Monday, January 26, 2009

Enslaved - Frost (1994)

What is Black Metal? In the early to mid 80s, this question would elicit such responses as Venom, Slayer, Mercyful Fate, Bathory, Sodom, Hellhammer, et cetera. While having some obvious similarities, each of these bands had a distinct style of their own. The one common thread that ran through the works of all of these bands (at least, in the early days) was the dark and Satanic content of the lyrics. That is what defined Black Metal, in those earliest times. The common fallacy is that Black Metal was spawned in Norway, in the early 90s. If it doesn't have this sound, then it's not Black Metal. By the same token, if it does have this sound, then it belongs to this style of music. This means that all a band needs to fit in this category are tremolo riffs, blast beats and screeching vocals, regardless of lyrical content. Wrong. Enslaved may be from Norway. They may utilize the same musical techniques used by Norwegian Black Metal bands, but Enslaved is Viking Metal. You won't find one reference to Satan on this entire album. Here, the lyrics deal with Norse/Germanic mythology.

Frost is the second L.P. from Enslaved, recorded in the summer of 1994, in Grieghallen, and produced by Pytten (as so many classic Norwegian albums were). The songs are more straightforward (and thus, somewhat, shorter) than on Vikingligr Veldi. The intro, "Frost", has a mystical feeling to it and goes well with the imagery that is found on the album cover.

"Loke" begins with a nice build-up, before unleashing a very harsh aural assault. The sound is very abrasive, like sheets of ice splintering and being hurled through the air, tearing flesh and severing limbs. The song structure is a bit more varied than one might expect, as well. The song ends with insanely disturbing laughter.

The next song is "Fenris", which begins with spoken a spoken word section (in Norwegian, of course) before a strange, somewhat folky rhythm begins. This doesn't last long, as the song transitions to a simple acoustic piece, before changing again, to a very catchy thrash riff. This will remain with you, coming to your mind at the strangest times, even when you haven't listened to the album in years. Enslaved truly appears to be one of the last unique bands to emerge from Norway, during this period. You can hear some musical influences from Mayhem, and even small similarities to Immortal, but this really does have a sound of its own. The only thing to complain about would be the bizarre use of keyboards, late in the song.

"Svarte Vidder" begins with some brilliant tremolo riffs and better-utilized keyboards. Grutle Kjellson's vocals are impressively harsh. The drummer, Trym Torson, is also very precise with everything he does. The guitar melodies possess a cold feel, almost cutting through your skin. This is the lengthiest song on the album, yet it contains enough variation that you never really notice. There are brief sections, in the middle and near the end, with some clean voice moaning (or chanting) in the distance.

"Yggdrasil" is a complete change in pace. This has a very folk-ish atmosphere, complete with clean vocals. Eirik "Pytten" Hundvin makes a special appearance, playing the fretless bass. After a couple of minutes, electric guitars emerge from the relative silence, though only adding to the feeling that has been created and not dominating the sound.

The progressive atmosphere seems to fade away as "Jotunblod" rages forth like an unrelenting blizzard. It begins with scathing vocals, fast tremolo riffs and blast beats. There is the slightest use of keyboards, and also typical oldschool drum patterns (not an expert, so it is difficult to describe any other way). The keyboards return, showing some similarities to bands like Emperor and Satyricon.

"Gylfaginning" begins with a very doomy riff that transitions into pure thrash. The drums are somewhat relaxed, while keeping time. In no time, keyboards and clean chanting join the mix. Again, Enslaved have a unique style, and it is very apparent while listening to Frost. This song also features a very nice lead solo, which adds to the cold atmosphere.

"Wotan" is the best song on the album, for those seeking a pure, straight-forward assault. In other words, this is the one with the most Black Metal sound, while (naturally) being as far from that as possible. It is very intense and the cold riffs wrap themselves around you like freezing winds carrying you toward the frigid waters of the North Sea.

"Kjemp med Krigers Gud; WOTAN!"

"Isöders Dronning" is very atmospheric, featuring more keyboard use and some clean vocals and acoustic guitars. In Black Metal, I'd be annoyed with the presence of some of these elements, yet this is Viking Metal, so it must not be held to the same standard. For some reason, much of this song seems reminiscent of Emperor's In the Nightside Eclipse.

This is a very solid album and, along with Hordanes Land and Vikingligr Veldi, the only Enslaved albums that I would recommend. Fans of early 90s Norwegian Black Metal or Viking Metal will, surely, appreciate this.