Review Summary: Darkness, light, and the human in between.Vikingligr Veldi
is Enslaved’s debut full-length album. A markedly different work from everything from Blodhemn
onwards, this release foreshadows both their short-lived Viking period, and their subsequent progressive phase. All songs on this album have melodic bases in Nordic folk music, and they all make use of overbearing durations to create a sense of both arresting beauty and infinite permutations of a central idea.
Enslaved first formed with a clear vision of creating epic song structures in the service of narration of full-fledged expressions of destiny, might, and harmony in life. Most often described as “Viking metal,” these works serve to provide hallucinatory glimpses of a worldview in which moralistic terms are not reversed, but merely mistaken from the outset. Enslaved ignored the entire premise of Satanism as it was simply another of Christianity’s creations, by writing in ancient Icelandic and Norwegian, writing those lyrics about Viking expeditions and Nordic myths, and completely absolving themselves from Satanic imagery, or even darkness for darkness’ sake.
The musical expression in this work mirrors that philosophical expression. Black metal uses melodic bases to express concepts of darkness and evil. Enslaved did not work in opposition to this, but rather expanded on it. The music retains elements that challenge ideas of rectitude and peace, but it is not hateful for hatefulness’ sake. Instead, the band employs its music in this release to create hypnotic soundscapes with the intention of both lulling and revitalizing the listener. This leads one to both ignore that which is meaningless(Christian/democratic/individualist ideals) and fight for that which is worthwhile and timeless(nature/glory/introspection/an acceptance of both dark AND light). Enslaved was able to craft a work which not only mirrored the beneficial aspects of the black metal around it, but also offered a path towards taking the next step after the initial realization that "all that glitters is not gold."
Melodies on this album are primarily composed of short-lived chord progressions that are then restated ad infinitum
. Over these endless phrasal clauses are laid various deviations in arpeggiated forms, leading the mind away from the central narrative without losing sight of where the deviation was born. Songs recall both trance and classical-era structural tendencies in this way, hypnotizing the listener with a statement and subsequently delivering a separate-but-related message while the trance is in effect. This elicits a two-fold effect - the first is that one is beaten into accepting the melodic structures(the narrative tale) as immutable reality, as background, leaving harmony(the individual’s reaction to the same tale) as the only venue open to malleability. The second effect is to create a sense of "drone" without betraying the use of melodic dynamics, allowing for expressions of sonic texture and ambience without sacrificing the narrative ability that has always been a component of metal music.
In making the melodic lines operate as background and pushing harmonic iterations into the fore, the band deviates from the majority of what modern music attempts - which is to create a mood and stick with it, only then(if ever) displaying a narrative structure that still remains entirely within the confines of that mood. On this album the musical structures do not pursue mood as a goal, but rather a method towards something else. For this reason, mood is in a constant state of flux – and this serves to reiterate the previous point that “good” and “evil” are nothing more than absolutist constructs which, by virtue of operating in a world where absolutes are nonexistent, serve no purpose but to obscure those innate elements of the soul which lead to majesty. In short, harmony and melody’s prioritizations within the conscious mind are reversed via these songs.
The “drone” effect serves to reinforce the above-mentioned inversion, by maintaining the melody as a constant state. Were one to pick out the basic melodic phrase(i.e. the primary riff) for each song, it would seem clear and straightforward. However, these phrases are repeated back-to-back, and as the song progresses they come to be seen not as separate reiterations of the same riff, but as a singular entity. This is similar to a cloud, which is composed of many separate water droplets, but is seen as a singular entity nonetheless - with the arpeggiated harmonic deviations and chord progressions being comparable to bolts of lightning and blasts of thunder.
These “lightning bolts” provide a constant re-emergence from the hypnotic lulls into sudden, yet not unexpected, fiery paroxysms that approach chaos. What is unique about this approach on this release is that, just as they begin to crack the song apart into absolute nothingness, these blasts of fury always return to a sense of order. These replace the use of traditional solos as found in heavy metal, speed metal, and even(to a lesser extent) death metal. Bringing the entire harmonic section into a short, thrashing chaos which is then resolved with a final statement matching the song’s original phrasal riff allows the band to construct short blasts of separate, kinetic ideas that are then re-integrated into the melodic “drone.”
In doing this, the songs’ sense of majesty is only further exemplified as the introductory phrases are restated after all other phrasal venues have been explored. These venues are found useful, for their purpose and at their place of occurrence within each song, but only as part of the process in whole. The definitive final statements in each song are always a return to what originally let loose the storm, thereby exemplifying how the cycles of both destiny and nature are long, arduous, and will inevitably result in the death of the individual; but that they are also(unlike us mere humans) unchanging, and by virtue of being inexorable, shown to be pristine.
This serves to illustrate the post-individualism and transcendental idealism that set black metal apart from simply being death metal with Satanic imagery, in a way that few, if any, other black metal albums have done. If we are willing to view the work as its own entity, not as something within the confines of any specific genre, it stands out even further as being an ideal expression of heroism, harmony, and the realities of life without the silly obfuscations we all too often allow to cloud our vision.