After two albums that varied quite a bit in their respective approaches, ENSLAVED took a break from album making for a few years before coming out with their third album, “Eld”. As with virtually every chapter in this Norwegian Black Metal band's history, there are a variety of sounds and developments in the band's formula. Wandering boldly out of the Black Metal territory into a more progressive region of music, “Eld” hints at the sound that ENSLAVED would later more wholesomely adopt with albums like “Mardraum” and “Below The Lights”. without completely jumping into it. While some see this album as being a great mix of the older Black Metal, or later progressive sounds, “Eld” personally strikes me as an album that comes up short in both worlds, lacking the dynamic or complexity of the later, while being light on ferocity and the atmosphere of the first two albums. Although “Eld” is still a correct step forward for ENSLAVED, it is a fairly rough transition, and as a result has been one of the least memorable ENSLAVED albums.
Of greatest note and recognition here is the opening track “793 Slaget Om Lindisfarne”, an epic dedicated to an old Viking conquest. Dwarfing all other tracks here at sixteen minutes in length, “Eld” is opened up on a relatively strong note with this track, breathing some life into the music with a lush Symphonic introduction, before going into the more definitive blastbeats and tremolo guitar picking of Black Metal. The music here also shows a very deep rooting now in the sounds of the style called Viking Metal, featuring droning clean vocals and some faint acoustic sounds. Where “Eld” begins to go wrong is its failed attempt at achieving the sense of epic ambition it sets itself out for. Although “793” does feel like a single composition that has been fairly thoughtfully put together, it generally lacks a feeling of climax, or epic proportion. Instead, the music feels like it cycles between ideas that are fairly good, to excellence, to bland mediocrity, and uses them each numerous times throughout the sixteen minute track. The ideas are rarely ever developed upon, which makes it difficult to get a truly excellent experience from this track. However, the ambition of “793” makes it worth the journey alone, and the moments of excellence are used very well.
The rest of the songs here are fairly decent, yet somewhat bland when compared to the material that came before. With “Vikingligr Veldi”, the music emphasized epic Metal and complex orchestrations. “Frost” then focused on a more orthodox approach to raw Black Metal. “Eld” tries to merge the two, but does neither style particularly well, only decently. The heavy Black Metal moments feel very similar to the same writing on earlier stuff, but with less bite to it. In terms of the more progressive orchestrations here, Grutle Kjellson tries his hand at clean singing quite a bit here, but it's clear that he would still have some way to go before getting the vocals nailed. Although comparatively weaker to the previous two albums, “Eld” does sport some cleaner production to it, which will certainly attract those who found the less polished studio work of Black Metal-era ENSLAVED off-putting.
Although this is certainly my least favourite ENSLAVED album at the time of writing, “Eld” is a decent album, if even only for its sense of ambition and progression. There are been a very clear step forward in development here, and while ENSLAVED does not do such a great job at consolidating their sound here, “Eld” will endear many of those who favour ENSLAVED's Viking Metal era most.
(Online January 7, 2012)