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While I doubt anyone who followed Enslaved from the beginning could have guessed how much their sound would change over the next two decades, a few must have sensed that there was something special here. It’s 1994: Varg is in jail, Euronymous dead; and peers Darkthrone, Immortal, and Mayhem have released some of the strongest and most influential works of their careers. Yet from the very beginning, Enslaved forge a progressive sound that is wholly their own.
Sure, there are the trademarks of early second-wave BM all over this thing: repetitive tremolo hooks, under-produced howls, cardboard-sounding blastbeats. But similarities end here. Not even Burzum had the balls to average every track on the album above 10 minutes. VV does so without resorting to monotony. There are borderline points such as on “Vetrarnott,” but largely each track succeeds to engage through effective use of changing movements.
Consider the build on “Midgards Eldar” as an example. A soft acoustic intro, then a dreary riff emerges aided by creepy horns and arena drumming. Suddenly, an ugly bass solo and change in pace. Double bass, fills, new riffs, then a slower section. Few others were experimenting with the level of dynamics at play here, but the entire album is chock full of them. There are heavy bass guitar passages, phaser guitar solos, and plenty of instrumentals. The drumming is well above the typical blastbeat tropes and synth use is understated and effective.
While Enslaved would further tighten and perfect the ideas at play on later releases like Frost and Mardraum, VV is a blueprint that was unprecedented for its time and place. Its influences are apparent on various later BM acts such as Taake, Absu, and Wolves in the Throne Rome. If you call yourself a fan of Enslaved, you would be amiss in not at least giving this album a few spins. Those who are only fans of their later works will likely be less keen on what they hear, but without Viklingligr Veldi, there would be no Isa or Axioma to enjoy.
Vikinligr Veldi is the first full-length album from Norway's Enslaved. It was released in February 1994, by Deathlike Silence Productions. This was one of the last records to be released by DSP, as Euronymous has been murdered some months earlier. It may have been a good thing that he was gone before this emerged, as one might imagine he would not have been completely thrilled with the finished product. What is found here on Enslaved's debut record is something that is not exactly in line with the darker and more evil atmosphere that characterized most of the other DSP releases.
The material is not that far removed from what can be heard on the Yggdrasill demo. However, the raw recording of that tape may have disguised the band's music a bit, making it seem more aggressive that it really was. Once Enslaved was able to clean their sound up a little, one can see that it is really quite different from what most of the other Norwegian bands were doing, on a fundamental level. Of course, the main themes of songs like “Vetrarnótt” and “Heimdallr” are built around the same sort of fast tremolo melodies that were common in Norwegian black metal. Even the heavy use of synth was already done by the likes of Emperor and Satyricon, so this was nothing new, either. However, the basic atmosphere is much lighter than that of their peers. There is nothing dark or evil about this, whatsoever, which really sort of sets Enslaved apart from the rest (though one could say that Immortal focused more on a cold feeling than anything particularly evil, at least, from Pure Holocaust on). One could say that there is still a rather harsh feeling that is conveyed through Grutle's feral vocals and the more intense moments, such as the high-speed battery of “Heimdallr”. From this it would seem that Trym's timing has improved, greatly. The sense of grimness shifts from candlelight rituals to something more reflecting the ruggedness of the Norwegian landscape and the Viking period which serves as such an inspiration for the band. Nonetheless, what this lacks by not possessing a morbid and occult feeling it more than makes up for with the majestic and epic nature of the many memorable guitar melodies that fill its fifty-minute running time.
Compared to the previous demo, Vikingligr Veldi shows a final realization of the ambitious approach that was found on that cassette. Whereas many of the ideas were incomplete and seemed stitched together, at times, things seem to flow much better here. That is not to say that the songwriting is without any flaws. There are times when it would appear the certain songs go on longer than they should. In the case of “Midgards Eldar”, things take a little too long to really get underway. The build-up is somewhat weak and drags on, while also feeling a little disjointed from the main riff that is introduced thereafter. With four of the album's five tracks clocking in around eleven minute in length, this can be a bit of a tedious listen. Thankfully, the quality of the material demands that you put in the effort, regardless. Even “Norvegr” manages to grow on you, despite its slow and plodding pace. The absolutely gloomy feeling that it creates is difficult to ignore. It is placed well, as the epic journey that the album takes you on is likely to leave you battered and weary, by this point.
The production is really strong and rather clean for a black metal album. The guitar riffs are much clearer than on In the Nightside Eclipse or Dark Medieval Times, for example. The sound is overall heavier as well, with more focus on the riffs than the aforementioned records, despite the similar tendency to use synth a bit more than needed. In the case of Enslaved, it is done far more sparingly, though maybe not as tastefully. The 'horns', or whatever, are really out of place and do not help the atmosphere of the songs. Still, the keyboards are not so high in the mix as to overpower the rest, like in the case of Emperor. As well, the vocals are at just the right balance to be heard well and for the intensity of Grutle's voice to be felt, but not so much that it becomes abrasive and distracting. The few lead guitar solos are also done well, in that they are not buried in the mix and impossible to hear, like with many other underground releases of the time.
All in all, Vikingligr Veldi is the best album that Enslaved ever recorded and earned them the right to stand at the same level as their Norwegian peers. The only negatives here, such as the lengthy compositions and synth use, are easily forgotten when one realizes the full brilliance on display. While Frost may be somewhat easier to digest, Vikingligr Veldi provides a far more rewarding experience and is much more worth the time invested. This is an essential record for fans of cold and epic black / viking Metal.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com
Vikingligr Veldi has always been a difficult album for me to approach, since I've ever placed its aesthetic importance well above the actual quality of its compositions. I make no secret that Enslaved have evolved into one of my favorite bands in the world, but what was happening back in these halcyon days of existence, where the Norse warriors were carving their runes into the roots of Yggdrasil, was not always so flawlessly compelling. One of two albums the band released in 1994, I've always admired the later Frost a great deal more than this album, and yet I don't think I could argue that this was a hugely influential piece on the large swaths of Viking folk/black aspirants that would follow in its wake.
Perhaps my primary quip with this record is in the length of the songs. Now, I realize that the very notion of historic and mythological lyrics and concepts like these implies a grand, almost Wagnerian treatment, but I can't help but to feel that each of the four bloated beasts on this album is in need of a beard-trimming. If Vikingligr Veldi were as progressive and eclectic as the works the band has produced in more recent years, then it might offer a more absorbing array of dynamics, but oftentimes in listening to this album the songs don't ever seem to escalate, but to simply sail along the same level of intensity regardless of the changes in riffs and rhythms. I'd not fault the album for being excessively repetitive. Sure, they cycle and recycle a number of the guitar patterns throughout each 10-11 minute opus, but never to the point that I felt that moss were growing on my ears. It's more that the central guitar riffs meander along in admittedly predictable patterns that lack the memorable sequences the band will later develop.
Grutle's vocals are also not one of the redeeming features here. They're adequate, but focused on a rather monotonous bark that almost always stays back-seat to the guitars and keys. I know there are some out there who have always felt this way about his rasp, and yet I really like the contrast it creates on their more modern efforts, not to mention the more varied inclusion of the cleans. Here, that's just not the case, and they seem like an afterthought over the streaming, melodic tremolo riffs. Where someone like Ihsahn was capable of whipping up a despotic storm of nightmares above the blasted surge beneath, these seem dry and repressed. That said, he's a pretty good bassist, and the rest of the instruments are so well delivered that perhaps they might be forgiven for this one, slacking factor.
As for the production, it's quite level, if not more level than its neighbor Frost. Both of the full lengths feature an airy grace to the synths and faster paced guitar rhythms, and yet they're always able to evoke this gathering darkness, a brooding storm hinted at even on the brightest and symphonic melodies. I've found that, without exception, the more orchestral and folksy sequences on this album have remained my favorite. Like the intro to "Fires of Midgard" with its synthesized horns and baleful acoustic strumming. Or the near 11 minute instrumental finale "Norvegr", which features a flux of clean keys alongside the rolling, fjord-like flow of the backing electric chords. Where Vikingligr Veldi is at its most nerdy and melancholy, I find it an entirely pleasant listening experience...it's only once faced with 7-8 minutes of straight charging riffs that some of the iron rusts off the helmet.
"Living Beneath the Hammer" might be the best of the core black metal pieces, if only because of the little glistening speed metal breaks and the quirkiness of the keyboard melody over the surge of the verses, but "Fires of Midgard" (beyond the intro) and "A Winter's Night" only rarely hold my interest for more than a few minutes; and while its appreciably shorter, I'm also not into "Heimdallr" outside of the wild, explosive lead. It's a pity, because certainly Vikingligr Veldi is far ahead of its time, not to mention one of the most solidly produced black metal records of its day, even more balanced than For All Tid or In the Nightside Eclipse. Clearly, for a trio, Enslaved had its shit together, and thus it's no coincidence that Trym's drumming and Ivar's lattice of tremolo melodies on this album have been aped time and time again by the less creative.
Truthfully, there's a lot to admire here, even if I don't find much of the actual music to inspire me to break this thing out when I can choose the band's other records. It was not as menacing as In the Nightside Eclipse the same year, but then, neither were these supposed to be anthems of narcissistic, Satanic devotion; but a tribute to the band's Viking ancestors and cultural myths that would persist until the present. I wouldn't say it's the worst Enslaved, since I admire this more than Eld (1997), but ultimately there's just something too disengaging about 11-12 minute songs that never really explode into emotional climaxes, no matter how polished and structured they might be. And that, in my opinion, has been the deciding factor in holding this back from the gates of greatness to the merely 'good'.
There is no doubt that the early 90's were a particularly important, and turbulent time for the then-virtually unknown Norwegian black metal scene. With such acts as Mayhem and Burzum reaching near legendary statuses within their underground circles and then reaching a persisting notoriety over their satanic imagery and association with church burnings, the scene of black metal was fast becoming a media darling over a legitimate style of expression. Things would get no better for the musicians of black metal when Mayhem's vocalist fed himself the firing end of a shotgrun, and Burzum's mastermind's following murder Mayhem guitarist Euronymous. With such an infamy and spectacle in place, it was becoming hard for such black metal acts as Enslaved to be taken seriously as artists, based on the actions of their contemporaries. With Enslaved having since moved farther and farther away from orthodox black metal in recent times, 'Vikingligr Veldi' is a testament to the band's roots; where they came from. While it may be much less recognized by the metal community than some of the other Norwegian black metal albums of the time, the album proves early on that Enslaved were up to something different than their frostbitten compatriots.
The black metal sound is here in spades; the raw distorted guitars, raspy snarls, fast pace and primitive drums all tie in Enslaved to the other black metal acts. However, the music here rests on a different spectrum in black metal than the majority of the other acts that had achieved a degree of respect and fame. To break apart the black metal sound, there are symphonic keyboards, and some fantastic folk nuances. Possibly the most notable thing to mention about 'Vikingligr Veldi' is that Enslaved decides to avert away from the typical satanic, evil imagery in favour of more nature-based, folky themes in the lyrics. This only goes to show that Enslaved was really making a conscious effort to set themselves apart, and if the debut album is any sign, they accomplished that.
The highlight of the music really rests on the things Enslaved does to make the black metal sound unique for them, with particular focus on the folk elements. The guitars are more moderate in their approach, sometimes slowing down to powerful mid-tempo riffs. This is however, an earlier black metal album by all regards, and it does share weak points that generally go along with the style. While some of the more intricate riffs here are very powerful, it feels like the riffs that Enslaved repeats the most often are also the most simplistic, driving blastbeats overtop to mask what would otherwise turn into a somewhat tedious venture. The production is raw and uncooked, but it does work quite well for that album. The album is very good, but a heavier focus on the 'non-black metal' elements would have made 'Vikingligr Veldi' an even more distinct piece of work.
A Year In Winter: Part II.
I know the majority of musicians were relatively young when they began their individual journeys into metal during the 1980’s and early to mid 1990’s but it still boggles the mind to think that Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson were 13 and 17 years old respectively when Enslaved were conceived on a cold, dark night in Norway, the former beating heart of the global black metal scene, in the year 1991. To think that the former was still a teenager when their full-length debut, entitled ‘Vikingligr Veldi’, was released and that the latter was only just out of his teens. Personally, I consider ‘Vikingligr Veldi’ to be Enslaved’s finest release. Although they have chopped-and-changed as far as genres go down the years, this album will always be to me the epitome of Enslaved and is, despite the high average review rating from my fellow members of Metal Archives, one of the most underrated albums to come out of Norway during the period of the early to mid 1990’s when the genre was beginning to boom.
Gradually, Enslaved would go on to adopt more progressively styled music, as well as a Viking metal base, but I have almost always considered this to be a more-or-less black metal album with a few ambient tinges along the lines of Burzum’s ‘Hvis Lyset Tar Oss’, without the long ambient track to lead us out -- although this album does end with an epic ten minute plus instrumental song. As with most releases during this period, the style of the album consists of a lot of juxtaposition. Although the riffs and central structure of most of the songs appears to be fairly repetitive and simplistic, as shown wonderfully during the first two songs, which also happen to be the best two songs on the album, there is a lot of creativity going on beneath the surface monotony which sees the bass take up its now typical position behind the guitars, following it strictly during songs like ‘Vetrarnótt’.
For example, the cold and raw rasped vocals are met by seemingly equally cold and raw guitar riffs but, to me, there is a warmth to the melodies which ensue and, taking into account the infrequent emphasis on keyboards and synths, the warmth of the songs, in particular the likes of ‘Vetrarnótt’, is juxtaposed nicely with the type of bleak, cold material the second wave of Scandinavian black metal became famous for. Much of the material is as cold as we’ve come to expect of second wave material, but that juxtaposed warmth of the melodies (and synths) is wonderful and adds a side to this type of music, in that particular era, that wasn’t heard of much. Nowadays of course it’s reproduced all the time, so Enslaved showed a huge amount of vision at that point in time, especially for such young, albeit gifted musicians. Songs like the aforementioned are quick-off-the-mark, unlike the opening song which includes a softer introduction.
There is definitely a wintry feel to this album, with connotations of cold and ice spewing forth from every corner of the atmosphere. The twinkling symphonies of the keyboards are like icicles and the tremolo based style of riffing is like a blizzard of melodies and catchy rhythms, especially on songs like ‘Lifandi Liv Undir Hamri’. The production isn’t as dark as that on records during the same period, but it still manages to encapsulate the feeling of desolation and winter perfectly, particularly through the work by the bass, which I had initially expected to be largely inaudible but you can definitely make it out over the repetitious riffs, and guitars. The production fit’s the sound of the album perfectly and doesn’t overshadow aspects like the bass, but also doesn’t place too much emphasis on areas like the guitars, or double bass, or even the vocals which can often overpower when a vocalists ego becomes an issue.
The keyboard ambiance plays a significant role in the accessibility of the album, given how repetitive certain aspects of the album can be and given how passionate the vocal stylings are. The keyboards on songs like ‘Lifandi Liv Undir Hamri’ are certainly reminiscent of some of Varg’s work on keyboards, although Enslaved like to keep the influence of the keyboards to a minimum, in contrast to how Varg loved to integrate keyboards into his mid-era albums as much as possible, culminating in the epic ‘Tomhet’ instrumental found on ‘Hvis Lyset Tar Oss’. The album isn’t all about the unrelenting onset of winter through tremolo riffs, double bass and rasped vocals as ‘Midgards Eldar’ indicates with an acoustic build-up and solid work alongside the epic sounding synths. Of course, this isn’t a prominent feature throughout as the more traditional elements return within a few minutes. In conclusion, this is one of the more underrated second wave efforts despite its cult status. This album helped peak my interest in black metal, Norway and everything else that went into shaping this magical offering.
Viking metal from Norway is here right on this very album. Real Viking metal that is, meaning a subgenre of black metal. Sure, Amon Amarth and some Ensiferum are all fine and well but it is not Viking metal to me. A predominant lyrical theme does not make a band such. Furthurmore, even just being a Scandinavian black metal band that does an album with lyrics about Norse mythology and the like still does not satisfy the requirement to be deemed Viking metal. If you need an example of this pronouncement then go listen to Natteferd by Ragnarok. It's got the lyrics, the obvious band name but the album doesn't really conjure anything up that reminds you of the world of the Norseman does it? Ah-ha! (The exclamation not the pop band despite the fact that they hail from Norway too and no, they are not Viking music either and besides they're spelled differently but now that this parenthesized reminder to the hypothetically possible misinformed is in danger of growing into a serpentine run-on sentence of epic proportions that no man Norse or otherwise has ever seen, I better get back to Enslaved and make my point-and quick!).
Wait..but you see, there was actually a point there to be made with that about Vikingligr Veldi. Because that's what this album is like: the musical equivalent of a run-on. It willingly provides more information than you needed or would ever get about a given subject than you thought you knew was possible and without being able to take a breath. It's elongation is crafted with enough grace that after you hear enough you realize you are viewing the serpent at a segment. But for me, the information was not more than I needed. I still can't get enough of this record.
The day I debuted this album to my stereo, I at first thought it was a little bit more progressive sounding than what I was used to for black/Viking metal. And as I said before, I came to realize there was a good reason it is like that. As with the demonstrative run-on again(it's a welcome thing in this case), Vikingligr Veldi contains two independent clauses: one to enrapture you with Viking myth, traditions and battle and the other calmer moments to reflect and remember the vision quest of the Viking. Only that's not all. It's about the Norwegian aspect of the legends. More about that in a minute.
Lifandi Lif Undir Hamri starts with a spacey little intro. The keyboard notes running throughout these first couple moments seem to be as a sort of lap dissolve to this flashback into the legendary Viking history of NORWAY and I say that strongly with purpose but again bear with me for a bit longer when I get down to that. Anyway back to this song Lifandi. Ivar gives Ihsahn and Samoth a run for the plunder when it comes to riff writing and playing here. It's pretty thrashy but this is more vivid and picturesque than anything you can find in an actual pure eighties thrash song. The guitars are just pure good knack for playing rock solid ambiance. Every instrument, note and transition sounds like it belongs here and the only target in mind is to epically convey the might of the noble savage in Norway. The buzzsaw riffs on here are long drawn and thick as epic should be. Take notice of how they sound of a mist and fogginess abound. You don't need to me to tell you that these epic riffs evoke images of the long, heroically crafted contours of a Viking longship built from a tenacious wood. She is strong and steady and ready for resettlement-in Norway.
Vetrarnótt. Say it. Heidi Klum could be wearing her hair in valkyrie braids while being done doggy style screaming "Vetrarnótt!" while climaxing with this song playing loud and clear and it would be enough for her to swear off Seal. Not to be crude or cavalier but sometimes there are times when Kiss from a Rose will not do. Try a violent thunderclap of a beach landing by a pissed off but proud platoon of beserkers. Simply put: this is the best Viking metal song in the history of black fucking metal. For a millenia ago, those brave men of Scandinavia were forced to capitulate to the armies of Rome and swear allegiance to Christ. What does this have to do with the track? This is a song that sounds like that last gasp of pagan Viking vaunt that was only whispered of in the Northlands of woebegone years since but now made to be heard by Enslaved. The same choking buzzsaw guitar from Lifandi is carried over unto here. When it just comes on, the timing is incredible. It's as if it was just there ringing from the past the whole time. The tempo from right out of the gate is masterful that way. Trym Torson must be given credit for this. His furious hell skinning doesn't let up one bit. Tenacity and reckless abandon in that larruping is perpetual but still genuine and life like. The song is very simple in construction and hypnotic in its repetition. It's like stumbling into the middle of a bloody battle on the shore. Violence and chaos should sound this long and blunt in black metal. Grutle's vocals are that witch-y rasp that lines out all the bloodsoaked action of Norse battle. You can hear the big ballsy Viking horn drifting in and about with fire and luminosity. It's there and to miss it even under the fog of war that the riffs depict is unthinkable. There's a certain washed out fury of echo of their buzzing that transfers at the end chorus that I have not heard done so right since Bathory's first album.
Now to the whole Norway thing. I know my emphasizing of it was like opening a fortune cookie and always habitually attaching the words "in bed" to whatever the little strip of paper prophesized to you but nevertheless it stands to reason that Vikingligr Veldi more than any other album of the classic black metal era strongly waves a flag of a romanticized nationalism for Viking culture of Norway in every note. This album was put out by Deathlike Silence Records for a very good reason. It bonded musically very well with what Euronymous was pioneering in his guitar riffing too. Albums like DMDS and Burzum had an atmosphere that had you coming away with a certain impression for an atmosphere of dense, heavily canopied forests under a lunar frontier. In a review for Borknagar, I described how Norwegians love their homogeneous culture at least when compared to neighboring European cultures more or less. That applies more than ever with this album. Vikings came from Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Enslaved of course represents Norway where many of the hordes from there generally colonized the more desolate lands like Vinland. Remoteness and melancholy! You heard it in Burzum riffs and on DMDs just as you hear it on Vikingligr Veldi. Bathory was from Sweden and I don't know about you but when I hear Hammerheart, I picture journeys at more easterly fronts that Swedish vikings were known for. I'm telling you, it's all in the riffs and beats that these Scandinavians can make their brand of black metal stand out. Norse identity is well represented here on this album. There's no other way of explaining it about this album.
I mentioned the more mellow moments in songs like Midgards Eldar and Norvegr and they are songs that imply a notion that the coastal population where Norwegian Vikings came from really did also choose to settle into vast forested interiors of the peninsula as you would expect of something found in Burzum too. The riffs are slowed down but then sped up back to a chariot in battle mode. The acoustic passages sound like they were inspired by proficient Spanish guitar picking. There is little doubt with these moments of chromatic pause that you can find this atmosphere in other bands Euronymous took under his dark wing. The final message across this long serpent reads Made in Norway.
It seems that on this website, many works are analyzed and reviewed by eager metalheads within days of their initial hearing of the album. Some want to simply rant about how a band "sold out" or "is soooo overrated dude", while others are merely seeking more points and write a quick review that takes no creative risks and remains as inoffensive as possible. On the other hand, certain albums explore such vast worlds within their plastic confines, and deserve a very long period of analysis before a conclusion can be drawn by the listener.
Enslaved's "Vinkinglgr Veldi" just happens to be one of those albums. I had first heard this acclaimed release when I was 14, about 2 years ago. Young, impressionable, and eager to explore new styles of metal, I was ready and willing to give almost any recommended band a listen. I figured that this band Enslaved had to be good; Norway? check. One-word, cool-sounding name? check. Pagan, pre-Christian image? check. All that was left was actually listening to the music. Although mostly accustomed to the over-produced pomp of Dimmu Borgir and later Emperor, I was very impressed with Enslaved from the very first note of "Lifandi Liv Undir Hamri". However, I found it hard at 14 years old to appreciate the atmosphere and narrative structure of the very long pieces present on this album. It wouldn't be until much later that I began to fully appreciate "Vikinglgr Veldi" for what it is, an absolute masterpiece and landmark of both black and viking metal.
It is common knowledge amongst black metal enthusiasts that this kind of music is best when played at night. Few bands surpass early Enslaved's ability to create the perfect nocturnal atmosphere. Epic, lengthy song structures allow these pieces to fully realize themselves, eventually reaching climactic moments not unlike the Norse mythology-inspired masterpieces of Richard Wagner. Occasional dissonance hints at the Enslaved to come, while the raspy, limited usage of vocals aids the narrative structure by describing stories of Viking lore in the tongue of the band's pagan forefathers. The strongest track on the album is definately "Midgard's Eldar", but I still personally prefer "Lifandi Liv Undir Hamri". Despite such preferences, the album as a whole is very consistent, although the thrashier track lifted from the "Yggdrasil" demo seems a tad out of place and short in an album filled with epics that stretch over the 10 minute mark. It's a good song, but doesn't quite acheive the grandeur and majesty of other pieces present on this album. When used correctly (at nighttime), this album truly takes the listener 1000 years back in time to the cold shores of Norway, where mighty Norsemen prepare to plunder shores afar.
Modern black/viking metal bands should listen to this album and take note! Notice the selective use of keyboards, which help to either establish the general tone of the song or provide backing ambience for the guitars and drums. Observe how there are no cheesy folk riffs, but the influence is quite present and fits the Asatru/pre-Christian perspective perfectly. Behold, the production is not too polished but is also not terrible enough to limit the power of these songs.
Enslaved was probably the last really good band to work the Viking image, which doesn't really leave a lot of space considering the only band that predated them in this sub-sub-genre was Bathory. While not every viking metal band after Enslaved was terrible, none of them (including Enslaved) can live up to the standard set on this album, excluding its follow-up, "Frost". Unfortunately, for every decent viking-obsessed act (Thyrfing), you have several useless bands that contribute almost nothing artistically (Ensiferum, Finntroll, Windir).
I highly recommend this album to anyone that enjoys the aforementioned black and viking genres, or to someone who wants to experience the black metal atmosphere at its best. The fact that it was reissued with the incredible "Hordane's Land" EP only sweetens the deal.
This is the cd release that solidified Enslaved as the heavyweight champion of Viking metal (along with Bathory). After reading the last review I had to add my 2 cents, as I think that the other reviewer is not coming at this release with the proper context. Lets remember that Enslaved is one of the originators (along with later Bathory whose viking works pre-date Enslaved) of this genre (releases like the Hordanes Land EP is one of the greatest pieces of art ever to these ears), and that this album came out in the early nineties (1994 to be exact) and that their Windir cover came 10 years later, so some changes both in production and in other aspects are to be expected, but I digress.
The material found here is quite impressive.. epic with long sprawling songs (averaging around 10 minutes per song) and hypnotic riffs, IE: Vetrarnatt in particular with one of the most breathtaking moments ever found in any song. It seems that Enslaved attempt on this album is to keep the aesthetic constraints of the second wave of black metal, but expand the thoughts outside of the typical content of standard black metal of the time, effectively establishing an extreme style of Viking metal. One can look at this album (and Eld) as a blueprint for bands like Moonsorrow, Windir et al... in the genre of viking metal.
This album gives me a nostalgic feel that makes me long for simpler times without the societal woes, pitfalls and bullshit that we have to deal with nowadays. It truly is a classic from one of the strongest aesthetic eras of black metal music and its kin, and is worthy of your respect.
Let me just start by stating that Enslaved are my favorite band, without a doubt. Each of their releases is different than the last, yet somehow connected to the previous release, in ways that become apparent after a long time of listening to a particular CD of theirs.
Their style is forever changing, yet in its' essence, it remains the same.
While their latest releases are packed with cryptical lyrics about inner-growth, of neopaganism and whatnot, their first works of art (because that's what they are!) were relentless, aggressive, total Viking destruction, yet performed and written in such a way that they went far far beyond your regular black metal bands.
Why should Vikingligr Veldi be any different?
The songs on the album are rather long, the sound is cruder than on later releases (although it can be quite easily compared to the later Frost album), and Grutle's amazing vocals are black only, none of the beautiful clean vocals or chanting that appear on later CDs are present, although with the greatness of the way that the songs are arranged, the vocals never ever become boring, even though the songs are very long, averaging at about 10 minutes. The guitars are pretty standard stuff, although they shine through majestically on a few occasions, when they songs slow down (e.g. in Heimdallr and Norvegr). Keyboards also play a much larger role than on the next release.
A less aggressive album than Frost, more majestic than Eld. The songs paint a landscape of endless ice and frozen fjords. Truly, if I were to ask myself, if there is one band in extreme metal which transcends the boundaries of metal itself, the answer would be one and only: Enslaved.
Armed and ready for their first full length, Enslaved inaugurate their standard of never taking the easier path and promptly unleash a compromiseless assault, leaving it to the listener to stand in awe or plainly succumb. More in depth, "Vikingligr Veldi" consists 5 musical opuses (calling them "songs" would be a much too light-hearted approach), the shortest being over 6 minutes long, and the rest storming past the 10 minutes mark by various degrees. Enough to say this album is not for everyone.
However, even for a chronic epic sucker like me, length does not always guarantee intensity. But after a few listens, when everything managed to sink in and pieces fell into place, there is no doubt that Enslaved produced a spectacular debut.
Do not expect a lot of tempo and riff changes here: this is one of those albums which manage to drone along for apparently insane amounts of time without losing a particle of atmosphere along the way; I have to agree with the previous reviewer here as long as the "ambient" component of the music goes. Think of Burzum's "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" gone wild with fury, and way heavier in approach, the aggression lashing out unrestrained replacing the almost brutal introspection. Similarly to later Burzum again, the compositions never get boring, and come to an end just at the right time, leaving you longing for more if anything.
Such brilliant songwriting is perfectly matched by a great production and completely awe inspiring musicianship. The wall of sound conjured by the band is so overpowering that one wouldn't believe that at the time Enslaved was just a trio. Everyone is at the top of their game, which also includes the production staff: along with the omnipresent Pytten (and of course Enslaved themselves), we find names such as Padde (of Old Funeral fame) and Hellhammer among the mixing and engineering credits. And the result shines through all the way: apart from the vocals, which are a bit muffled and maybe a tad too submerged in the mix (but still manage to sound aggressive as hell), everything is loud and clear, and 100% free of early 90's Norwegian Black Metal stereotypes (paper-thin buzzing guitars, less than zero bass presence, uncontrolled reverb and what have you).
So how does "Vikingligr Veldi" ultimately sound like? Generally, the music stays blindingly fast and extremely heavy, although of course there are slower breaks which thankfully manage to keep the mood flowing on instead of destroying the climaxes with abrupt u-turns. There is also a lot of melody to be found here, mostly carried by the buzzsaw picked guitars (see "Vetrarnótt"), but the bass is also occasionally used as a complementary harmonic element, such as in the slow breaks in "Lifandi Liv Undir Hamri" or the classy closing instrumental "Norvegr". Synths are also used very tastefully, almost Emperor-esque in their complementing the music without being intrusive. And then, of course, there is Trym's drumming, as always a jaw dropping mixture of insane speed, millimetric precision and devastating power. The interaction between the drum and guitar patterns (there is way more than fast tremolo picking and raw power chords to be found in Ivar's guitar work) is a vital part of the chemistry that keeps the album raging on so effortlessly; it should also be noted that although blasting is prevalent when dealing with such aggressive music, there are also very effective and "headbangable" parts to be found among the faster segments, such as the middle break in "Heimdallr" (the shortest and arguably angriest cut of the album, a rerecording from the "Yggdrasill" demo) and most of "Lifandi Liv Undir Hamri". Grutle's vocals are easily the more "sacrificed" part of the sound, as the songs are largely instrumental and only allow his abrasive rasp to appear (no clean vocals yet here, but it's not a big deal since they really wouldn't fit).
This is an album that truly deserves to be heard with enough attention to be appreciated. Although "Heimdallr" is the instant classic on display, every song here showcases a level of skill and passion way above average. I should also mention the simple but well done package, which also includes English translation for the lyrics (written in Icelandic and old Norwegian, another essential element of the album's timeless atmosphere). One of the best records of its kind.
This is the first full lenght ablum by Enlaved (don't let the tracklisting fool you the album runs over 50 minutes) released after the promissing Hordanes land split with Emperor.
A lot more focussed than Hordanes Land, Vikingligr Veldis offers a perfect mixture of Black Metal and, dare I say it, Ambient. The songs are all built around long, melodic and beautifully paced riffs that spiral and twist through the landscapes, deities and legends envisioned within the lyrical concept.
The production is perfect for this kind of music, the guitars are fairly highpitched, the bass is overdriven unto the point where it sounds almost like a downtuned guitar.
The drums are thunderous and intens, and the electronics used are perfectly balanced to complete the atmospheric vibe the guitars and bass create.
Grutle Kjellson's vocals are, as always strong and well paced.
This guy never sings a word to much.
And that's quite an accomplishment in a 12 minute song :-)
Toppers of the album are Vetrarnot and Norvegr, The former simply because of of it's raging blizzardlike speed and ferocious drumming(can you name one other drummer who can pull off a blast for about 4 minutes? with no breaks no changes in accentuation?). The latter is a ten minute instrumental epos that actually show you the beauty of Norway, a desolate and majestic beauty you must have seen to believe...
This music however is next best thing.