judging from what I've already written, one can no doubt surmise that this is quite an eclectic piece of work, and in truth, it visits a great number of climes. No two songs here feel truly alike, yet as a whole it seems to flow effortlessly, not unlike The Sham Mirrors (Arcturus) or Sigh's wacked out Imaginary Sonicscape, both of which combine a wide breadth of sonic ingredients. Monumension ranges from dissonant psychedelic sludge ("Outro: Self-Zero") to old school black and death ("Enemy I", "Vision: Sphere of the Elements") to even a manly, percussive tribal gathering in their native tongue alongside Norse punk legend Trygve Mathiesen on the final track, "Sigmundskvadet". There are some straight blasted sequences in "Smirr" which should not alienate the band's black metal base, but I found that my favorite tracks here were those which traveled in broader strokes. In particular I love "The Voices", a pretty stolid blackened thrash piece with lots of wailing, ghostly melodies and an incredibly interesting, psychedelic death bridge.
Strangely enough, despite its staggering variation, Monumension never comes unglued at the seams. I don't enjoy every riff on the record ("The Sleep: Floating Diversity" is partially boring, for example), but regardless it was the most compelling Enslaved record to its day, second only to the mighty Frost, and well worth breaking out if you've got your copy around and never gave it the chance it deserved. Part of the sonic exploration here would be carried forth to the brilliant Below the Lights, but in general this was a one-time offering. The lyrics are further removed from the band's mythological foundations, but they are excellent nonetheless, and it's even got the first great cover art of their career (the others were too glaringly obvious or cheap). Really worth checking out, just approach it with open expectations, if not open arms.
On their fifth album 'Mardraum', Norwegian black metal act Enslaved hinted that they were finally breaking out of the mundane viking metal sound that they had dabbled with on their third and fourth records. This was a move that I very much supported, although as far as 'Mardraum' went, it felt more like a halfstep in the right direction, rather than a proper destination. 'Mardraum' is now considered by some to be the band's greatest album, but I would argue that the sixth record 'Monumension' took what they tried to do on 'Mardraum', and took it to a new degree. Refining parts of their sound that were underwhelming or a little too raw, Enslaved maintains a thrashy black metal edge here, but contrasts it with psychedelic prog rock. The result is a spacey and exciting journey that still lacks the touch of the later albums, but nurtures the same adventurous heart and spirit involved.
'Monumension' is Enslaved's most underrated album, and for good reason; it's locked between some of the band's most acclaimed achievements; 'Mardraum', 'Between The Lights', and finally 'Isa', where Enslaved's sound would get a much more professional do-over. While I cannot consider 'Monumension' to be the greatest thing that Enslaved have done- that honour will likely always rest with 'Vertebrae'- this would be the first time in Enslaved's career where they were finally making good use of their progressive inclinations. Before, I found Enslaved's moderate experimentation in psychedelia and 'epic' composition to be somewhat mixed in result. Finally, the psychedelic sounds are taking a more deserving presence in the sound, sometimes here with entire tracks being devoted to the pursuit of mellow space-outs. The clean vocals would never sound so good for Enslaved as they do here, but unlike 'Isa', there is still enough of an organic feel to the production and performance to make the album feel alive.
The heavier elements of Enslaved are much more familiar for the band, being more or less on par with the work they were doing on 'Mardraum'. This is certainly not the Norwegian black metal of the early 90's playing; while the vocal rasps are certainly rooted in that style, the riffs here are much more technical than anything that was coming out of Norway a decade earlier; it is nice to see how the genre had progressed over that time. One thing that still plagues Enslaved's sound at this point however is the sense of album cohesion; whether it was simply a lacking in studio flair or otherwise, 'Monumension' still gives me that somewhat underwhelming sense of continuity that most of Enslaved's music has; the songs in themselves are quite good, but the space in between them only serves to derail what is otherwise an excellent experience. It's still a little rough around the edges, but 'Monumension' is an album that shouldn't be missed by anyone looking to explore what this band is all about; while 'Mardraum' hinted at what the progressive Enslaved would sound like, 'Monumension' would go to realize the vision.
Putting out an album after a masterpiece like Mardraum : Beyong the Within is no easy task. Some bands will take the easy path and create a similar product. Enslaved instead took the hard road and chose to evoluate in their musical journey.
Right at the start of the album, you can't help but notice a change in sound. "I've already heard this sound", sounds like Pink Floyd I told myself. But then, heavy riffs and mad drumming kick off. Kjellson's sick harsh vocals are as good as ever. Convoys to Nothingness finishes off with a slow outro, Nicely done.
The Voices is an absolute killer. The guitars and especially the vocals on this one sound as vicious as you can get. The melodies in the middle of the song are rather smooth, but contrast very well with the heavy riffing.
Vision : Sphere of the Elements is a good exemple of those hybrid songs. The song begins with a sharp guitar attack and then goes smoother. There's a nice Led Zeppelin-esque breakdown at 3:50 before that killer guitar riff ends the song
Hollow Inside starts off as a ballad in a pure Pink Floyd tradition. Very slow and atmosphere music with murmured words. Lyrics explore the theme of travelling in your head. The music goes heavier halfway though the song before finishing off calmly. The keyboard is really well used on this song
I definitly hear a lot of doom influences on The Cromlech Gate. You know, with slow and almost whining melodies. The song is about a fool wanting to bring back his father from a paralell existance. The vocals are really deep and gruesome to a certain extent. A+ for this one
Enemy I starts off rather agressive but loses tempo. There's a huge part of the song with no vocals in the middle. Really well done mid-tempo riffs with a few doom and death metal influences here and there
Enslaved goes back to more classic sounding black metal on Smirr. Fast guitars and drums with high sounding harsh vocals. The only problem with this song is that it goes nowhere. The riffs follow themselves in a bizzarre way and the result is quite dull
The Sleep : Floating Diversity is quite a long song but all the parts are put together in a really well done fashion. Lots of progressive stuff on this one and the outcome is epic! Starts off with atmospheric guitars and clean vocals. There's a very good heavy part in the middle. The rest of the song ends up with clean vocals, keyboards and harmonies.
The outro is somewhat forgetable. Focuses on slow drums with guitars doing weird noises around
And to finish off this record right, why not add a song as close as you can get as old norse music? Sigmundskabadet, by HOV, is sung in clean vocals with very few instruments but is an absolute must. 10/10
There's something for everyone on this record. However, to fully appreciate this record, the listener must be open-minded as there are a lot of different influences and musical trends present on this album. Monumension has it's great moments and a few ordinary songs too. It surely won't stand as the best Enslaved album but I have to give the band two thumbs up for the effort, the desire and the courage of exploring new musical realms. Best songs are : The Voices, Cromlech Gate and Convoys to Nothingness
As any black metal fan knows, Enslaved dominated the Viking black metal scene for a number of years. They put out four professional masterpieces in a row. But I guess all good things must come to an end. After a bland album to end their black metal sound, “Monumension” came out in 2001. This release changed the band’s style to psychedelic rock. Enslaved are no Pink Floyd, and there are a lot of problems with this album.
First of all the vocals are still great. However, they really don’t fit in this style of music. Grutle’s vocals are still very strong black metal rasps with full power. They are nasty, powerful and downright dirty. But this vocal style mixed with the psychedelic sound of “Monumension” does not work for me. I don’t know about you, but malevolent screams fronting Pink Floyd is not an ideal match. There are clean vocals here, and I wish they were utilized more than they are. Grutle has always struggled in singing range and power and here is no exception. On “Monumension” he sings in a tenor pitch instead of his usual Viking baritone way. If he stuck to singing throughout the whole album, this album would be rated much higher and might stand a chance at being a good psychedelic rock album. But the very out of place harsh vocals do not fit the music here.
Guitars and keyboards are provided by Ivar. He usually writes great sounding Viking metal riffs but here he holds back. He is clearly influenced by Pink Floyd and his riffs are very repetitive and dull. Un-amplified guitars are present but they are not played in a classical or folk style. Riffs are poorly written and dolefully fail to impress the listener (unless you like over repetitive riffing that sounds like a poor mans Pink Floyd). Keys are also highly psychedelic. They have that classic rock sound that makes you think of rainbows and mushrooms. Ivar actually performs them well, but they do not fit with some of the more metal parts of “Monumension”.
The drumming is done by Dirge Rep. In most of his projects he has proven to be a very good drummer. He is used on this album as a background feature. This disturbs me because he could have dominated this album with frantic blasting. He does not play to the best of his ability but I did not expect him to shine after learning this is a psychedelic album.
The only solid song here is “The Voices”. It actually has a nice melody to it with more metal than rock used. This works because Grutle’s snarls don’t sound out of place. “Convoys to Nothingness” and “The Sleep Floating Diversity” are really boring songs that seem to never end. They are both eight minutes and are not effectively written rock songs. Pink Floyd might be able to pull this length off, but Enslaved are amateur rockers.
I hate to give Enslaved a rating of zero, but they really did not produce one song worth listening to ever again. I’m sorry, but something has to be enjoyable for me to give it a positive rating. Fans of Pink Floyd might like this, but they also might condemn it for not being up to par with the psychedelic greats. I don’t recommend buying this, but if you do, you were warned.
Supposedly Enslaved went progressive, but as in most cases of "evolution" of bands, this is a regression from black metal art into watered-down mainstream music. It seems like the band lost any sense of subtlety. When it is plain, it just goes right away into stupid third-rate black/thrash. When it is pretentious, it either plays technical prog riffs or throws in ambient parts that don't have anything to do with the rest of the music, just to ensure this is something progressive and different. This breaks down everything in early Enslaved into individual parts, subtracts the good ones and adds some other things, and presents these parts in a horizontal manner rather than presenting them vertically (and by vertical I presentation I mean incorporating the influences into a single, coherent compound that is essentially something new, not layering doom riffs with growled vocals and spacy keyboards). So what you hear is a Sabbath riff after a Floyd solo and a doom/death part after a quasi-Viking narration, followed by an ambience. Add some clean singing, rock solos and sound effects. There is no coherence. No, it doesn't reach the level of randomness of bands like Unexpect on the surface, but inside, it is just as, if not more, incoherent compared to overtly random-sounding avant-garde bands. Just throw in a bunch of influences and make them all obvious, and guess what, it sounds progressive! But of course, in reality it is regressive, bringing nothing new to the table and dumbing-down everything from which it takes influence.
Enslaved on the previous album Mardraum started to take a different path. One that indeed has its roots in their oldest compositions, but still is just more modern and less concerned with being a viking and more concerned with true ancient Northern mysticism. However, Mardraum is in my opinion the low point of their career. It felt like they had to go through the pointless riff salads of that album then get away from the Abyss studio, come home to Norway and go into Grieghallen to find the inspiration to record this amazing record. Basically they had to throw all of those ideas out onto the wall that they did on their last two albums and then come back to a place in between there and the older works and find a medium that creates the maximum impact of atmosphere.
This album still has a lot of ideas, and the reason it doesn't get 100% is due to the fact that a few of them (namely the songs written by Kronheim) fails miserably either from the start or even more annoyingly half way through. The good thing is that most of the songs do not suffer this ignoble fate and were written by Bjornson and Kjellson. There is indeed a reason that Kronheim was kicked out/left the band after this album. One of his songs is like a stoner rock anthem and the other is overly death metal-ish with stupid solos in place. Good thing it's only two songs to skip. But still it is unfortunate the other members let him do these songs, for they miss the point totally of the other songs and seem very weak.
But the atmosphere on the other songs even the weird almost Sigur Ros like "Hollow Inside" is amazing. One gets a sensation of the cold Northern landscapes that are inside those who follow the pathway of the Northern mystic. Like I said, rather then dress up like Vikings and present themselves as being a part of the ancient past in that fashion, they focus in on the mystical beauty of Northern magic, cold mysterious and above all death like, the atmosphere on the non-Kronheim songs really is amazing, and more then makes up for the two songs you have to skip. Enslaved took the outside the box approach that weakened Mardraum and took out the stupid death metal-ish riff salads and instead focused on writing good songs, that are progressive in a way that is good and wholesome. Reminding most of all of the beautiful atmosphere of the first song from Eld, one feels Enslaved returning to the true ancient roots but far more mystical then before.
It also helps that they provide you with a nice writing that explains the recording and the generally very good lyrics which still give a Northern feeling, but are in English this time and do not feature Norse history lessons.
There is a fragile sense of beauty, eeire, mysterious and other worldly upon this recording. Like being high on a mountain above timberline looking across the alpine meadows and watching the clouds move while a storm approaches, this album seems to cast you deep within the artists minds. It is an amazing journey even despite the few bad moments, songs like "Convoys to Nothingness" and "The Voices" (the one two punch that opens this recording) are filled with such majesty that anyone who loves more outside of the box black metal must buy it just for those songs, and that's not saying anything about the greatness of other songs contained further in.
So in essence if you like Enslaved, even the older things, or the darker side of Northern mysticism, you must own this album. It is a mystical journey of the highest order.
I have a confession to make; when I first heard Monumension, I threw it across the room and didn't listen to it for about a year. I was disappointed in the new road that Enslaved was beginning to take as far as their style was concerned.
But now, I'm hooked.
It was with this album that the band took a radical new step in their career. The biggest influence for this album were definetly Pink Floyd, which Grutle and Ivar really got into, and decided to make something so radical, so completely different, that it would be a shock to their fans. But most of them loved it.
Some songs (like Hollow Inside) are as far away from metal as one can get. This particular song is a sort of prog-rock masterpiece, which hints at metal only at one point.
Other songs (like The Voices) retain their black metal sound, but with a progressive guitar twist.
The band also started experimenting with 70s style keyboard sounds, which opened an entirely new plain on which their music could be made.
The two songs I named, along with the epic, breath-taking and majestic first song, Convoys To Nothingness, are the tree best ones on the album, and basically, it would be an essential buy even if it included only these 3 songs.
There are also more songs on the album, they are awesome as well, but I have decided to go into details only with the titles which are the best for my taste.
The last song is Sigmundskvadet, performed by HOV. This is as close to real Viking music as you'd get in the genre of Viking metal. Great chanting through the whole song, along with a typically Norse clean vocal make this a winner all the way. It is also the only song on the album sung in Norwegian.
To top it off, the booklet is also amazing, explaning the band's view on neopaganism and the old Viking religion, as well as their method of a personal Ragnarok with the help of the runes. It is this concept that the album is built around, giving the already glorious songs a great lyrical foundation as well.
Essential stuff, but only for the non-narrow minded. This is nothing like Frost.