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Massive - 90%

Lord_Jotun, January 14th, 2005

Armed and ready for their first full length, Enslaved inaugurate their standard of never taking the easier path and promptly unleash a compromiseless assault, leaving it to the listener to stand in awe or plainly succumb. More in depth, "Vikingligr Veldi" consists 5 musical opuses (calling them "songs" would be a much too light-hearted approach), the shortest being over 6 minutes long, and the rest storming past the 10 minutes mark by various degrees. Enough to say this album is not for everyone.
However, even for a chronic epic sucker like me, length does not always guarantee intensity. But after a few listens, when everything managed to sink in and pieces fell into place, there is no doubt that Enslaved produced a spectacular debut.

Do not expect a lot of tempo and riff changes here: this is one of those albums which manage to drone along for apparently insane amounts of time without losing a particle of atmosphere along the way; I have to agree with the previous reviewer here as long as the "ambient" component of the music goes. Think of Burzum's "Hvis Lyset Tar Oss" gone wild with fury, and way heavier in approach, the aggression lashing out unrestrained replacing the almost brutal introspection. Similarly to later Burzum again, the compositions never get boring, and come to an end just at the right time, leaving you longing for more if anything.

Such brilliant songwriting is perfectly matched by a great production and completely awe inspiring musicianship. The wall of sound conjured by the band is so overpowering that one wouldn't believe that at the time Enslaved was just a trio. Everyone is at the top of their game, which also includes the production staff: along with the omnipresent Pytten (and of course Enslaved themselves), we find names such as Padde (of Old Funeral fame) and Hellhammer among the mixing and engineering credits. And the result shines through all the way: apart from the vocals, which are a bit muffled and maybe a tad too submerged in the mix (but still manage to sound aggressive as hell), everything is loud and clear, and 100% free of early 90's Norwegian Black Metal stereotypes (paper-thin buzzing guitars, less than zero bass presence, uncontrolled reverb and what have you).

So how does "Vikingligr Veldi" ultimately sound like? Generally, the music stays blindingly fast and extremely heavy, although of course there are slower breaks which thankfully manage to keep the mood flowing on instead of destroying the climaxes with abrupt u-turns. There is also a lot of melody to be found here, mostly carried by the buzzsaw picked guitars (see "Vetrarnótt"), but the bass is also occasionally used as a complementary harmonic element, such as in the slow breaks in "Lifandi Liv Undir Hamri" or the classy closing instrumental "Norvegr". Synths are also used very tastefully, almost Emperor-esque in their complementing the music without being intrusive. And then, of course, there is Trym's drumming, as always a jaw dropping mixture of insane speed, millimetric precision and devastating power. The interaction between the drum and guitar patterns (there is way more than fast tremolo picking and raw power chords to be found in Ivar's guitar work) is a vital part of the chemistry that keeps the album raging on so effortlessly; it should also be noted that although blasting is prevalent when dealing with such aggressive music, there are also very effective and "headbangable" parts to be found among the faster segments, such as the middle break in "Heimdallr" (the shortest and arguably angriest cut of the album, a rerecording from the "Yggdrasill" demo) and most of "Lifandi Liv Undir Hamri". Grutle's vocals are easily the more "sacrificed" part of the sound, as the songs are largely instrumental and only allow his abrasive rasp to appear (no clean vocals yet here, but it's not a big deal since they really wouldn't fit).

This is an album that truly deserves to be heard with enough attention to be appreciated. Although "Heimdallr" is the instant classic on display, every song here showcases a level of skill and passion way above average. I should also mention the simple but well done package, which also includes English translation for the lyrics (written in Icelandic and old Norwegian, another essential element of the album's timeless atmosphere). One of the best records of its kind.