Review Summary: An awkard transition that cannot satisfy fans of their earlier work, or fans of their newer stuff.
Norwegian heroes Enslaved submitted this third full length album in 1997, long after the ashes of the churches were cold and Euronymous was long dead. Many of the founding Norwegian bands began to find substantial commercial success in their craft - the criminal activity was no longer necessary. All that was left to do was to expand and progress the genre. Throughout their formative years, Enslaved always leaned towards the more progressive side of black metal, and their junior effort Eld
is no exception. This third outing sees the band exploring more familiar territory with long epic numbers and vast instrumental passages.
covers much of the same Viking focused lyrical themes as Enslaved's previous efforts, the overall tone of the album is a bit lighter. This might be due in part to the mix which I will get to, but there is a more hook-oriented focus in the song writing which adds to this as well. There are some pure black metal moments, but they are more sparse and spread out through the album. There might have been an attempt to appeal to a larger audience as the commercial value of black metal was now a very real and motivating factor for a lot of bands.
Kjellson covers the vocal duties once again and he is definitely one of the highlights of the album. His black metal voice is still raw and savage, while his singing voice is satisfyingly low and ambient in the mix. Album standout 793
is a long and transitional track featuring a plodding beat and Kjellson's deep, dark singing voice. The song's over 16 minute running time is never an issue and it is easily the album's finest moment.
After the brilliance of 793
comes another 6 tracks that never quite meet the level of the opener. There are moments when the album delivers, like the dark opening of For Lenge Siden
, but the tracks are not nearly as cohesive as they were on Frost
or Vikingligr Veldi
. As is the tendency with a great deal of progressive music, many of the tracks on Eld
sound like clumps of great ideas, one after another, without any real flow.
Truth be told, this album is chock-full of riffs, but many of them seem rather underdeveloped and uninspired, particularly when one is aware of what this band is truly capable of (in other words, Frost
). It is a sad state of affairs when such a talented band sounds like they are phoning it in after a 3 year break between albums. The result is Eld
stands as an awkward bridge between early Enslaved and the more progressive, new Enslaved.
One of the other main issues with Eld
, which will undoubtedly divide fans into two camps, is the production - more specifically, the drum mix. The tight piccolo snare breaks through the mix with an awkward room ambience. Though it is thankfully diminished during blast-beat sections, it is most distracting during the hard steady grooves that are scattered throughout. Helgeson's performance on Eld
is more than competent, it is just a pity he was given such an awkward drum mix. The sound of the drum kit as a whole is more akin to the indie rock garage bands of the 90's, and it has a very jarring effect on the overall presentation of the album. The rest of the instruments are mixed well (particularly the keyboard which takes a nice back seat for most of the album), but the drums will forever distract from them.
Enslaved would go on to explore much more risky and genre-bending territory after this, but Eld
will remain the transitional album between that and their Norwegian roots. Three years after the excellent Frost
, the Vikings were unable to deliver on the same level. Eld
instead plays as a failed experiment - an attempt to grow in directions perhaps the band was unsure of, or not ready for. That being said, this album is still miles above the steaming pile of black metal garbage that was coming out at this time, and since.