Enslaved
Axioma Ethica Odini

This is the journey of Enslaved.

They set out to sea as young men, warriors, berserkers. Clashed, screamed and battled their way through early Viking black metal epics like Vikingligr Veldi, the Hordanes Land split with Emperor, then Frost, Eld and Blodhemn.

Lured by promise of greater spoils and darker bloodshed, they ventured too far out to sea and became lost in the swirling mists. Out there, at the edge of the world, the men encountered strange sights and ghostly voices, and sought to make sense of them on peculiar and experimental albums like Mardraum: Beyond the Within and Monumension. And then somehow, Enslaved found their way back to shore.

Back home again, but changed – now madmen and maniacs, screaming to all who’d listen of what they’d seen and survived. The music had changed as well – a hybrid, post-black attack of jagged riffing and soulful, swooning psychedelia. With Below the Lights, Isa and Ruun after that, the balance of madness to clarity shifted, little by little – those black metal berserkers became seers and visionaries. Their message became calmer, clearer and more entrancing than ever. Until at last, with Vertebrae, it seemed the fires were dying down and the once-fierce warriors were simply content to rest and weave their grand stories.

But that is not the end of the saga. Those of you that thought that Vertebrae’s blooming harmonies and mellow, stately pace signaled the end of Enslaved’s rage were mistaken.

Axioma Ethica Odini, Enslaved’s 11th full-length, shows that these shaggy grey sages still have some chaos left in them yet. It retains the atmospheric texture and majestic, Floyd-ian melody from Vertebrae and Ruun, but brings back the raw, clattery aggression from Isa, Below the Lights, even Blodhemn. It’s the perfect culmination of the last several albums, and for those of you who lamented Enslaved’s recent direction, this will bring you back home as well.

For the first half of the album, songs like “Ethica Odini,” “Raidho” and “The Beacon” begin as relentless, scrambling gallops, their hoofbeats churning up gravel while Grutle seems to spew it from his ragged, cawing throat. And then, in the choruses, he switches off with keyboardist Herbrand Larsen, so that we go from gargled blood to silky, honey-mead croons. These moments are yearning, heroic, and more confident than they’ve ever been. Perhaps all that time spent on tour with Mikael Akerfeldt and company last year provided some inspiration.

The Opeth similarities end there, though. The album definitely has its share of shifting dynamics, but it’s not the balanced back-and-forth that you usually hear from Akerfeldt’s compositions. Most times you hear one of Larsen’s flowing, clean vocals, it’s accompanied by Grutle’s bestial vocals as well. There are plenty of progressive moments throughout the songs, but they’re rarely as ethereal or sweet-sounding as the softer moments of Vertebrae. Axioma Ethica Odini is overall rougher and more discordant than we’ve heard from Enslaved in awhile.

For the most part, it’s faster too. But then we also have slow, doomy stompers like “Waruun,” which staggers this way and that like a drunk raider with a faceful of volcanic shards (until it, too, brightens and soars). Later, “Giants” lumbers like its namesake, its head above the clouds and bellowing clean, shamanic vocals that echo down into the valley below.

After “Giants,” there’s a noticeable shift in songwriting, as the remaining three tracks become choppier and more disconnected than the first half of the album. Flow and melody are largely sacrificed for a more aggressive experimentalism, at times harkening back to Mardraum or Monumension. I had particular difficulty in connecting with “Singular,” which should have been the album’s progressive, epic crescendo – an “Api-Vat” or a “Neogenesis.” Instead, its flow left me confused and its clean moments failed to move me. “Night Sight” is a bit better, given its smooth 70s psychedelic feel, but it’s here that I wished Enslaved would embrace their softer side with abandon and just deliver a full-on ballad rather than an odd hybrid.

Album closer “Lightening” fares the best of all of these, but it’s also a real grower. Its loping pace and plaintive croon take some getting used to, but once the murk drifts away and the majesty of the chorus shines through (a bit too abruptly), it’s like getting an unbroken view of the northern lights on a cloudy night. Definitely worth waiting up for, and an appropriately transcendent ending to one of Enslaved’s most invigorating albums yet.

As its title suggests, Axioma Ethica Odini is a reaffirmation of Enslaved’s core values. In recent years, the band has shown themselves to be dreamers, explorers and mystics – but this is a clear reminder that their boats are still moored on black metal’s rocky shores, and those berserkers and warriors still remember the bloodshed of their early days. So do not be afraid. The madmen at the edge of camp may stink of filthy furs, and their shrieks may drive the others away, but their eyes are as clear as ice and moonlight. And there are stories there to be learned.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
September 24th, 2010

Comments

  1. Commented by: mccumberv

    Excellent review, in my eyes these guys can do no wrong, they get better and better with each release. I guess if I did have to bust on something it would be Grutle’s one dimensional vocals, but they have their place to add some extremity to the mix. I can’t wait to hear this one, thanks so much for the review!


  2. Commented by: Adam.L

    Very good review, I’m looking forward to this immensely. I was under the impression that the clean vocals were generally done by Herbrand Larsen, though.


  3. Commented by: Erik Thomas

    am i the only one that thinks “Lightening” could be a Between the Buried and Me song?


  4. Commented by: bast

    I wan’t this so bad.


  5. Commented by: Staylow

    Wow, great review man. Your writing skills never cease to amaze me Jordan.

    I’ve tried repeatedly to get into Enslaved, but they’ve never clicked with me. I hear so much praise and read reviews such as this and always think I’m missing something great by not “getting” it. That said, I’ve listened to this once so far and must say some of it really jumped out at me as awesome, so repeat spins are in order. Oddly enough, the song that impacted me the most was “Singular”. Go figure, right?


  6. Commented by: gabaghoul

    Adam you’re right, I’ll fix the review in a bit


  7. Commented by: faust666

    Not a fan but a very well written review indeed.


  8. Commented by: Clauricaune

    Last thing I heard from Enslaved was Below the Lights, and I didn’t like it at all, so I pretty much ignored them for the past 7 years. Heh. But I’m definitely giving this one a chance after reading your review, Jordan.


  9. Commented by: gabaghoul

    @ Larry, faust, adam, vance – thanks! it only took me like 3 drafts and 20 edits :)

    @ Kurt – make sure you also check out Isa and Ruun. and go back to Below the Lights, maybe your take on it will change. love that album.


  10. Commented by: Shawn Pelata

    I thought Vertebrae was brilliant…I’m looking forward to hearing this album. The song on the new Prog magazine comp, “Ethica Odini”, is killer!


  11. Commented by: Clauricaune

    Just finished my first listen and color me impressed. Not all of it clicked with me right away, but there’s more than enough stuff for me to come back at this record quite a few times (I thought “Giants” and “Waruun” were killer, and the last tracks also grabbed me nicely).

    Jordan, I’m gonna take your advice and listen to the albums I missed. A reevaluation of this band should be worth it.


  12. Commented by: Erik Thomas

    I went back and dl’d all of Enslaved cds hoping they would click, but they just dont do anything for me- except this one.


  13. Commented by: Clauricaune

    LOL, well, I’m still giving them a try, who knows what might happen.

    Also Erik, I see what you mean about “Lightening”: make it a bit more flashy and technical, and I guess it could fit in any of the last BtBaM albums.


  14. Commented by: Jordan Itkowitz

    @ Adam, fixed.


  15. Commented by: hevy blevy

    Nice review, looking forward to checking this out, but Blodhemn is the greatest/most underated album in this band’s catalog and one of the fiercest metal albums of all times..hails


  16. Commented by: hevy blevy

    …also long live R. Kronheim and Dirge Rep, wich they were still in this band :(


  17. Commented by: opy666

    This is the best Enslaved CD in some time, and my fav metal CD of the year so far, by a long shot…upcoming stuff that could overtake it are…

    Belenos, Intronaut, Withered, Melechesh, Deathspell Omega, The Crown, and Atlantean Codex…

    I’m sure there are more possibilities, but that is all I know for now….

    I would not be surprised, however, if Enslaved still ends up #1…Axioma is fucking Brilliant!!


  18. Commented by: elguerosinfe

    LOVE this CD – great review GG


  19. Commented by: Aldrahn

    Good review of an amazing release.


  20. Commented by: Blackwater Park
  21. Commented by: broadencity

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Gaba, you sir have a gift.


  22. Commented by: Andy Synn

    I’ve realised WHY this album didn’t click with me straight away, and it’s because it’s arguably a lot more direct and straightforward than Vertebrae and that all my expectations were wrong. That and it reminded me strongly of Opeth on first listen. Which was more a case of being surprised than being disappointed.

    I do definitely think it’s superior to Vertebrae as a whole, but doesn’t have that one ultimate tune on it that the previous albums did. However the overall quality is just impeccable.


  23. Commented by: StevhanTI

    I’ve got a problem with this.
    The more I listen to it, the less I like it and the more contrived it feels. The’re great songwriters and producers and musicians but when all is said and done I honestly feel the play on safe too much. Can’t help it. Anyways The Beacon and Giants are really great songs.


  24. Commented by: E. Thomas

    Ive been grabbing Enslaved cds used whenever i see them. hey are a band that never clicked with with me after blodhem. I recently got this and a bucnh of others and its still my favorite of the ‘post viking’ sound.


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