Often, the terms “progressive”, “experimental” and “avant-garde” are overused (my self included) to describe any music that simply can’t be pigeonholed, categorized, or maybe defies our metal shuttered concepts of what should be construed as “metal”. Bands like Arcturus, Ulver and Solefald, who break the mold of metals restrictive constraints are either hailed as geniuses or belittled for ignoring their fan base, but beyond those bands and a handful of others, experimental often means doing something out of character to your past material.

That’s not the case for Austria’s Enid. The brain child of one Martin Wiese sees the criminally underrated bands’ third album, takes steps above and beyond their already progressive discography. Steering in a slightly different direction from their past folk/fantasy laced efforts Seelenspiegel, Abschiedsreigen and Nachtgedanken, Enid rank with fellow Austrian’s Hollenthon as far as adventurous musical undertakings. Throw in the vocal operatics of Empyrium, the classical overtones of Haggard and the off beat, genre bending Arcturus and you might come close to Enid’s complex, beautiful and captivating sound.

Gradwanderer is one of the few albums I’ve reviewed that pretty much left me both awestruck by its brilliance and dumbfounded as to how to describe it. While label mates Rakoth forced their experimental nature upon fantasy trappings, Enid’s sound has a very slight folk undertone, lessened somewhat from prior efforts but still in place by virtue of hypnotic Gregorian chanting, grandiose horns and overblown classical instrumentation befitting Wagner. Each of the 9 songs on Gradwanderer are epic soundscapes of varying character, never settling into a single style or mode of delivery, some numbingly good, while others are a little to quirky for their own good.

Garm himself would be proud of album opener “Chimera”, with its continually shifting pace and over the top vocals delivery. Not content with the subtle morose nature of that tune, the almost rock roll vibe that starts “Ode to the Forlorn”, belts out a curve ball, with Wiese pulling some amazing vocals that are vastly improved from the bizarre opener. However, the track shifts seamlessly to and from tribal soundscapes and Prog rock with jaw dropping transitions. The piano and vocal only ballad “The Silent Stage” is perfectly executed without dripping with cheese. Enid’s black metal/fantasy roots surface with superb time changes during the brilliant title track, that opens with Summoning like glory and folk blast beats worthy of Suidakra, and that’s in the first few bars before the songs drifts into dreamlike acoustics and more horn laced grandiosity.

Now I have a short attention span folks but the 15 minute “Die Seelensteine” held my attention undividedly, for its mesmerizing acoustics and piano laced, dance beat entirety. If you can get past the harsh German lyrical delivery, the song is as relaxing as Enigma or Enya: something I know a lot of you metal heads listen to, but are afraid to divulge. Admittedly, after the stunning operatics choirs and soundtrack like scale of “Exemption”, the album takes a mighty step backwards from brilliance, but it brings up the genius vs. madness argument, as the blues/Jazz/50’s rock mannerisms of “The Burning of the Sea” are nauseatingly bad, but a bold move nonetheless. The song has some good moments past the dreadful “be-bop” vocals and “Since ma baby left me”, riff patterns, but otherwise simply falls flat as Enid take a huge misstep over the fine line between experimental and just plain ridiculous. But then again the same was first said of the circus like atmospherics Arcturus flaunted on La Masquerade Infernale.

Bonus track “Herbsturm”, is a simple rocker tacked on the end of the album as filler, and honestly the album ends on 2 sour notes after the often breathtaking brilliance of the first 7 tracks. Still, that should not stop this album from appealing the adventurous listener willing to put up with some German lyrics (all delivered with clean vocals), and a vast array of styles with a complete disregard for genre-riffic limitations. Enthralling and captivating, this album is why I do this.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Erik T
December 1st, 2004


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