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The King Crimson of viking metal? - 90%

Conan_Troutman, November 24th, 2003

Wow. Was I surprised upon hearing this album or what? Not being an Enslaved superfan or anything - although I am creeping closer to that status after listening to [i]Below The Lights[/i] - I wasn't expecting anything as interesting and progressive-sounding as this. Having only heard their [i]Frost[/i] record from 1994, I had(unwisely) made the assumption this disc would sound something like the previous Enslaved material I had heard(abrasive and forceful, like a frostbitten horde of berzerkers ready to raze a village), never once heeding the words of more knowedgable metalheads, who said that Enslaved's last couple records were "really out there". While not as "out there" as I had expected, [i]BTL[/i] is definitely not as straightforward as one may have come to expect of black/viking metal. Enslaved make great use of not only non-traditional heavy metal instruments(check out the jazzy flute passage during the intro. to "Queen of Night"), but also the overused "epic sense" found in most of today's so-called "black" metal (Shagrath & co., I'm looking your way!). Enslaved accomplish this sense of majesty without drenching their music in keyboards and synths, as opening track "As Fire Swept Clean the Earth" shows; it's possible to create a sense of atmosphere and emotion with just the drone of the guitars(the lead guitar work on this one gives me the chills) and drums(alright, alright, so there's synths in the intro. to this song; at least they fit, and only appear again to close out the track). Standout tracks for this reviewer include "The Dead Stare" with it's awesome "thrash metal-meets-psychedelic rock" outro. riff (if you can keep from bopping your head along to this one, seek help), as well as the aforementioned "Queen..." and "As Fire...". "A Darker Place" ends off the disc nicely, with it's (gasp!) [i]Opeth[/i]-esque leanings, the soft-yet enticing guitar outro. leading one to wonder "what the hell will Enslaved do next?" Definitely one of my faves of 2003.