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Muddled and Aimless - 30%

CrimsonFloyd, June 30th, 2012

Nema is the debut demo from viking black metal pioneers Enslaved. Bassist and vocalist Grutle Kjellson and guitarist Ivar Bjørnson had already demonstrated their compositional skills on the impressive Phobia demo Feverish Convulsions. Certainly, one wouldn’t have guessed that the demo was recorded by a bunch of teenagers (Ivar was 14 at the time of the recording!). That little demo revealed lots of compositional creativity and organization; and that is one of the reasons that the horrid quality of Nema is such a surprise. On Nema Enslaved sound like lost and clueless teenagers who stumbled upon some recording equipment and with nothing better to do, decided to record a demo. The compositions are disorganized, the mix is awful and the execution is subpar.

First of all, the production is really poor. Everything is very far back in the mix except the keys, which are quite loud. The vocals are quiet and the guitars are weak and puttering. The performance fails to compensate. Here Enslaved are mostly playing a sort of death-doom similar to the Phobia demo. A few black metal elements have been added to the equation. Grutle’s vocals are a little more shrieked and high pitched then they were on the Phobia demo, though he still opts for a death growl now and then. Also, the keys have the sort of icy tone that is synonymous with black metal.

There are two metal tracks on Nema and in both instances the songwriting is really poor. Whereas the Phobia demo was full of unpredictable shifts that kept a listener on his or her toes, here the twists and turns sound more like disorganization than vision. On far too many occasions the music comes to a halt mid-song as a means of creating a transition. Drummer Trym Torson doesn’t help. While Trym would go on to give some stellar performances for Enslaved and then Emperor, Nema is his first recording experience and he seems in over his head. The drums are often trailing a step behind or leaping a step ahead the rest of the band.

There are also two keyboard pieces. The intro is overly long and tedious. The melody is terribly dull and one dimensional. Gurtle’s gurgled growls do little to add the ambiance. The outro is much better. The lead melody has the sort of mystical aura and crystalline tone that one finds scattered throughout early Enslaved recordings.

However, if a two minute outro is the best thing about a demo, then you know things aren’t going well. For whatever reason, Enslaved really blew this first demo. Fortunately, Enslaved would step up their act on Yggdrasill and never look back.

(Originally written for http://deinos-logos.blogspot.com/)

Enslaved - Nema - 20%

ConorFynes, December 11th, 2010

Released at the peak of the Second Wave of Black Metal in Norway, Enslaved's first demo would catch the attention of many of the scene's larger players. Within a few years, Enslaved would be playing with the likes of Satyricon and other giants of black metal. Almost twenty years since the release of this demo, Enslaved have since gone on to becoming one of the premier acts in not only black, but progressive metal as well. By developing their sound beyond the raspy and unpolished haze of typical black metal, the band was able to escape the confines of the scene's relatively small (but dedicated) fanbase and appeal to a much wider range of metalheads. While I may be thankful to this demo for spearheading the career of one of my favourite black metal acts, I can't say in honesty that I found the demo itself to be of much enjoyment. While I am a self-proclaimed fan of the black metal style, there is little that endears 'Nema' from a purely musical perspective. While it does distinguish itself in terms of sound from many of it's contemporary releases, the lack of experience is very evident here, and it leads to a relatively unsatisfying release.

Keeping in mind that the bassist Grutle Kjellson (listed on the tape simply as Grutle) and the drummer were only 17 and 13 respectively at the time of this recording, it's quite impressive a feat on it's own for a widely-recognized demo to be made by such young musicians. Impartially however, 'Nema' is a mess. Beginning with some fuzzy synthwork and raspy whispering, the cheesy factor of the genre hits the demo early on. During the two actual songs here (the first and last track are best described as an intro and outro) the guitar riffs are boring, and almost indistinguishable from the screeches. While lo-fi, unpolished production is expected from both black metal and demo alike, the sound here is dreadful. Possibly the only saving grace of the music is the more mellow tone of the music and synthwork during the two longer tracks, which give 'Nema' a sound that's almost akin to shoegaze.

'Nema' is best considered as a historical concept to the growth of Enslaved, rather than a work of music. Simply put; even as a fan of both black metal and Enslaved, I found it difficult to find much to appreciate here, besides the apparent passion for the form, from a very young Enslaved.

Atmopheric black ambience - 86%

Navnlos, April 8th, 2008

I loved the album. It was quite different than the extremely progressive Viking/black metal mix that I was used to with Enslaved. The production value is at its absolute LOWEST of any Enslaved album I have heard so far. It's their first venture into black metal and they do a great job. In a lot of ways this album didn't really make me think "metal" much, but that wasn't a bad thing. The songs are very atmospheric. If you like lo-fi then you might know what I'm talking about this and might additionally like this album. There's not much vocals and they are pretty muffled, but that goes well with the atmosphere. No idea what instruments they used to create all the sounds and what not in the background. Makes you feel like you're surrounded by fog. It's not even evil sounding, though; it's just very dark. Most black metal has an evil sound which is why I found this album interesting, coming from one of the first bands of the 2nd Wave of black metal but not sounding that evil. The drums are pretty muffled, too, actually. Everything sounds pretty muffled on the album but mostly the drums and vocals. Most of the songs are at a very slow pace, there is no ferocity in their music, only dark ambience. The guitars are pretty simplistic for the most part but they play some interesting slightly creepy sounding riffs that almost sound upbeat at times (very unusual for black metal). There's an almost constant low hum in the background on all the songs. It almost reminds me of Dakrthrone, but totally lacking as far as ferocity and speed go, but that takes nothing away from this album. The outro I especially liked, where a haunting slow keyboard melody is played that makes me think of forests, water and winter. Great ambience and great atmosphere to this album. A must for any fans of black metal or dakr/atmospheric ambience. Hell, I'd reccomend it to people who don't even like those things. But don't expect any evil sounding music. It's a very unique album.

Sorry if this review wasn't the greatest, it's my first!

-Navnløs

Ode To Vikings - 89%

Human666, September 14th, 2007

If I had to describe this demo with only one word, it would be "gloomy". This somehow forgotten demo showcases a young and ambitious band perpetuating their first creation in the norwegian black metal scene, after leaving their death metal band 'Phobia' to create something different and help to establish the "true" black metal as we know it today: dark, cold and unconventional.

The overall sound of this demo is fuzzy, a complete opposite from their future releases. This demo is actually the most primitive and minimalist form of 'Enslaved', both in production (or less of) and songwriting, though this demo still sounds singular and different from the typical black metal scene, as usual for 'Enslaved'.

First track is a monotonous atmospheric keyboards section with some growls and whispers at the background, building quite good atmosphere and leading us to the first real song 'Himneskir Fatækir'. The riffing is well constructed and hypnotizing and there is enough variety and breaks that makes this song sounds a bit complex. The keyboards also fitting perfectly with the guitars and increases a darker feeling within the cold mood of this song. 'Himnsekr fateks' is another ambitious and complex song but this one doesn't have a real impressive climax. However it still well constructed and atmospheric, not a bad track overall. The demo finishes with another keyboards section which is very atmospheric and well executed, a great ambient track which closes this demo in a very fascinating mood.

'Nema' is an imaginative and innovative piece of work which sounds even singular today and was an important creation in the burgeoning of the black metal scene. For 1991 you won't find anything sounds like this demo, neither today.