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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