After a fairly lukewarm experience with ENSLAVED's third album “Eld”, “Blodhemn” comes to my arrival with this fan already somewhat shaken. Before “Eld”, I was under the impression that ENSLAVED could do no wrong, and while it was not necessarily a bad album, I found myself oddly unenthused by it. ENSLAVED's fourth album “Blodhemn” then may be a step back from “Eld” in terms of the band's style development, but it functions better as an album. Sounding more like the band's second album “Frost” more than anything, “Blodhemn” is something of a return to form, although the quality of the music is still not yet back up to par with the band's earlier studio output.
With the exception of a spacey introductory soundscape, “Blodhemn” is unrelenting, violent, and abrasive, much like one would come to expect from the Norwegian Black Metal scene. What makes this a bit of a surprise to hear is that this album comes after a highly ambitious record which featured 16-minute long epics, Folkish instrumentation, and some attempts at clean vocals. Not all of the Viking Metal sound is abandoned here, but Black Metal has taken enough of a forefront here to mark a considerable change in sound. While whether someone likes this or not is very much up to their genre preference, it does feel as if ENSLAVED make a more enjoyable and lasting impression with the Black Metal and folky material over the anthem-based music.
The highlight here is quite possibly the last track for me, which manages to hint at some of the complexity that would be furthered touched upon with the band's fifth record “Mardraum”. The songwriting here is possibly the weakest aspect of “Blodhemn” however, rarely making a really memorable impact and instead feeling like a few really interesting ideas are tossed amidst other recycled ones and glued together into songs which can be fairly hit-or-miss at times. In any case, ENSLAVED manage to make the record a good one through their fiery performance, which here may lack subtlety or detail, but gets raw power and atmosphere across quite nicely.
“Blodhemn” is yet another fairly straightforward and somewhat underwhelming release from ENSLAVED, although certainly enjoyable, and surely indicative of the band's obvious distinction in the Norwegian Black Metal scene. Niched between two highly ambitious and stylistic works from the band, “Blodhemn” does feel a tad unnecessary in the overall scope of the band's career, but for someone looking for a more raw approach to the music of ENSLAVED, “Blodhemn” is a nice supplement to the rawness they mastered with “Frost”.
(Online December 31, 2011)