Enslaved - _Below the Lights_
(Osmose, 2003)
by: Pedro Azevedo (8.5 out of 10)
When your first release dates back to ten years ago, you are likely to be criticized for one of two reasons: either because you kept playing the same style over and over again and haven't evolved, or because you have adulterated your original style and alienated your loyal following. In my experience, this seemingly inescapable vortex of criticism only seems to have one way out, and that is through the quality of your music regardless of the path you choose. As a reviewer, I am not about to whinge too much because a band has virtually recorded the same album again or introduced completely different elements into their music -if- the end result is sufficiently good. In Enslaved's case (even if you disregard the band's earliest work) albums like _Frost_, _Eld_ and the relatively recent (and my personal favourite) _Blodhemn_ remain as landmarks both in terms of the style they helped define and their quality. The band's last couple of albums, _Mardraum_ and _Monumension_, saw them move into more psychedelic territory while still sticking with some of the black metal they originated from. Reactions to those two albums were mixed: I, for one, thought _Mardraum_ interesting but _Monumension_ inconsistent and disappointing.

A couple of years after _Monumension_ came out, Enslaved are back -- and how much they blew me away with _Below the Lights_' opener "As Fire Swept Clean the Earth" I cannot emphasize enough: solemn, majestic and intense, a truly outstanding track. Of course it goes without saying that such an excellent start raises expectations for the rest of the album beyond what is perhaps reasonable, and unfortunately _Below the Lights_ is not the absolute classic it would surely have been had such a high quality level been maintained throughout. This is not to say the remainder of the album turns out to be mediocre, however; it certainly surpasses its predecessor in terms of both consistency and highlights ("Ridicule Swarm", "A Darker Place" and "The Crossing", for instance), and renews hope that Enslaved can again become the force they once were -- all this as they continue to mix their Viking black metal roots with death metal influences (though seemingly less than on the previous album) and quirky progressive passages.

Having blamed Roy Kronheim (based on track authorship) for most of what I felt were _Monumension_'s shortcomings in my review of that album, and with said guitarist having left the band, I had high expectations for _Below the Lights_; and while "As Fire Swept Clean the Earth" certainly exceeded them, the album as a whole pretty much met those expectations. I still feel that these days Enslaved occasionally drift into somewhat repetitive and less interesting passages, but _Below the Lights_ nevertheless features some magnificent material and remains a welcome return to form by Enslaved.

[Quentin Kalis: "Ten years on and Enslaved have yet to release what could be considered a 'dud' album. On the contrary, this is possibly their finest work to date. _Below the Lights_ builds on the new, progressive direction forged by _Mardraum: Beyond the Within_ and _Monumension_. Vestiges of their black and Viking metal past occasionally surface; unlike some bands who seemingly wish to ignore their early days, these elements should be seen as a homage to and a recognition of a past they are attempting to build upon, rather than deny. Nor do these atavistic tendencies act as a dampener on experimentation -- progressive rock melodies sit comfortably alongside death metal riffs and jazzy intros. A truly excellent album."]

(article published 14/10/2003)

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5/2/2006 T DePalma 5.5 Enslaved - Ruun
11/29/2004 P Azevedo 8.5 Enslaved - Isa
1/14/2002 P Azevedo 7.5 Enslaved - Monumension
11/20/2000 C Flaaten 8 Enslaved - Mardraum - Beyond the Within
11/19/1998 P Schwarz 9 Enslaved - Blodhemn
5/13/1997 S Hoeltzel 9 Enslaved - Eld
5/10/1996 S Hoeltzel 7 / 5 Satyricon - The Forest Is My Throne
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