Review Summary: "Mardraum-Beyond the Within" is both an advancement of the band's early 90's, Black metal inspired era and a good introduction their experimental side, which has proved a success in their career thus far.
Ever since the release of “Isa” Enslaved have been constantly labelled as one of the most promising and exciting bands within the genre of Extreme Progressive metal, and it's certainly no surprise why. Many of those that were introduced to the band may well have been done so via the “Below the Lights” album or any other Enslaved material released after that point, but how many can honestly say they have attempted to find out just where these diverse, progressive styles came from? “Mardraum-Beyond the Within” and “Monumension” are not albums that come to mind when asked just what Enslaved's so-called “turning Point” actually was, and it's a shame, because these releases are far too often overlooked when researching the band's career as a whole.
The former album, “Mardraum-Beyond the Within”, has been described by no other than vocalist and bassist Grutje Kjellson as “the band's ultimate shift in musical styles”. The fact that the album's title refers to the idea of one stepping out their own reality and into another, obscurer one, is not surprising at all, given that many of the band's lyrical content in recent times has depended solely on such themes as transcendence, shifts into other dimensions and spiritual energy. “Mardraum” itself means simply “Nightmare”, but alongside “Beyond the Within” you can tell the band deliberately named this album with that specific title.
Musically speaking, there is little to be queried here. If you're question is “Does this album differ completely from the band's releases within the decade of the 90's?”, the answer is quite plainly “No”. Although there are instances where the band do delve into experimental territory, the majority of “Mardraum...” does rely sorely on Extreme Metal influences, which is most probably why Enslaved are described as an “Extreme” Progressive Metal band, as opposed to just one of “Progressive Metal”. With such aggressive, fast-paced tracks as the hateful “Daudningekvida” (Deadhymn) and equally as menacing “Ormagard” (The Hive), the band unfortunately fail to deliver anything half as interesting as, say, “Isoders Dronning” off the album “Frost” or “793 (Om Slaget Lindisfarne”” off the album “Eld”, simply because their constant Black Metal influences really do seem to mesh songs together, as opposed to making them truly stand out from one another.
The album's true success comes from the band's experimentation however, and whenever you think the band are just about to to continue with their constant Black Metal barrages, the music stops being so aggressive and channels itself into a completely new form of music, often that of a psychedelic or melodic one. An extremely good example of this is the album's instant highlight “Entrance-Escape”. Beginning with a hypnotic, sprawling guitar effect and gradually becoming more and more sinister with its sound, these seven-or-so minutes of Experimental Metal never seem to bore the listener or indeed underwhelm expectations, as is well known of Enslaved's latter musical style. The shifts from fast, rampaging guitar work to melancholic, acoustic guitar leads are definitive evidence that Enslaved were now a band in a world of their own, unable to be copied by anyone else. Even the tense yet eventually hypnotic opener “Storre enn Tid-Tyngre enn Natt” (Larger than Time-Heavier than Night), with it's constant tempo shifts and excellently executed guitar solos (courtesy of no other than Ivar Bjornson), still manages to satisfy the listener's wishes and makes itself instantly memorable, hours after it has been played.
Another important aspect of “Mardraum” is the vocals and voice effects themselves. This is most evident on the album's title track, in which the screaming voices and creepy narrative work contribute brilliantly to the concept of the song itself. “Nightmare” is a word that often arises in psychological themes and dealings with the sub-/unconscious, and listening to this track you can almost feel as if you're being pulled into a nightmare with the sprawling guitar work and haunting sound effects. That's basically how much work Enslaved had put into this album when crafting its very soul. Even when the clean vocals come in to cleverly compliment the harsher vocals, they are done so with such elegance and beauty that its hard to be amazed by their true talent. Even more interesting is the fact that this is one of the first Enslaved albums wherein each and every member of the band sing together, almost like a choir, flowing well with the harsh, grunted vocals all the time.
It's important to note that “Mardraum-Beyond the Within” is not entirely an Extreme Progressive Metal album, and one can understand this clearly when listening to the albums a whole, especially taking into account that the production is indifferent to that of the “Eld” or “Blodhemn” albums. Even the likes of the epic “Krigaren eg Ikkye Kjende” (Warrior unknown) or the insane “Det endelege Riket” (The ending Empire) have some essence of raw Black Metal to their sound, and although that may be down to the album's slightly fuzzy production, it still pays a slight homage to the band's earlier sound. However, this may be what annoys some when listening to “Mardraum...” as a whole-the fact that when the band use Black Metal influences to their full effect, they really don't seem to be different in any way compared to other Norwegian Black Metal bands. Thankfully, this is saved by the band's clever use of strange sound effects and clever experimentation.
It's a shame that “Mardraum-Beyond the Within” is often overlooked by fans of the band who were introduced via “Isa” or even “Below the Lights”, yet musically the album is both a decent mixture of the band's earlier, more aggressive sound and their experimental touches. I say “decent”, because the album is not in any way a flawless one, but it is certainly a good place to start if you are wondering why Enslaved sound the way they do today, in 2012.