Sunday, September 9, 2012

Enslaved - Blodhemn (1998)

After the incredibly disappointing Eld, Enslaved appeared to realize that something had gone terribly wrong, in just about every manner possible. From the production to the songwriting to the playing, itself, that record did nothing but stain the band's reputation. The following year, in 1998, they returned with Blodhemn. While this L.P. is a a few steps above its predecessor, in all aspects, it still fails to match the band's earlier output and even manages to give rise to new problems.

From the very beginning of the record, one does not even have to bother checking the liner notes to tell that this album was recorded in Studio Abyss, produced by Peter Tägtgren. This was mistake number one, though it was a common thing for Black Metal bands in the late '90s. As a songwriter and musician, Peter is excellent. Anyone with the old Hypocrisy and Abyss albums in their collection is well aware of this. As a producer, he really fails to capture the appropriate atmosphere and seems to often mold the band's sound to the way he thinks it should be. The worst curse that this album can suffer from is the stench of modern production, which absolutely ruins it. From beginning to end, one cannot help but think how much better this would have sounded if recorded elsewhere, or maybe some years earlier. By the late '90s, this plastic sound was becoming more and more prevalent and was seemingly impossible to avoid. Truth be told, one could make a fair assessment that this album is worthless based off of the info in the booklet, before ever hearing a single note.

With regards to the music, Enslaved really went out of their way to try getting back to their roots, to an extent. Songs like "I Lenker Til Ragnarok" and "Eit Auga Til Mimir" hearken back to the fast-paced and intense songs from Vikingligr Veldi and Frost, possessing much more of a typical Norwegian Black Metal vibe than one the last L.P. The clean vocals, introduced on Eld, are still present but they are done in a much more tasteful manner. In the case of the former, I am 100% convinced that Peter came up with the vocal melodies, as they sound so similar to something that one would expect from Hypocrisy's middle period. In the case of some of the other tracks, the modern feeling is present even with the songwriting, with too much reliance on double bass, at times. "Ansuz Astral" even includes some really terrible synth that kills the supposed 'Viking' atmosphere and gives one the impression that the Martians have landed. For the most part, the bulk of the material is generic and uninspired, even if it is an improvement over their last effort.

Every band is allowed to slip up and put out a bad record, but Blodhemn makes two horrible albums in a row. As a result, any and all credibility that Enslaved ever had was wiped away and forgotten. While the songwriting is somewhat stronger and the production a little more suitable for the material than on Eld, the fact is that the music and the sound reeks of a modern, sterile sound that renders it all worthless. It is a shame that Darkthrone was not more productive during the late '90s, as the rest of the Norwegian Black Metal scene were either wimping out and jumping on trends or just making lousy records. This release by Enslaved is a good example of both.