Review Summary: Norway's finest
I need to tell you this before you start reading: I hate Norwegian Black Metal. I hate how the guitars are overly distorted, I also hate how, in most cases, the vocals sound more like the frontman is getting shot in the back than anything else. The scene, ever since I have discovered it back in 2004, hasn't made the slightest bit of sense to me. Most of the music never came together in a coherent way. So this genre in itself became my least favorite metal sub-genre along with the ever popular hair metal of the 80's. There was just no room on my computer for knocked together trash.
Fast forward to 2008. I was sitting around my living room on the computer as usual with "Music Choice's" Metal station as background music. It seemed to come out of nowhere; A hauntingly dense and solid rhythm section paired with what sounded like an ancient folk chant absolutely demanding my attention was bursting out of my TV monitor. I looked up only to find that, in my intense hatred for the genre, that this intensely heavy and powerful-as-anything track was none other than Havenless by Enslaved, a band I knew was very big in the Black Metal scene. I thought it impossible that something so gripping was to come from a genre known more for killings and church burnings than anything else. Right away I went and picked myself up a few of Enslaved's recordings.
I must tell you it was money well spent. I could not find the album containing the above track, but I settled for Ruun
. The record that completely changed my opinion on where this genre could take you, and how expansive music in general could be.
Much like my very first glimpse into what this band is all about, I got sucked in full force upon the first track Entroper
. Right away you can hear the, dare I say it, purely excellent musicianship this band has to offer. The basic 4/4 strumming to introduce the instruments is familiar enough to let that breath you were holding in case you had to run away from your stereo go, but it has a very dissonant feeling that lets you know that this is NOT another [insert generic band here] record. The vocals on this track, even throughout this entire record, are classic Enslaved. Grutle Kjellson (Vocals/Bass) has a very harsh shriek that is surprisingly easily understood and really does complement the dissonant-yet-familiar instrumental work of the rest of this band. His cleans aren't too shabby, either. Very haunting almost operatic singing makes his vocals all-the-more present. This is easily one of the most solid tracks on the record.
Next we have something straight out of Sweden, a track called Path to Vanir
. The song structure and lyrical content would almost fit in with their rivals in the Swedish Death Metal scene, but still keeps the off-kilter BM feel. Which also brings up a point. The lyrics this band writes are superb. This is not the band that burned down your church; They taught you everything you need to know about Norse history and mythology in high school. That is no exception to this or the opener. This song in particular is about a Norse hero, all bloodied and broken from a recent fight, calling out to a maiden of higher power to grant him life in exchange for love. The atmosphere combined with everything else makes tracks like this end up on replay for a lot of people. This is absolutely no exception.
Every album, at least in most cases, has a song that defines the entire album. This song is it; Fusion of Sense and Earth
. This is THE MUST LISTEN of Ruun. There's a very aggressive feel throughout with all instruments really showing what they're made of. The vocals all fit perfectly in the madness. The solo is so ghostly that it can only add to any already dark and phenomenal song. Fusion is the song that defines not only this album, but Enslaved as a whole.
The title track (Ruun) is in the dead center of the album, and it still doesn't let up. After four tracks you might think a band like this would run out of ideas. This, however, is the most experimental on the record. A very large amount of clean vocals and only slightly distorted guitars make this a very almost Rush-esque listen.
Now here's where any Amon Amarth fan might get a bit giddy. Tides of Chaos
is full of speeches and war chants. This track made it completely clear to me that Black Metal is all about atmosphere, because of how well they made it feel like you could almost be sitting my a campfire listening to them talk. Even though it may not be the prettiest of stories, if you're struggling out in the cold after a battle, you'll listen to anything to keep your mind off of it.
Then of course, as all excellent listens over the past few years, the album starts getting a bit faulty. The next two tracks, Essence
, are really nothing new. They are two of the longest tracks on the CD, but leave room for no real innovation. It's more of the same, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's really just more of what you heard on the first 5 tracks. It's almost as if they're recaps of the record. They're pretty fun to listen to also, and they're not bad. They're just more of the same. That's all.
Finally we have Heir to the Cosmos
. Remember what I said about this band breaking the Black Metal mold" Well here you go. Plenty of keyboard and bass presence to satisfy any soft rock fan. The vocals and guitars are doing what they've been doing throughout the record, and they're still doing a good job. This song, especially in the solo, is where you start hearing some serious genre bending. They slapped in a Pink Floyd solo and very spacey vocals. You may actually have forgotten who you were listening to if it weren't for the guitars, but it doesn't matter because it all works. This would be a good time to say that the drumming on this record is great. Cato Bekkevold is an honest and true great drummer, and in a genre notorious for excessive double bass, uses it very sparingly. Although this was the closing track, it actually leaves you wanting more
Now for a recap: give this thing a listen. This album is not only great in the metal community, but a great piece of music in general. If you were ever sceptical about this scene like i was, this will really change your mind. This album belongs on every "Top 10 of 2006" list out there.
Pros: Superb musicianship, easy listen to outsiders of the genre, very impressive and demanding atmosphere and recording quality.
Cons: The vocals may still be off-putting, and the lyrics are rather dark.