The early 90s Norwegian Black Metal explosion was, if nothing else, a completely spontaneous occurrence. Unlike many other scenes that started out fairly unique and then quickly organized themselves into distinct stylistic schools, there was no real emulation of sound, but instead a really intricate blending of a similar spirit with varying viewpoints on what was the most salient aspect of the sound. ENSLAVED was one of the bands who decided to really delve into the technical and progressive possibilities, and along with EMPEROR, introduced the concept of Black Metal being a symphonic venture.
Though projects such as DARKTHRONE, IMMORTAL and BURZUM had embarked on fairly technical endeavors in the 2 years prior to 1993, at this point ENSLAVED was the most epic and virtuosic among the rawer sounding bands. This rather lengthy EP is an accomplishment of both bold structural adventurism and gradual minimalist development, stretching a series of well thought out ideas to their fullest extent. Various outside styles come in and out of play, ranging from the typical mix of tremolo melodic passages and Thrash riffs, to some subtle Progressive Rock influences, particularly during the heavy keyboard passages.
There are so many unique aspects to this music that it is difficult to really nail down one defining trait of this band to constantly harp on. There isn’t really any concept of stylistic limitation to be heard anywhere on this entire album. The whole time through there is this middle ground between catchiness, epic scope, and progressive development that is constantly maintained. It remains entrenched in the Black Metal style mostly by the primal goblin shrieks of Grutle Kjellson, the raw and reverb heavy production and the frequent use of blast beats, but you can also see where the concept of blending melodic and extreme styles of music together explored by the likes of CHILDREN OF BODOM, SKYFIRE and ENSIFERUM came from.
If you really wanted to look for some sort of historical point of reference for what actually is going on here, there are a number of differing places to look. BATHORY is the first and most obvious example, though unlike many other band of this time ENSLAVED has decided to incorporate elements from both the early Black Metal albums as well as the Viking era that followed, resulting in the large scale epic “Slaget I Skogen Bortenfor / Prologr / Slaget”, which is half “Under The Sign Of The Black Mark”, half “Hammerheart”. Things get a little bit more untraditional with “Allfadr Odinn”, which goes through varying sections that resemble RUNNING WILD, DESTRUCTION, and VENOM. The closing “Balfadr” gets much more keyboard oriented, employs a lot of acoustic guitar work mixed into the arrangement, and is a good bit slower to the point of being Doom-like, not really sounding like anything well known before this point in history.
ENSLAVED, like many others, basically came to where they were at this point by getting bored with established conventions of playing Death Metal. This boredom resulted in a very different and new direction within the extreme fringes of the Metal world, putting even their fellow virtuosic contemporaries EMPEROR on notice. For an EP in this style, it is well produced and pretty easy to follow, but definitely not accessible to anyone who thinks a song isn’t a song unless its under5 minutes in length. But regardless to what you’re preferred blend of Black Metal is, if you suffer from an acute sense of boredom with how so many bands box themselves into a formulaic style of songwriting, “Hordanes Land” will cure it really fast.
(Online March 19, 2009)