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Best Metal Album of 2003 - 89%

CrimsonFloyd, March 31st, 2004

For a very long time now, Enslaved has been one of the most intriguing bands within the black metal scene. They originally carved their own niche into the scene with their addition of Viking styled clean vocals (which have sense become very popular), traditional Norwegian folk influences as well as classic 70’s progressive rock influences. Over the years Enslaved has evolved, leaving their many clones in the dust, as their music has become more and more progressive. Here we see Enslaved continue to climb that mountain, letting the progressive elements shine forth more then they ever have before. “Below the Lights” is a collection of original, dense, artistic and creative songs each with a completely different song structure and set of emotions then the previous. While most metal albums, including most of Enslaved’s previous works, tend to try and keep one overriding theme or atmosphere throughout (a style I am not attacking, as most of my favorite albums take this route) Enslaved has opted for a different route, allowing each track to create its own little world for the listener. With this new approach Enslaved has managed to create the best album of their career as well as the most interesting metal album of 2003.
“Below the Lights” begins with lush mellotrone, playing a sad melody, before the band kicks in. “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth” is equally beautiful, tragic and sorrowful. The riffs are rich with emotion and bring the lyrics to life. The listener can see their self standing atop a hill staring down on a village set a flame with the townspeople running every which way. The melancholic only lifts for a moment during the slow, thick, deathy segment in the middle of the song. The next song, “The Dead Stare” is extremely dark, in fact its one of the more wonderfully dark pieces of metal I have been fortunate enough to come across. After a groovy guitar solo the song pulls you into a dark world, as evil riffs wonderfully layered with a Hammond B3 organ surround the listener pulling them in deeper and deeper. “The Crossing” is slowly builds up from a lone acoustic guitar to an extremely atmospheric metal segment. Next the song alternates between black metal versus and clean choruses. The song concludes as a riff that can only be described as mystical builds up going faster and faster until it finally peaks. “Queen of Night” is another brilliant song. After a jazzy flute led intro, the song switches from rough black metal segments, atmospheric clean segments and extremely intriguing guitar soloing. This is probably the hardest song to get into on the whole album, but in the end is also the most rewarding. “Havenless” is probably the strangest track on here. An extremely catchy, crunchy riff with Viking chants and black metal rasps leads the song. The middle section contains a bunch of backwards vocals over another very tight, crunchy riff. Overall the song doesn’t come off as strong as its predecessors, but is enjoyable, nonetheless. “Ridicule Swarm” is a strong and full of furry. After starting with some atmospheric mellotrone, the band burst into a barrage of black metal aggression. The fury stops for a moment, when a less intense riff kicks in with Grutle’s excellent spoken Norwegian hymns. The highlight of “A Darker Place” is defiantly the ending, which sounds like Pink Floyd jamming in hell, absolutely phenomenal.
Overall Enslaved have managed to make an excellent album, filled with many different emotions, song structures, concepts and instruments. Though many bands put these different elements into use, very few pull it off as well as Enslaved has here. It’s nice to see that Enslaved have taken more then just musical influences from the progressive greats of the seventies, they have also taken on the attitude of constant musical progression, always stretching the boundaries and trying something new. As long as Enslaved keeps this mentality they should reach even more amazing peaks before their career is complete.