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For anyone that ever wondered how a band like Enslaved managed to have their first album released by Deathlike Silence Productions, the label of Mayhem founder Euronymous, you attention should be directed to the darker and grim-sounding Yggdrasill. Recorded in June 1992 and released a short time later, this was the band's second demo and the first to really showcase any black metal influences. As with several others from the Norwegian scene, these guys began their musical career playing Death Metal, under the name Phobia. The Nema demo still possessed a good amount of this sound, despite the more blackened vocals. With Yggdrasill, there are hints of their death metal past, but the prime inspiration seems to have come from that which their Norwegian peers were up to.
For this demo, Enslaved really sped things up, for the most part. Trym's percussion forces things along at a fast and consistent pace, though sometimes he seems to get ahead of himself and comes close to being lost in all the chaos. The overall sound is dominated by the razor sharp tremolo melodies that are unleashed by Grutle and Ivar. At this point, it would appear that the band were big fans of Mayhem and Burzum, as the work of Euronymous and Varg is easy to hear in many of the guitar riffs. They definitely had their own emerging style, as can be heard on tracks like “Allfaðr Oðinn”, but it was still in its formative stages at this point. While there are many great riffs to be found on this demo, some are obscured by the overuse of synth. There are times when it works, here and there, but there are times when its use becomes excessive over the course of the demo. Unfortunately, the band would carry this flaw with them for the recording of their debut full-length. The same can be said of the extended length of songs that could have ended a bit earlier.
The production is perfect, more or less. It is very raw, which gives the guitars a really nasty sound. Likewise for the absolutely hellish tone that Grutle's vocals possess, at times. His voice is a bit high in the mix, but it works well within the context of the music. The 'triumphant battle synth' could have been lowered a bit, however. It would be far less distracting. The drums are rather far off in the distance, which is probably for the best as the drumming is not the most consistent aspect of this demo, anyway. Not that percussion ever needs to be on equal footing with the guitars, in the first place.
What one can expect from Yggdrasill is a much more raw and primitive sound than Enslaved has come to be known for. It is a shame that they did not continue on in this direction. Then again, the rawness is likely more a result of lack of means to do better, at the time, as their material was a little more ambitious than the likes of Darkthrone or Immortal, almost from the very beginning. If you have not yet heard this, you should do so. Pick up the split album with Satyricon which features all of these tracks, plus one extra.
Written for http://ritesoftheblackmoon.tripod.com
Yggdrasill is where the Enslaved’s sound is truly born. Enslaved emerged from the ashes of the doom-death metal act Phobia, of which both Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson were members. Enslaved’s first demo, Nema is a messy misfire that still clings too heavily to doom-death conventions while trying to introduce black metal elements. Yggdrasill suffers from no such issues; this is pure epic black metal performed with inspiration.
Yggdrasill is an excellent example of raw production done right. While there is absolutely no makeup on this recording, all the elements are clearly audible, except the bass (naturally), which takes some effort to make out. The guitars have a sharp and thin tone that results in an edgy, attacking sound. The drums are slightly more upfront, but don’t wash out the other instruments. The keys take center stage whenever they’re played, but do so without bombarding the listener. As a result, one actually gets a sense of the kinesis between the musicians. One can feel the energy and excitement that was in the room as this demo was being recorded. The rawness only manages to enhance the intensity of those feelings.
The demo consists of four tracks of black metal and two keyboard pieces. The metal tracks are all longer, around 7-8 minutes each. In spite of their lengths, there aren’t a ton of elements at play. This is mostly fast and attacking black metal in which riffs are generously repeated. The riffs themselves are all solid, possessing a dark and mystical ambience. The repetition, along with sprinting pace of the drums and periodic interweaving of the bombastic keys results in a brilliant atmosphere. One can envision folkloric scenes of Vikings battling the elements to reach unknown lands.There are also a number of moments on the demo where the tempo is dropped a notch and Enslaved’s psychedelic tenancies start to sneak up. For example, the chorus of “Allfaðr Oðinn” centers on choir and organ samples that recall early Pink Floyd.
The first two tracks on Yggdrasill would go on to be rerecorded: “Allfaðr Oðinn” on the Hordane’s Land EP and “Heimdallr” on the Víkínglígr Veldí LP. While the two rerecordings are ultimately superior—the execution is stronger, especially in the rhythm section—the sheer vivacity of these early versions makes them a worthwhile listen. The other two tracks are definitely the weaker of the bunch. The compositions are simpler and involve fewer wrinkles; nonetheless, both songs contain some strong riffs and keys.
Yggdrasill provides one final treat for Enslaved fans in the stunning neoclassical piece, “The Winter Kingdom Opus I: Resound of Gjallarhorn”. The title could not be more apt. The song centers on a chilling and beautiful piano melody that immediately conjures images of a still, snow-covered forest far away from the hand of modern man. Choir and flute samples intensify the sense of awe and wonder. Unlike many of his black metal counterparts, Bjørnson has rarely indulged in neoclassical doodling; this piece will make you wish he did.
With many of the big name Norwegian black metal bands the demos are interesting historical points of reference but fail to be enjoyable listens in their own right. That is not the case with Yggdrasill. This is an energetic recording full of memorable passages and solid compositions. While this is still a few steps short of the sheer genius of Víkínglígr Veldí, this was obviously a gigantic leap forward for Ensalved.
(Originally written for http://deinos-logos.blogspot.com)
As with many of the black metal demos of the early 90's Norwegian scene, Enslaved's 'Yggdrasill' is quite a promising piece of work from young musicians who sought to throw in their contribution to the budding style. Unfortunately, the band's talent and otherwise good music would be made difficult to listen to through the incredibly muffled and crackly produciton. Luckily, the year after this would bring their first real triumphs, but even as a fan of the lo-fi black metal material, I find that the production here makes 'Yggdrasill' a piece of work that can be difficult to sit through at times.
There is some material here that would later be refined on Enslaved's debut, but as it is, the music here is promising, but rarely hits the mark right on cue. Coming to my attention as a split with fellow Norwegian black metal act Satyricon, one can really tell even here that Enslaved was doing something a little different than the others. Apart from distancing themselves from the popular ideology of the style, Enslaved has many more mellow moments here than in most other similar demos.That being said, there are still the tritonal chord changes, shrieks, howls, repetition of quickly picked guitar riffs and so forth. On top of that though are usually some keyboards or melodic elements which would still sound a bit tacky for the band this point, but just as well set them apart from the contemporaries.
The atmosphere and vibe is fairly typical for earlier black metal, so there's little here that will come unexpected to a more modern listener. Although Enslaved would only reach a truly respectable level with the debut and the 'Hordanes Land' EP, there is a large increase in quality here over the first demo 'Nema', as well as much of the other lesser-known black metal of its day. 'Yggdrasill' would indeed be a great demo were it not for the production, which- for lack of better parlance- sucks, even by black metal standards. It can be difficult to hear the performance properly when squinting through a layer of crackle and muddy recording.
A good demo from Enslaved, and would be quite enjoyable as a piece of earlier black metal were it not for the obvious issues with recording.
Most people who are into the whole viking metal scene will probably have heard of Norway's Enslaved, as has surely everyone who is into the whole metal scene today and of course its significance. At one time or the other you can't skip an encounter with these northmen, because their music is as distinctive and important to the scene as were the milestones of early Bathory. Enslaved is one of those bands that you have to respect in a way or another, even though you don't like what they are doing. Call them whatever you want, they have managed to immortalize themselves within their music.
The early Enslaved works will probably be known only to the die hard fans who were there since day one of the establishment (or better said: ruins) of what we used to call black metal. Raw and majestic, epic and romantic, harsh but creating the most immortal atmospheres in music. Once you get to know the true beauty of this music, it grasps you and never lets you go. The musical patterns that evolve through the raw and sloppy recordings is a relic from the past, which less people and most of all musicians seem to negate. Too bad, since we can learn a whole lot from these old epic tunes.
Early Enslaved material is, like most early demos, not that easy to get into, simply because most people will argue that bad or horrible production affects the music in such a way, that nothing of enjoyment from the music remains, except maybe, a good laugh. This of course is very superficial and for those who know how to savour a good demo tape, Enslaved's Yggdrasil is a one of a kind, majestic masterpiece. The instruments do not sound as if they recorded the songs inside a soup pot, but rather clear for its time, with a great deal of focus on smooth song progression, with few keyboard tunes that add up to the viking theme. The tempo changes and guitar melodies really give you the shivering Nordic feeling, as if wandering through a blizzard, crawling through caves and warming yourself at a fire, drinking mead and presenting your tales to your fellow companions. The music presented here is quite authentic and delivers exactly what's important, using only very few elements and skipping the overproduction and blandness of our time. The eagerness with which the songs stand is awe-inspiring and imposing. Every aspect of the music, be it the vocals or be it the operatic keyboard parts, interconnect perfectly into a whole, that the band named after the great tree of life, Yggdrasil, which is a very fitting name.
What better presentation of old Norse mythology could there be than from the cold north itself? The band members were very young at the date of the recording and only had a vision: to rebel in such a way, that it is both culturally significant and painfully effective. With this demo tape, they have truly written history for a scene of people, that have made their imprint on the great book of heavy metal and dedicated their lives to the more darker side of life, which is by no means at all, unrewarding.
In terms of consequential releases during the early 1990s, Enslaved’s second demo, named after the tree of life in Norse mythology no less, is towards the top of the list. Some say that the true spirit of a resistance is known during a movement’s darkest hour, and in a time that Metal music was starting to die from an onslaught of alternative rockers and pseudo-metallic posers, the vilest and most rebellious of art forms was born in Europe, and Norway was its focal point. But this particular release is unique in that it launches a double assault upon conventional wisdom of what Metal music was supposed to be, namely something that is raw and raging, yet highly apt and intelligent.
Through out this entire collage of fuzz drenched, frosty stream of tremolo melodies, power chords, fast paced drum beats, garbled wails and symphonic passages is a sense of unity that prevails over the lo-fidelity production. With maybe the exception of Emperor, who’s famed “Wrath Of The Tyrant” was the only thing to coincide with this and didn’t quite reach this level of technicality; there was no one that was truly reaching for this blend of extreme rawness and epic orchestral overtones. It is truly a reflection of how much freedom there can be within a new style of music when you are one of its pioneering members.
The complexity of the songwriting on here is also noteworthy, as it goes well beyond the epically progressive aspects of “A Blaze In The Northern Sky” and “Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism”, though it still shares some of the death/thrash metal root tendencies of both albums. The riffs are repetitive, but extremely busy and tight. Some comparisons could be made to mid-80s Slayer and late 80s Morbid Angel, but presented in the midst of a sea of atmospheric coldness that has a similar affect as taking a modern movie with special effects and putting it on black and white film. Factor in the heavily reverb soaked vocal track, which is almost as unintelligible as the early Mayhem demos, and you have an entirely different beast altogether.
Although the production quality of this demo is lower than the follow up “Hordanes Land”, this is a little bit more accessible to newcomers. The songs generally range from 6 to 7 minutes in length; the spacing of contrasting ideas is a little bit more symmetrical despite still being largely through-composed, and there is a greater presence of melodic lead guitar work to temper the rawness of most of these songs. “Allfadr Odinn” in particular comes off as just slightly more aesthetically appealing here than it does on “Hordanes Land”, due to a combination of greater emphasis on melody and keys in the mixing job, as well as a scaled back vocal presence.
This shorter song approach that the band had before 1993 does not translate into a less developed style by any standard. “Heimdallr” and the band’s title track “Enslaved” are equally as complex and loaded with just about as many ideas as their 10 minute plus epics on later albums, but at the same time they also stick in one’s memory more quickly, to the point of being catchy at times. Recurring orchestral themes bearing resemblance to early 20th century film score are found throughout, melding in perfectly with the jaded character of the raw Black Metal sound. A sound that bands such as Limbonic Art, Odium, and Mork Gryning picked up on a bit later.
The band’s quasi-progressive nature also has a member in congress on this album in the brief instrumental Ambient work “The Winter Kingdom Opus I: Resound of Gjallarhorn”. For a work with such a long title, the approach is pretty simple, bearing a bit of similarity to something Burzum was beginning to experiment with at this point. It is dominated by a fairly basic piano theme that occasionally intermingles with a synthesized vocal choir, presented in a reverberating fashion somewhat akin to what would be heard in a concert hall with almost no obstruction to all of the echoing sounds. The sheer thickness of the resulting sound is comparable to walking through a blizzard so thick with snow that the air itself seems to be made of it.
Naturally the historical significance of this is large enough to demand that any fan of the black metal style hear it, regardless of any personal biases either for or against merging the style with either droning ambient music or symphonic sounds. But the contents on here surpass any sense of obsoleteness or cliché, and should be treated as a masterpiece by a forefather band of an entire musical scene that is still very relevant today. It may not have the pristine modern production of the latest Dimmu Borgir album, but taken as a work by a band that was going basically on their own in then uncharted musical territory, words like essential or mandatory just don’t really do it justice.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on March 5, 2009.
The usually obscuring feedback in Black Metal isn't quite strong enough to drown anything out, thankfully. The instruments are perfectly audible, with the exception of the drums being a bit muffled.
It's not just the music that makes this good, it's the driving force behind it. Enslaved waste no time at all, ripping into each song as if their career depended on it. The drums are well executed, the vocals are inhuman, and the guitars blaze along in their attempt to decapitate you with pure sound.
Two tracks, "Intermezzo" and "Resound of Gjallarhorn," are entirely synthesized; no guitars, vocals, or drums anywhere. Way out of place for a Black Metal album, but after the sonic blitzkreigs that make up the rest of the track, it's good. It gives you time to breathe and relax for a couple minutes before Enslaved start pounding your head again, and they're hardly long enough to bore anyone.
"Allfadr Odinn" is one of the higher points; it's the song to play at one's funeral. A synth organ curls around the wall of sound, giving it an appropriately deathly feel.
"Hal Valr" and "Heimdallr" aren't quite as good, but they're still above most early Black Metal songs.
"Niunda Heim" is catchy; don't tell me you can sit through the song without moving some part of your body in time to it.
The last track, "Enslaved," displays the mastery Enslaved have over their instruments. There are only two words to describe it: Fucking Good. A band with a song for their name SHOULD be well done....
Really good, for a demo (and little indication of the monstrous force Enslaved were to become). It seizes your head with its sonic grip, and forces it to slowly but inorexably bob up and down until you're in full headbanger mode.