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Muddled and Aimless - 30%

CrimsonFloyd, June 30th, 2012

Nema is the debut demo from viking black metal pioneers Enslaved. Bassist and vocalist Grutle Kjellson and guitarist Ivar Bjørnson had already demonstrated their compositional skills on the impressive Phobia demo Feverish Convulsions. Certainly, one wouldn’t have guessed that the demo was recorded by a bunch of teenagers (Ivar was 14 at the time of the recording!). That little demo revealed lots of compositional creativity and organization; and that is one of the reasons that the horrid quality of Nema is such a surprise. On Nema Enslaved sound like lost and clueless teenagers who stumbled upon some recording equipment and with nothing better to do, decided to record a demo. The compositions are disorganized, the mix is awful and the execution is subpar.

First of all, the production is really poor. Everything is very far back in the mix except the keys, which are quite loud. The vocals are quiet and the guitars are weak and puttering. The performance fails to compensate. Here Enslaved are mostly playing a sort of death-doom similar to the Phobia demo. A few black metal elements have been added to the equation. Grutle’s vocals are a little more shrieked and high pitched then they were on the Phobia demo, though he still opts for a death growl now and then. Also, the keys have the sort of icy tone that is synonymous with black metal.

There are two metal tracks on Nema and in both instances the songwriting is really poor. Whereas the Phobia demo was full of unpredictable shifts that kept a listener on his or her toes, here the twists and turns sound more like disorganization than vision. On far too many occasions the music comes to a halt mid-song as a means of creating a transition. Drummer Trym Torson doesn’t help. While Trym would go on to give some stellar performances for Enslaved and then Emperor, Nema is his first recording experience and he seems in over his head. The drums are often trailing a step behind or leaping a step ahead the rest of the band.

There are also two keyboard pieces. The intro is overly long and tedious. The melody is terribly dull and one dimensional. Gurtle’s gurgled growls do little to add the ambiance. The outro is much better. The lead melody has the sort of mystical aura and crystalline tone that one finds scattered throughout early Enslaved recordings.

However, if a two minute outro is the best thing about a demo, then you know things aren’t going well. For whatever reason, Enslaved really blew this first demo. Fortunately, Enslaved would step up their act on Yggdrasill and never look back.

(Originally written for