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Considering where the band has been, it is no small feat that Enslaved have managed to be so consistent throughout such a long and diverse career. I have met progressive rock fans who, despite not standing black metal in any other form, swear by the latter-era material. By contrast, there are black metal purists for whom the interest stops around Isa, if not sooner. For many more fans though, Enslaved's career can be taken as a major testament to quality in numerous forms. There will always be tired debates as to which era is "better" (as fans are wont to do) but there have been few exceptions to the band's streak of excellence since their beginnings at the height of the Norwegian Second Wave.
For Enslaved, greatness had its start on the Hordanes Land EP. The way they fleshed out that potential on Vikingligr veldi however proved that there was something really special about this band. They were a few years younger than the scene heavyweights in Norway, and the album's dedication to Euronymous is symbolic proof that Enslaved paid respect to the local influences they owed part of their sound to. Vikingligr veldi didn't become a classic on the grounds of doing what had already been done however, and even with Hordanes Land Enslaved had made it clear they weren't like the rest. Not just strong Viking-era Bathory influence, but a deceptively strong draw from 70s progressive rock was already a major part of Enslaved at this point. with their debut, they already foreshadowed the places they would go at later stages of their career.
Vikingligr veldi is a slightly bloated album, but it's hard to believe teenagers were capable of arranging music at this level. Emperor gave me a similar impression with In the Nightside Eclipse, but where that album gave that feeling by blowing up the sound with as many layers as possible, Enslaved do so by taking a line from Bathory. Adding "soft" instrumentation (like acoustics) to back up your black metal gives it a feeling of much greater depth. This plays well into Enslaved's Viking fascination very well, but unlike Bathory, they did so without losing the raw edge in black metal. Enslaved have always been a restrained-sounding band in whatever they've done, but there are times where they take the sound close to ravenous Mayhem territory. "Lifandi lif undir hamri" has riffs that sound like they were written by Euronymous himself. Being influenced by one of the most influential bands in black metal is no big deal, but considering the otherwise highbrow palette they were working with here, it's an impressive touch.
Vikingligr veldi is easily the strongest of Enslaved's predominantly "Viking metal" albums. To me, Eld and Blodhemn always felt vaguely underwhelming. Vikingligr veldi stood out because it sounded like the Viking aesthetic was more or less a springboard for Enslaved to do whatever they want. The debut's biggest surprise comes at the end, with "Norvegr". An 11 minute instrumental is a prospect better suited for prog than metal, and in thinking that you wouldn't be wrong. "Norvegr" sounds like a black metal band playing 70s progressive rock. For those who think Enslaved eventually evolved into a progressive band, "Norvegr" proves the ingredients were there all along. Enslaved were progressive from the start, and a lot more progressive for the first months of '94 than contemporary listeners would probably care to think. They weren't doing Mayhem as well as Mayhem, nor Bathory as well as Bathory, but they were bringing a shade of something new altogether. No matter which era of Enslaved you prefer, most of the best things about them began with this album.