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Hordanes Land - 83%

Noctir, October 9th, 2012

Hordanes Land is the first official release from Norway's Enslaved. This three-song E.P. was released by Candlelight Records in May 1993, later reissued as a split with Emperor. For many, this half an hour of music served as their introduction to the band. This effort is not too far removed from Yggdrasill, for the most part, though it does display Enslaved's more ambitious side.

Right away, it is obvious that the production has 'improved' since the Yggdrasill demo. It is clearer and a little more professional, while still sounding rough. However, for my taste, the raw sound of the demo tape was much better. Nonetheless, this was a necessary evil, as there seems to be a bit more going on here and the fuller and deeper sound allows for every element to be heard well, from the acoustic bits to the clean vocal passages. The drums are definitely clearer than before, and possess somewhat of a heavy echo. The guitars do not seem as effective since they lack the razor sharp tone and severely harsh edge as before. The keyboards are too loud as well. In this case, the band was better off with either the raw quality from the demo or the somewhat more professional sound of Vikingligr Veldi. This rests somewhere in between and doesn't quite suit the music as well as either of those.

As for the music, this is rather decent. "Slaget I Skogen Bortenfor" is a massive piece that serves as an early sign of the band's lofty goals. For those that followed their development from the demos onward, this must have come as somewhat of a surprise. Clocking in at over thirteen minutes, this was one of the first examples of Norwegian black metal really breaking with convention and going for something more epic. This even predates Burzum's "Det Som Engang Var", for what it's worth. That said, the songwriting is not quite as skilled and there are times when one gets the impression that the track could have been shorter, but Enslaved surely gets credit for pulling it off rather convincingly, anyway. The only real complaint would have to be the keyboards, which sound really ridiculous. Whoever thought the odd horn sound somehow added to the music should be beaten. The song is filled with a good number of high quality tremolo riffs and Grutle's absolutely vicious vocals, so such effects were simply unnecessary.

This is followed by a re-recording of "Allfaðr Oðinn". Right off, this is a bit of a letdown as they changed the lead solo at the beginning of the song, making it less memorable and nearly impotent when compared to the original. Otherwise, it still retains the opening moments inspired by Celtic Frost and then the transition to the colder tremolo melodies. Again, the vocals are possessed by a hateful and aggressive tone that really goes beyond what a lot of the other Norwegian bands were doing. The keyboards distract from the riffs, at certain points, but they are done a little more tastefully than on the previous track. All in all, there are not too many differences between this version and the original. The epic atmosphere may be more perceptible here, though the rawness of the demo recording is still preferable to my ears.

"Balfǫr" is a strange track, utilizing some odd riffs that kind of foreshadow some of the material from Frost. The vibe is definitely more relaxed as the song moves along as a slower pace. Here, the subtle synth touches actually fit the music better than at any other time of this E.P. A brief lead solo adds depth to the song, with somewhat of a sombre touch. The riffs are more thrash-oriented, for the most part, though the mid-paced parts of somewhat reminiscent of old Bathory. While this is certainly different, it makes for an interesting listen and is pretty memorable.

Hordanes Land is definitely an interesting release. It seems that it would fit more naturally between Vikingligr Veldi and Frost, rather than between the demo and the debut. Either way, it is filled with rather dynamic compositions that seek to create an epic atmosphere beyond what most of Enslaved's Norwegian peers were up to. Strange that, when considering the split release that featured these songs, Emperor seemed to get the most attention despite the Enslaved material being far more interesting and well-executed. At any rate, for those fans of the band's early period, this is an essential release.

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