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2-Phase System Equilibria Reached - 87%

zeingard, January 8th, 2008

'Below the Lights' is an ironic title for this quirky release by the viking-crazy Enslaved; it quite easily represents the peak of their creativity during the second, more progressive half of their musical releases. At this point they've moved on from creating atmospherically dark albums such as 'Monumension' and 'Mardraum - Beyond the Within' and started to mix things up by using the tried and true formula of throwing random passages and sections at the listener whenever they damn well feel like it. As much as I'd like to lament this clich├ęd and embarrassing hack of an attempt at progressive music it works quite well, really well in fact. Enslaved have managed to utilise the ever-popular formula without being a bunch of cockwits about it, most likely because they don't simply insert gratuitously long and meandering melodic passages for the sake of lengthening songs nor do they get the spontaneous urge insert a section from a completely different genre of music with no real purpose except to give me the shits. There is method to their madness; the brutal death metal style breakdown in "As Fire Swept the Earth" is a perfect example, it comes right out of left field and clocks you in the bollocks, it proves to be a powerful combination thanks to the strength of the main riff and keyboard work. The military snare drumming break in "Havenless" is also another interesting example and in the case of that song is probably the only thing preventing it from being a total loss on all fronts except for the fucking awesome Nordic chanting.

But it's not all about the jack-in-the-box passage insertion technique, the majority of the songs flow smoothly from section to section without much fuss really. "Queen of the Night" starts off with some pansy but effective flutes before moving into a mid-paced riff that moves into an ass shredding solo! To be honest I didn't think they had it in 'em but they play decent solos when they need to. After that they move into a clean sections and then solo yet again! "Queen of the Night" is definitely one of the better songs, being highly instrument focused and moving through varied sections without feeling like you're running the 100m hurdles up a flight of stairs. "The Dead Stare" also mixes things up without being jarring, and contains a great solo which is ruined by the guitar tone being rather 'soft'. Most interesting however is the excessive use of samples, keyboards and clean vocals during the breaks in the second half of the song, this style serves as a forerunner to their far more progressive offerings 'Isa' and 'Ruun'. Whilst in this song it's not too bad, it could probably do without the weird samples which really don't offer anything constructive or talented for that matter.

"The Crossing" is a god-awful song, 9 minutes of bland as fuck riffing. This song is a notable sign of Enslaved losing the plot; it's just such a boring song, so boring it could probably put a coffee taste tester to sleep. The first 4 minutes contain some bland riffing, some acoustic work, and then not much until the vocals and the bland riffs kick in again. Some other wank happens towards the end but who cares since it's at the end and nobody wants to even sit through 'til the end. I'd almost call it some sort of horrid failure at an attempt of post-rock aesthetics but it's not even that, it's just shite progressive wank. "A Darker Place" is a good song, unfortunately during the first verses there are some of the most terrible keyboards I have heard in a long time; they sound like a crystal xylophone being played with a broom. As nitpicky as it is, especially considering the chorus is actually good, they are quite awkward and again serve as warning for what would come in the future.

'Below the Lights' was their first step in shedding even more of their black metal style whilst adapting more progressive aesthetics, and it strikes a very clear balance between the two without treading too deeply into either waters and sucking more than a Thai hooker on two for one Tuesdays. It's tragically hilarious to note that the band has gotten worse by abandoning black metal, well by abandoning too much of it's black metal history at least. Then again Emperor had hit their zenith with 'In the Nightside Eclipse' and then proceeded to water down their sound further by shedding the corpse paint and adopting more traditional elements that produced convoluted albums like 'Equilibrium IX'. Enslaved's ultimate downfall that would become readily apparent in their subsequent albums is having plenty of progressive elements but not enough black metal to give the music an appropriate atmosphere and frankly enough balls. At least this album will stand as a testament of just how talented this band can be; the powerful guitars backed by dark keyboards while rasped out vocals sing tales of vikings and Norse mythology.