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Living Life Beneath the Hammer - 95%

invoked, April 28th, 2007

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.