I mean, just…Wow!
ENSLAVED have outdone themselves this time, offering what is now the strongest, most solid release in their formidable discography.
Having started as a Black Metal band, and in the process helping to pioneer (along with BATHORY) the form that has come to be known as Viking Metal, ENSLAVED have for years been experimenting more and more with Progressive elements. This has grown to the point at which, beginning with their 8th full-length release, 2004’s “Isa,” the original fierceness had become difficult to discern in their music. Happily, this trend is turned back a bit with “Axioma Ethica Odini,” which achieves a near-perfect integration of powerful Melodic Black Metal with a more organic Progressive Metal. The result is an album that forces listeners to introspection while simultaneously pummeling them about the head.
ENSLAVED spent a couple of months on the road with OPETH in 2009, and the proximity to these fellow Prog Metallers seems to have had an impact on their sound. Frequently, vocal passages bear strong resemblance to the PINK FLOYD-ian clean, melodic crooning of Mikael Åkerfeldt, particularly on “Waruun” and “Giants.” Without being copycat, (for it would be sacrilege to suggest that ENSLAVED need rip-off anyone), this influence is tastefully done, and demonstrates the band as one that is open and receptive to experiments done by other musicians (Metal or otherwise), and willing to incorporate them into an ever-evolving signature sound of their own. In fact, the vocals are one of the elements that make this album so special, for the vocal arrangements are skillfully handled. Grutle Kjellson deftly navigates between Blackened growls, PINK FLOYD-inspired clean harmonies, and narrative spoken word that give the album an organic quality that is seldom heard elsewhere.
This is a complex album that never allows itself to become cluttered; to litter itself with so much ‘stuff’ that there really is no cohesion between the individual elements. Multiple layers and textures create a sonicscape that must be appreciated both for its minute details and for its comprehensive sound.
The atmosphere is often Progressive, sometimes spacey, while the lyrics remain entrenched in the Viking themes that ENSLAVED helped to innovate. This juxtaposition of past, present, and future convey that, for this band, Viking culture and Pagan culture are not something to be consigned somewhere to a museum as artifacts from a long-gone era, but rather are something ever-present and transcendent. While many a Viking band remain fixated on a glorious past, ENSLAVED continue to envision a glorious future.
Further setting this apart is the fullness of the sound. It is not ‘heavy’ in the sense that many Metal fans may understand, since the bottom-end does not dominate. However, neither are the lower tones neglected as with much of the rawer, more low-fi Black Metal. Rather, what we have here is an album in which the entire sonic range is explored, and all tones - lows, mids, and highs - are integrated into a total sound that is invigorating, beguiling to appreciative ears.
ENSLAVED have created an album with personality. “Axioma Ethica Odini” is a living thing, for much like an actual organism, this album demonstrates the unpredictability of one able to make decisions and change course, but yet also remained focused on an objective.
While the last few albums have sometimes meandered about in their Progressive experimentation, this has brought focus back to the band’s sound without sacrificing the complexity that fans have come to expect. Without a doubt, this is one of the best releases of 2010.
(Online November 4, 2010)