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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