There is no doubt that the early 90's were a particularly important, and turbulent time for the then-virtually unknown Norwegian Black Metal scene. With such acts as MAYHEM and BURZUM reaching near legendary statuses within their underground circles and then reaching a persisting notoriety over their satanic imagery and association with church burnings, the scene of Black Metal was fast becoming a media darling over a legitimate style of expression. Things would get no better for the musicians of Black Metal when MAYHEM's vocalist fed himself the firing end of a shotgun, and the BURZUM mastermind's following murder of Mayhem guitarist Euronymous.
With such an infamy and spectacle in place, it was becoming hard for such Black Metal acts as ENSLAVED to be taken seriously as artists, based on the actions of their contemporaries. With ENSLAVED having since moved farther and farther away from orthodox Black Metal in recent times, “Vikingligr Veldi” is a testament to the band's roots; where they came from. While it may be much less recognized by the Metal community than some of the other Norwegian Black Metal albums of the time, the album proves early on that ENSLAVED were up to something different than their frostbitten compatriots.
The Black Metal sound is here in spades; the raw distorted guitars, raspy snarls, fast pace and primitive drums all tie in ENSLAVED to the other Black Metal acts. However, the music here rests on a different spectrum in Black Metal than the majority of the other acts that had achieved a degree of respect and fame. To break apart the Black Metal sound, there are Symphonic keyboards, and some fantastic Folk nuances. Possibly the most notable thing to mention about “Vikingligr Veldi” is that ENSLAVED decides to avert away from the typical satanic, evil imagery in favour of more nature-based, Folky themes in the lyrics. This only goes to show that ENSLAVED was really making a conscious effort to set themselves apart, and if the debut album is any sign, they accomplished that.
The highlight of the music really rests on the things ENSLAVED does to make the Black Metal sound unique for them, with particular focus on the Folk elements. The guitars are more moderate in their approach, sometimes slowing down to powerful mid-tempo riffs. This is however, an earlier Black Metal album by all regards, and it does share weak points that generally go along with the style. While some of the more intricate riffs here are very powerful, it feels like the riffs that ENSLAVED repeat the most often are also the most simplistic, driving blastbeats overtop to mask what would otherwise turn into a somewhat tedious venture. The production is raw and uncooked, but it does work quite well for that album. The album is very good, but a heavier focus on the 'non-Black Metal' elements would have made “Vikingligr Veldi” an even more distinct piece of work.
(Online January 4, 2012)