Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Enslaved - Below the Lights

Ever gone ice fishing?

Nah. Me either, but I’m told by those who have that it’s one of the finest ways to get away from the everyday life of shuffling papers and dealing with ugly people. An activity where you leave civilization behind and commune with nature. Solitude. And, if you don’t catch anything? So what. At the very least, you’ve downed a few beers and you’ve found a few moments of peace. I find Enslaved’s Below the Lights to be very much like ice fishing. Not that I find myself listening to it in a wooden box in the middle of a frozen lake. But, I do like the idea of shelving those nagging responsibilities for an hour or so. Below the Lights (and ice fishing) is not for everyone, but for those who enjoy that type of thing, it’s a brief moment in time where we can get back to our natural selves and get lost in the beauty hidden by that which is misunderstood.

“As Fire Swept Clean the Earth” opens the album with a majestic keyboard intro before being completely overcome by the beastly screams of bassist /vocalist Grutle Kjellson and the distorted wall of sound provided by the rest of the band. The most compelling aspect of the beginning of this song is that, even though the listener is being assaulted by what might be described by some as noise, that noise is merely acting as a canvas for the folksy melodies to contrast against.

Lead guitarist, Arve Isdal, is the unsung hero of this band in that he provides moments of true beauty and brightness to an album that dips a toe in some of the darkest music that this reviewer has ever heard. His lead work is stellar on the second track, “The Dead Stare” . . . in fact, the whole band performs brilliantly on what I can only describe as a progressive black metal tune. The break midway through the song is as epic as they get . . . drifting seamlessly from a full on aural onslaught into the aforementioned guitar solo, then into a killer palm muted break that builds in intensity before dropping back down again. And from there . . . into yet another killer driving riff with spacey keyboard textures applied to give the tune that much more color. Absolutely genius! I challenge you, Waveriders. Walk through the darkness and see the light of this work!

Below the Lights is one of those albums that captures the bands native land of Norway like no other. It’s cold. It’s dark. It’s earthy. “The Crossing” has that feel of being on a Viking ship, plowing through the frigid ice waters of the North Atlantic, preparing for battle against southern infidels and their new cultures. The acoustic guitar works in contrast with the searing electric guitar and adds a feeling of classic ‘70’s era arena rock, and then all hell breaks loose as only black metallers do. “Queen of Night” opens with a flute and drum intro, both instruments moving in synchronicity and working tightly with one another. It’s another one of those prog-rock attention getters that takes your attention away from the rest of the band as they’re preparing to come in with one of the wildest off time riffs this side of Voivod’s Dimensions Hatross. Arve lays down more outstanding guitar textures to fill in what open spaces remain in the wall of sound.

“Havenless” begins with what I can only assume is a native Norwegian chant over another great off time riff. Regardless of the language, the power is convincing. The song has a groove to it unlike the rest but is no less savage. In some ways, it may be more so. Very tribal. Very primal. Another great reflection of Enslaved’s environment and my personal favorite from the disc.

This is one of those rare albums for me where I’ve rated every song the highest possible on my trusty iPod, and quite honestly, when I recognized that I had done so, I was a bit surprised. Below the Lights sat in my library for close to a year between it’s initial spin on my CD player to the time I decided to give it another try. Yeah. You’re reading that right. I wasn’t all that fond of it on first listen, but look at my feelings for it today! It took time for me to recognize it’s brilliance, and I thank all of the metal gods for blessing me with the patience to go back to it with open ears and an open mind.

“Ridicule Swarm” and “A Darker Place” complete this mind bending journey. The latter track, again, features a killer off time riff. Along with the textural melodies, it’s the off time stuff that I find so fascinating. The dynamics (there’s that word again) are perfectly timed. The melodic acoustic break near the end of the tune has a bit of a Pink Floyd feel. Real moody. Somber and a bit edgy. And, of course, great guitar work. The fade at the end of the song fits the disc well . . . kind of like waking up from a daydream. You’ll feel a little hazy. A bit disoriented. Ah . . . you’ll feel you’re like re-entering the real word after a day of ice fishing! Stay warm! - Pope JTE

Buy here: Below the Lights

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

brilliant album - bridges the gap between prog and black metal seamlessly - lots of old King Crimson influence here (pre-RED era)

Maudram is also excellent, less proggy, but still complex riffing

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