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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.