Exploring Enslaved: A Discography Breakdown
Discog diving with da boss.
One day, not too long ago, my good friend and everyone’s favorite Venezuelan Half-Elf, Link and I were chatting about life, the world and Metal. As the conversation progressed he says to me, “I’m listening to Enslaved. Do you like them?” To which I had only one response to give… I hadn’t really ever listened to them before. Some of you may be concerned by my lack of Enslaved exposure; they’ve been around since the early 90s and released their 13th album last year. How could I never have listened to them? And to that I only have one answer:
Too many tunes.
In my exploration of the vast sub-genres of Heavy Metal I have often times passed unknowingly over the genres stalwarts. Which, while unfortunate at times, gives me opportunities such as this to enjoy the scope of an entire band’s catalog with fresh ears.
After realizing my error, I promised to Link that I would give them a listen later in the day and report back to him. I had heard them a few times on ROTW and knew their sound changed drastically throughout their career, but that was all I knew. So with eager ears I delved into this band’s 25 year history.
The Toilet has discussed how to listen to bands before, but I started from the beginning, and what follows is a chronicling of my chronological journey through Enslaved’s discography. A breakdown, if you will, of each album and my thoughts about them.
Vikingligr Veldi (1994) & Frost (1994)
Vikinligr Veldi shows the band starting off strong. To me it has the sound of the early 90s Black Metal but with a splash of Prog that wasn’t quite heard in their contemporaries. The Bathory influence is strongly felt throughout the musical passages and overall Viking theme of the album, but Enslaved start to create their own voice.
With Frost the band keeps the proggier elements to a minimum and release a fairly straight-forward Black Metal album. If I had to compare the two I would say Vikinligr Veldi is “fire” while Frost is “ice” in the sense that Vikinligr Veldi has more life to it with a unique movement while Frost is a steady, unrelenting slab of cold Black Metal.
Eld (1997) & Blodhemn (1998)
With Eld, Enslaved really start to come into their own. The riffs, the melodies, the orchestration, the atmosphere, everything is superb. And on top of all that, the clean, chanting vocal technique used throughout the record is phenomenal. After all was said and done with this experiment, Eld remains my favorite Enslaved album, at least for now. There is something magical about this album that entrances me, and the falsetto scream at the end of “Kvasirs Blod” blows me away every time.
Blodhemn starts with a mood setting intro much like Eld. That, however, is where the similarities cease. As is the case with Frost, Enslaved unleash the fury on Blodhemn and ignore the orchestration of its predecessor. There is still plenty of melody within the songwriting, but the drumming pushes it into a frenzy and, in my opinion, takes control of the album. And I do not find that a deterrent; in fact I enjoy it greatly.
Mardraum – Beyond the Within (2000) & Monumension (2001)
Mardraum – Beyond the Within is the biggest step the band has taken thus far in their musical direction. The prog influence that I knew was coming hit hard, and it was nearly jarring how much of a change there was between this and Blodhemn. The time signature variations and sudden riff changes were very interesting to listen to, but I believe it will need a third or fourth listen to sink in.
Following Mardraum – Beyond the Within, I must admit I was even more perplexed by Monumension. It was not the album I was expecting. I must commend Enslaved for reinventing their sound within the manner of 2 albums, but I’m not 100% sure if I like this or not yet. There were some excellent riffs throughout the album but as a whole it felt somewhat lacking to me. Even the artwork, though really cool looking, seemed a bit off.
(Retrospectively, these album makes more sense within the scope of their work)
Below The Lights (2003) & Isa (2004)
Below the Lights is a fantastically written piece of music. My mind was blown. It shows the return of the band’s Black Metal tendencies soaked in Proggy excellence, this time with much more concise writing than the free-form jazz vibe of Monumension. The clean chants throughout are simply glorious. This album is fantastic.
If I had to sum up Isa into one word I would use “Fluid.” The flow of this album and its seamless transitions work wonders. It is hard to tell when one song ends and the next begins, but you can feel a shift in the music and emotion throughout. The solos here have the slow, bluesy swagger of Gilmour that I find very endearing. The clean vocals on the track “Isa” were also a big highlight for me, just incredible.
Ruun (2006) & Vertebrae (2008)
Ruun is a beautifully orchestrated album. Lush guitars swept through my head while the drums kept me grounded to Earth. The clean vocals on this album shied away from the traditional chanting of Enslaved’s early work and strike a new path of melodic poetry. The production is fantastic and matches the band’s new direction perfectly.
When Vertebrae started, I thought I had the wrong band. Musically this album varies even more from the rest of Enslaved’s work. I’m not sure how much I like the growling vocals on Vertebrae; they don’t mesh as well as I think they should, but the clean vocals work extremely well. This album is good, lots of subtle intricacies, but to me it sounds more like a blueprint for a new idea and not the final product.
Axioma Ethica Odini (2010) & RIITIIR (2012)
Axioma Ethica Odini is, simply put, phenomenal. I enjoyed it thoroughly and felt that it was the fully realized idea the band was attempting with Vertebrae. The guitar tones matched the harsher vocals perfectly, while keeping the riffs melancholic enough for the cleans. Some of the song structures remind me more of King Crimson Prog than of the Floydian variety I heard on the past few albums. All of the elements on this album floored me. Flawless.
Enslaved release an incredible work of art with RIITIIR. Everything is mixed perfectly and your ears are constantly filled with heavy riffs and intricate drumming. The atmosphere on this album is different from their past works and is even evident with the change in artwork direction. The past few albums have been black, white and red, while this boasts wonderful, warm earthen tones that seem to match RIITIIR’s overall vibe extremely well.
In Times (2015)
My journey has come to its end, and what a fantastic adventure it has been. When I started In Times, I thought briefly that Enslaved had went all the way back and were going to deliver a Black Metal album. And that is almost what I got. In Times leans more towards the blacker side than their past few albums, but the prog still flourishes throughout. This album is aggressively beautiful with a sense of urgency that blends perfectly and brings a large smile to my face. As emotional and superb as their last few albums have been, I am very excited for this newest direction and what Enslaved have in mind for the future. The title is perfect, and In Times feels like a culmination of their musical history. Enslaved are truly masters at their art.