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Middle child syndrome. - 74%

ConorFynes, September 1st, 2016

I’m torn between thinking of Enslaved’s Monumension primarily as their most overlooked album, or else as “the one that sounds like Pink Floyd.” In reality, it’s both. Monumension seems to get a blind eye treatment even from hardcore Enslaved fans. In some ways, this underexposure makes sense. Not only was Monumension at the heart of Enslaved’s rocky uplift from black metal to prog rock, it was surrounded by two bolder works, 2000’s chaotic Mardraum – Beyond the Within and the band’s “best of both worlds” masterpiece Below the Lights.

While I would argue Monumension is the more coherent effort, it’s always felt like a less assuming younger sibling of Mardraum. That album was the biggest leap Enslaved have ever taken creatively – the risk of Mardraum is apparent in the urgent manner it was all pieced together. So, with that trailblazing complete, Monumension came along to bask in a more clearcut, progressive sound. Even if Monumension hadn’t ended up as one of Enslaved’s most temperate albums by nature, it would have had a tough time standing out in their discography.

Revisiting this album for the first time in years, I think it’s actually quite the shame that Momumension is their career’s kept secret. I only really remembered this album for the overt references to Roger Waters-led Pink Floyd throughout (and particularly on “Floating Diversity”) but there’s a lot more to Monumension than I think people give it credit for. Where Mardraum felt the slightest bit insecure about its progressive outbursts, Monumension settles down, allowing Enslaved the ability to explore prog songwriting without the same need to prove that the formula works.

As was the case with Mardraum, Enslaved still feel like they’re locked somewhere in the midst of a prog labyrinth, and are trying to work their ways out so they can grasp it with a full perspective. Although the overall spacey tinge helps Monumension feel like a more coherent product, they were still at the stage where individual ideas often stood out more than the songs themselves. As highlights are concerned, “Convoys to Nothingness”, “The Cromlech Gate” and especially “Floating Diversity” rank as some of the more dynamic songs these guys have done. The flangered mellowness and anxious clean vocals reminiscent of Roger Waters are what define this album compared to the others, but bolder claims that Enslaved were trying to rip off Floyd’s sound in order to complete their prog transition are vastly overhyped. There’s not near as much of a difference here from Mardraum. Even so, I’ve seen people who adore that album take a fibre-laden shit on this one, so the space rock accessorizing obviously has more of an impact than slight nods usually muster.

From a certain perspective, I think of Monumension as the eye within the storm of Enslaved’s transition. Progressive rock was a part of their formula practically from day one, but that earnest transformation began on Mardraum. I’d say the new style was swiftly mastered by the point of Below the Lights, but it was only fully complete by the time Isa was dawned in all its finesse and polish. Monumension didn’t create the shockwaves of its predecessor, nor did it fulfill its potential like its successor. It’s still a remarkably solid album even by Enslaved’s standards, but it seems inevitable this album would have suffered a case of middle child syndrome.