Enslaved – Axioma Ethica Odini

Norway’s Enslaved have always been a progressive band despite their roots in viking/ black metal. They started out with their cold, grim, primitive sounding style with raw guitars, shrieking vocals, and every-so-often folk and acoustic moments. Then, Monumension hit, and this was the turning point. Featuring a lot more melody, softer passages, and even more defined clean vocals, Enslaved continued down an evolving path, gaining mainstream success with their album Isa, which was their most varied work at the time. It was still black metal, but along with the raw, evil sound it was also very catchy and exciting to listen to. The epic tone was just great and the band really seemed to be headed in a more atmospheric black metal direction, as opposed to the viking black metal they were usually doing. They stunned the masses agin with Ruun, an equally diverse album that was catchier still.

Perhaps ever since their splits with Satyricon and Emperor, they wanted to go in a different direction from their fellow competition because ever since their split, both sounded very similar. Today, those bands sound completely different, whether they are together in the present or not. Yet something became amiss after Ruun. Something was missing. Or at least that’s how the band’s last album measured up. Vertebrae had all the progressive elements that Ruun had, but it was much more raw like their earlier albums. It seemed like the band were going back to their roots since their second album, Frost. As a result, the band seemed to lose their mainstream popularity, but fans still loved the album for its ‘return to the form.’ Now, two years later, Axioma Ethica Odini continues that raw, black metal tradition even more, creating a frozen Nordic atmosphere mixed with the subtle persuasion of melodic black viking metal.

The unfortunate trade off, however, that comes with going for a raw atmosphere, is a loss of catchiness. And Axioma just isn’t very catchy. It’s more like the blast of a furnace. From the opening track, “Ethica Odini,” the music just keeps hitting and hitting, and hitting still. The distortion and energy is so strong that it really does feel like older Enslaved. The only real progressive moments are the harmonic clean vocals that make their way in during the chorus. And the ocassional solo that breaks out from the guitars rather than just the seamless, constant strum that seems suspended in time, like an endless tornado. But, even then, after a while fans will wonder, “This is starting to sound all the same…” And it may be a bit of a turn off. Whereas Vertebrae at least had varied song introductions before melding into similar sounding verses and choruses, Axioma tends to sound the same, musically, for the first half of the album.

Fortunately, there is more variation than fans might expect. Directly at the half track number, “Axioma” is a brief, but different kind of atmosphere. It is much more ambiant compared to the sheer sonic crushing power that Enslaved performs earlier on the album. The vocals sound less lively, and more robotic, like a recording. But, the fact that all of a sudden it is possible to hear something other than endless wave after wave of crushing atmospheric metal will make this a welcome reprieve, even if it doesn’t sound like anything Enslaved was normally do. And suddenly, just like that, the albums changes. “Giants” forsakes the rushing river sound of the guitars and chooses for a more melodic chug on the guitars. The vocals aren’t screeching; instead they take on a deafening roar, and the drums plod along and are actually heard. For once, that melodic intensity that made an album like Ruun so popular is BACK. The clean vocals, now a lot more clear with a different musical structure, sound so much better and engaging, where as earlier it was like a shout lost in a snowstorm. “Singular” is another special track because it is dominated by the clean vocals, and though it isn’t soft enough to be considered a ballad, the guitars sound plenty harmonic and progressive. It’s moments like these that separates Enslaved from so many other black metal bands; if they just did their black metal influenced stuff and screaming, they probably would have a much smaller fanbase. Thankfully, they haven’t given up their soft side.

It is the track, “Lightening,” that defines Enslaved’s best musical moments. It takes the catchiness of progressive metal and combines it with the fury of black metal for an excellent track that is engaging all the way through. If there is a track that would define saving grace, it is this one for Axiom. The keyboards help create the atmosphere and the guitars still have that chugging melody, but it’s more of a marching, epic chug rather than along the lines of someting like groove metal. It isn’t as majestic as Opeth, but it will still make fans go, “Wow!” As a result, it goes to show that despite a few steps back to their earlier form, Enslaved are still evolving with Axiom, just like they always have. It isn’t their crown jewel like Isa and Ruun were, but it is more of a sculpting process for the next big step. For those who felt Vertebrae was a bit too ‘one sided,’ Axiom is another climbing rung out of a pit of mediocrity and just one album closer to greatness. Considering how the style splits in the middle, it is perhaps an unintentional retrospective album, showcasing the best of what Enslaved has had to offer over the span of their career: raw atmosphere and melodic progression.

Indie Recordings
Reviewer: devilmetal747

Sep 25, 2010

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Enslaved – Axioma Ethica Odini

  1. Ethica Odini
  2. Raidho
  3. Waruun
  4. The Beacon
  5. Axioma
  6. Giants
  7. Singular
  8. Night Sight
  9. Lightening

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