Enslaved - _Blodhemn_
(Osmose, 1998)
by: Paul Schwarz (9 out of 10)
For followers of complex, high-quality black metal, _Blodhemn_ (meaning "Vengeance in Blood"), Enslaved's fourth album, must rank as one of the most anticipated of the year. As one of the few bands who are clever enough to successfully challenge Emperor, Enslaved impressed many with last year's _Eld_, the long awaited follow-up to their classic _Frost_. Whereas _Eld_ witnessed the band become yet more epic (embracing the Viking metal stylings of Bathory's _Hammerheart_ to some extent) with an increase in the use of melodic vocals and atmospheric keyboards, _Blodhemn_ instead swings the stylistic pendulum in the opposite direction. Consisting of only 38 minutes, delivered over nine tracks, Enslaved have shortened their song lengths hugely from _Eld_'s sprawling epics, and produced faster, harder and more vitriolic tunes in a more "traditional" black metal style. Though this originally struck me as an unwelcome step back, I persisted in my listening of the album and found, to my relief, that Enslaved still have a musical goal which is as interesting as ever. Though the album's primary focus is tight and insanely fast rhythms, laid down by the hugely talented Dirge Rep and coated with biting guitars to match, Enslaved have not abandoned the many elements which made _Eld_ so brilliant. The Tolkien-inspired intro illustrates that the band have not lost any of their ability to manipulate keyboard atmospherics, whereas the songs, though on first listen seemingly only bludgeoning, have a similar and intricate array of different vocal lines, guitar melodies, finely constructed solos and just solid, well-written core riffs. To put it in a nutshell, Enslaved have brutalized their sound and made their delivery more concise. While there are still a million and one things you won't find on an album by the Morticians of black metal (Marduk, Dark Funeral), there is every bit as much impact and fury. This is quite an achievement by Enslaved -- in fact, I don't think I have heard an album which mixes brutality and atmosphere as well as this since Emperor's _Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk_ and, though I think it has nothing to do with their switching to the Tagtgren/Abyss production, this has a more powerful sound than Emperor's excellent, though somewhat overrated, second album.

(article published 19/11/1998)

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