This was 11 years ago, yet even then it was clear that ENSLAVED were heading on a lengthy longboat ride into more progressive waters, especially when they had purged themselves of the gnasher that was “Blodhemn.” Labelling themselves here as Viking Metal, there is still plenty of the black stuff ready to stab your back.
The intro “Frost” perfectly evokes those frozen lands before “Loke” comes slicing in, sheets of ice raining down as the drums clatter away. Once the opening barrage has left you bloodied, the pace drops to allow for some incisive riffs to expertly strip meat from the bone and the drumming becomes more percussive.
The scene is set then for intelligently written songs that still hold a primal edge, helped by the occasional use of a Folk structure. Tempos range from the rapid down to the funereal. There is an abrasive feel to “Frost” like having your ears cleaned with a scrubbing brush, it smarts like hell at the time but you get a nice warm glow afterwards. The songs work on two levels, you get the sense of erudition where in fact the compositions are far more straightforward than they sound.
Album favourite, “Svarte Vidder” smoothly shoulders you aside with its bounding bass beginning, before the needling guitar cuts its way in. Cold, acidic riffs blister away any wax and dead skin from your lug holes to ensure maximum clarity of hearing. Runaway sections race in over the mid paced body incorporating some of the only keyboard use (and that’s minimal) and also some dead king crooning.
“Yggdrasil” ponderously plods along reaching a restrained climax at the end of its passage, steeped in traditional motifs. Its then ignition again for the furiously presented “Jotunblod” which is akin to standing alone on a battlefield being the sole target for several ranks of archers, it is also the best example of Mr Torson giving it some welly on the drums, assault and battery indeed. In the midst of this carnage ENSLAVED offer a brief respite in the shape of some distinctly Proggish key work. There are also some emphatic bass lines jigger-picking their way to the fore.
Whatever the pace, the vocals are full of aggression and anger and delivered with a dry, shredding growl. There is an insistency throughout “Frost,” a sense of catch it now or you’ll miss it. There are momentous moments by the bucketful with little of the mediocre. Personally I find some of the Folkier elements a bit cheesy, mainly the mournful clean singing but who am I? Closer “Isoders Dronning” manages to incorporate all the key elements of the preceding tracks and arrange them into a song filled with reflection, melancholy and fury.
ENSLAVED clearly demonstrate on “Frost” that they have their own identity, they are instantly recognisable and are able to engage. For all the sword imagery, this is the attack of a thousand knives, pinning you to the wall. Mixing the stereotypical savagery of the Vikings with the bucolic reality of the Homeland, this is a saga well worth the listening. (Online July 7, 2005)