Enslaved - Below the Lights
The End Records
Progressive Extreme Metal
7 songs (46'19")
Release year: 2003
Enslaved, The End Records
Reviewed by Alex

When I got Enslaved promo from The End Records I was surprised. Of course, The End Records, one of my favorite labels, specializes in Dark and Extreme Metal. However, prior to this mostly all bands The End signed were young, only a few albums strong, if that. Enslaved, on the other hand, are veterans. If my math does not betray me Below the Lights is their 9th full length. Several things can be said about this Norwegian band: they have tried it all and they are not afraid to experiment. They started playing straightforward old school black metal and later invented (along with Bathory) Viking metal. Recent albums saw the shift towards death metal, especially in guitar and vocal departments. I don’t know why I am telling you all this. If you are/were a fan you are already familiar with Enslaved, and if you were not, Below the Lights is not like any album they have done before, since none of their two albums are alike. You can start being a fan now.

Two things stand out on Below the Lights. Enslaved ventures into the variety of Extreme Metal genres, and is not afraid to transition from one to another without much notice. Of course, there are aggressive black metal cuts (Ridicule Swarm), but structured infectious dark death metal with serious harmonic minor chords (The Dead Stare) also makes an appearance. And, is it just me or the first half of A Darker Place has Katatonia style riffing circa Brave Murder Day? Speaking of experimentation, the beginning of Queen of Night is downright jazzy with its Mid-Eastern motives, the end of The Dead Stare is almost techno with its precise pressure cooker rhythms and Havenless provides a nod to an epic Viking style. The way things are combined reminded me of Opeth on more than one occasion. How else do you explain a long quiet melodic acoustic intro of The Crossing to be suddenly replaced with an aggressiveness which grows with every turn of the “fade-in” dial? Pure Nectar. And just when I thought “Opeth”, Grutle Kjellson provided a metaphysical growl very reminiscent of Mikael Akerfeldt. Just as Opeth transcended the boundaries of death metal, Enslaved did the same to its blackened cousin.

All comparisons aside, Below the Lights, with all of its ideas coming from different angles, combines the best traits of the early and late Enslaved. The album is altogether aggressive, epic, morose, dark and massive. Right after the keyboards intro to As Fire Swept Clean the Earth, expansive Norse atmosphere created by the multiple guitar tracks envelopes the listener. Some people at Metalreviews who are more knowledgeable in guitar playing than myself call it epic, but understandable. Nowadays riffs by Enslaved are a lot more structured (The Dead Stare), but they still provide this feeling as if a wall of sound just pressed down on your eardrums (The Crossing). And when you least expect it, a lead that pierces this fabric from within appears. Just a few seconds throughout the whole song (As Fire Swept Clean the Earth), complex arpeggios (The Dead Stare) or an insane 2-3 min song/album closure (A Darker Place), Enslaved does not miss a beat having replaced longtime member R. Kronheim with Arve Isdal.

Dirge Rep, who unfortunately departed right after the recording was finished, lays aggressive blastbeats and powerful fast snare kicks as easily as he mashes his cymbals and high-hat (The Crossing). I especially liked his drumming in the opener As Fire Swept Clean the Earth. It is if he is totally disconnected from the rest of the band, but somehow music revolves around Dirge’s axis. His kicks are at the same time yelps of some northern wild bird, drumming atop a Viking ship so oarsmen can row simultaneously and boiling magma ready to erupt.

Vocalist and bass player Grutle Kjellson shrieks, growls, and also provides a small dose of his clean vocals (which I didn’t find too impressive).

Ivar P. (formerly known as Ivar Bjornson) writes all of the Enslaved music and oversees the production as well. The latter is much clearer than on earlier opuses. At times, I felt that whatever rawness that was left is intentional, but what about the lack of bass guitar in the mix? Well, may be it is just my ears, I can’t argue with a genius. The other tiny issue I had. If Enslaved stopped singing in Norsk, it doesn't mean we don't need a booklet with lyrics.

Having read so much into my review, you can guess that I liked the album. This stuff is addictive. Even if you weren’t planning on it, Below the Lights will make you take multiple spins if you are the least bit into Extreme metal. There is nobody, however, who will understand this album in its full entirety, including the author of this review. In fact, if you ever meet a person who tells you he “gets” all of Enslaved, call him a liar right away. Sometimes, I don’t think Enslaved themselves can explain what it is they concocted. I have to write this review now, so my quote is very “time dependent”, but count to see Below the Lights in my Top Albums of the Year.

Killing Songs :
As Fire Swept Clean the Earth, The Dead Stare, The Crossing, Ridicule Swarm, A Darker Place
Alex quoted 85 / 100
Jeff quoted 80 / 100
Daniel quoted 91 / 100
Other albums by Enslaved that we have reviewed:
Enslaved - In Times reviewed by Goat and quoted 93 / 100
Enslaved - RIITIIR reviewed by Thomas and quoted 92 / 100
Enslaved - Axioma Ethica Odini reviewed by Goat and quoted 92 / 100
Enslaved - Eld reviewed by Goat and quoted CLASSIC
Enslaved - Frost reviewed by Goat and quoted CLASSIC
To see all 11 reviews click here
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