Enslaved - Axioma Ethica Odini
Indie Recordings
Progressive Viking Metal
9 songs (58:27)
Release year: 2010
Enslaved, Indie Recordings
Reviewed by Goat
Album of the month

Sitting here in my (hmm, currently rather grubby) little home, waiting patiently for some wanker outside to drive his noisy boyracermobile away so I can actually hear what I’m supposed to be writing about, it’s hard not to reflect on the essential differences between my earthy, dull life and the esoteric Viking world of Enslaved. The most exciting parts of my day generally seem to involve dodging the cunningly-camouflaged piles of dogshit that litter the fair streets of Albion, and whilst I’m sure Norway has its own regional variances of the same, those people are the descendants of Vikings and are doubtless used to the harsher experiences of life, whilst my own bloodline probably did more running away than pillaging! There may thus be something of the escapist around my especial love of Enslaved’s music, my imagination fired by these icy mountains and longboats to the point where I’m quite happy to believe that Norway is a land of gruff hairy violent men, inexplicably beautiful pagan women, and bloody enormous dragons.

Whether that actually increases my enjoyment of the band’s music, I have no idea. I like to think so, but when the music is as good as it is, is that even possible? Enslaved’s recent formula has come into criticism from some who expect more stylistic change from a band that has already delivered so much – I certainly won’t deny that Isa, Ruun, and Vertebrae make a nice little trio that are more similar than, say, Mardraum, Monumension and Below The Lights are. Yet is it really so terrible that Grutle and co. have settled into their groove? I declared Vertebrae worthy of 96/100 back in 2008, and nothing’s happened in the meantime that makes me want to change my mind, especially listening to Axioma Ethica Odini. So, here is the first of several disappointments I had about this album – it isn’t as immediately, obviously brilliant as Vertebrae. Up until now each modern new Enslaved album has beaten the previous one in my estimation within about ten minutes of the first listen, yet Axioma Ethica Odini fails to achieve this. Don’t take that to mean that it’s not an excellent album, however. Although those wonderful Pink Floyd-y psychedelic solos a la Ground are more or less gone (second disappointment) there’s still more than enough Prog kicking around to please.

The album starts out strangely with the eight-minute Ethica Odini, a cold ambient wind blowing before the band suddenly appear out of the mist, typically grandiose riffage descending from the mountains to greet us mere mortals, Grutle’s unique snarl echoing from the sky to the ground. My third disappointment: the usually excellent clean vocals have for the first time taken on an unusual cheesiness, pure unregulated emotion surging through (I assume) keyboardist Herbrand Larson’s voice in a way that takes a little getting used to, distracting from what is otherwise an excellent song. It took me several listens to note the distinctly Opethian curve to the song structure, complex little riffs running around subtly beneath your ears, the ever-so-slightly more commercial than usual style (that repeated chorus...) grasping your attention and tugging it gently away. The sudden switch to gentle melancholy is hardly a new trick in the band’s songcraft book, but never have they sounded quite so fragile and post-rock about it, those fruity vocals working very well when you’re used to them. One nice bit of soloing later, and all disappointments are forgotten – Enslaved have once again conquered my heart.

Yes, although it took a little while to realise it, Axioma Ethica Odini is a truly stupendous piece of work, an accomplished and mind-caressing listen that will fire the hearts, souls and imaginations of any of my fellow Enslavedniks out there. The sheer voracious drive of the individual and varied songs is unbelievable, drawing you in inexorably with each listen; Raidho’s immaculately-constructed groove is the centrepiece around which the song revolves, something like Napalm Death’s bouncy 90s material, but actually good! That aforementioned post-rock vibe arises again on the delicate melody of Waruun, echoing voices beneath spoken word at the end harking to pastures strange indeed before the opening of The Beacon takes you back to the band’s early days, hewing at their enemies with blastbeats made of ice. Then, lifting you up on psychedelically reverberating guitars and celestial choirs, a weird danceable catchiness coming from completely nowhere and whirling you around joyously, it deposits you in the spacey void of interlude Axioma, distorted voices and dreamlike synths calming before the second half of the album slips in to steal your soul.

There’s not a single bad song in the bunch. The opening stomp of Giants turns slowly into a graceful backward-looking melodic Doom piece, the almost duelling clean and harsh vocals of Singular and quiet folksy progginess that opens Night Sight are wonderful in their own rights, whilst the closing Lightening takes on a grandiose, almost orchestral tone on the first half, those clean vocals at their epic best on the second half. Listening to Below The Lights after this, it’s interesting to see how well the two albums fit together – obviously, the older release is the better, but each listen of Axioma Ethica Odini reveals something new to me, some hitherto unnoticed detail that enhances the experience as a whole in my eyes and ears. It’s far too early to tell where exactly I think this album fits into Enslaved’s discography in terms of quality, but it’s obvious that the true kings of Norway haven’t let us or themselves down, and Axioma Ethica Odini is an excellent album that will be high on my year-end list when that time comes.

Killing Songs :
Ethica Odini, Raidho, Waruun, The Beacon, Giants, Singular, Lightening
Goat quoted 92 / 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 - Eld reviewed by Goat and quoted CLASSIC
Enslaved - Frost reviewed by Goat and quoted CLASSIC
Enslaved - Monumension reviewed by Thomas and quoted 80 / 100
To see all 11 reviews click here
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