Enslaved: Mardraum – Beyond the Within

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Enslaved: Mardraum – Beyond the Within
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Enslaved: Mardraum: Beyond the Within
Progressive Black Metal, Viking Metal
Osmose Productions, Season of Mist Records (2008)
October 3rd, 2000 / 2008 (North America)
Release length: 58:26
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Enslaved is a band that was established back in 1991. Throughout their career, they put out a number of releases, including a solid discography of full-length albums that received plenty of positive attention from fans and press. Of all the releases that the band has issued, none of them are considered as important as Mardraum: Beyond the Within, given perfect scores by many critics and fans who review their material, and being one of the most consistantly suggested albums for anyone looking to explore the band. But, while it may be one of the best albums from Enslaved, is it really that great an album in the Metal world all together that deserves such praise?

It’s actually quite understandable why this album has received such positive feedback through the years. While it wasn’t the most ground breakingly original or earth shattered album for it’s time, Mardraum: Beyond the Within is a solid album with a solid production that utilized a clearer, modern day sound well without losing the bite of the quality of music. The guitars feel heavy with a more Viking Metal sound to them and their performance then that of a Black Metal release, though they, the bass, and the drums all seems to work from a basic Black Metal foundation at times. The bass also makes itself known in the mix with being loud enough that you can hear it faintly in the background, but more importantly you can feel it in the final mix enriching the deeper heaviness of the recording, though not necessarily going past the concept of backing the guitars. The drum kit does a fantastic job of maintaining the changes in some of the more Progressive tracks with the varying speeds and complexities, jumping from Viking Metal to Black Metal with ease. And that becomes one of the biggest perks of the album, the transitions and how well the band handles them.

“Større enn Tid – Tyngre enn Natt” starts the album off well with a strongly Progressive track that lasts just over ten minutes. The song starts off more as a common Viking Metal type track, but as you continues it builds on itself, growing and expanding more to envelope the other genres Enslaved has their hand in, taking the more chanting worship like clean vocals and praise filled music into a sadistic, chaotic Black Metal assault with rhaspy, sinister vocals and a matching atmosphere full of changes to the speed and sound, shifting between Viking and Black Metal styles in a fluid manner to make the song not only heavily varied, but an experience the listener won’t soon forget as it ends with a somber yet melancholic sounding conclusion that perfectly suits the entire track. Of course, this sets up the entire album perfectly, and the bands plays on that well with hammering right into the more Black Metal track “Daudningekvida”, a faster paced track with hints of Viking Metal in the bridges that allows the bass to stand out a little more and seem to do more then just back the guitars, though not by much, and just has an aggressive atmosphere to it that feels violent, but also on par with an angry Thrash or even Punk sound, which is pushed to the forefront from the chaos and the subtle double bass kicks that are there, but can sometimes be hard to hear over the chaos of the rest of the material.

While “Daudningekvida” is a solid prodominantly Black Metal track, it’s really the only one of it’s kind. You can’t say the track is out of place either due to where it is on the album, playing greatly off the previous track and it’s stronger Black Metal ending. Aside that, a good majority of the album is a nice mixture of the two styles, though some tracks, like “Æges Draum”, do suddenly burst into some ravenous and angry as Hell Black Metal towards the end of the track, and the title track “Mardraum” does carry on with that sound “Æges Draum” ends with, but mostly out of atmosphere as the more worshipping Viking composition is still there from start to finish. This song also manages to branch out from a typical chanting approach into a more Avante-Garde style with some chords that feel technical, but yet can be a bit erratic at times. This not only kicks up a more epic Black Metal approach to the sound, but it bleeds right into “Det Endelege Riket”, another track dominated by the band’s Black Metal approach, and again just comes off angry and violent with it’s intense pace and venomous vocals against razor sharp guitars and drums that assault you with a pace that they feel as though they are on fire. Of course the song does slow down around the guitar solo, and the band throws in some additional Viking Metal influences to it that stand out and give it that Enslaved signature sound through well performed transitions. These tracks seem to really make up the songs that are less then four minutes, or at least have a stronger presence in them if not dominating the entire atmosphere. This does not let up, and actually begins to fee more like “Mardraum” was the start of a conceptual aspect for the album that did not get to take full effect until that very point of the recording.

But the main focus of this release is more on having a stronger Viking Metal performance, at least at the first half of the album. “Entrance-Escape” is a more worship or ritual-based song that moves at a pace that is hypnotizing and gives off the feeling of participating in the chanting that the vocals seem to perform throughout. “Ormgaard” is another strong track that has a heavy Viking focus that is catchy and heavy, but captures the nature of the style well through music that feels as though it’s of praise with more common Viking Metal ideas in the riffs and drums. “Ormgaard II: Kvalt i Kysk Høgsong”, however, is basically a stark contrast to it, having that stronger Black Metal feel to it, but deep under that you can pick up a Viking Metal impression during the main verses, which seems to be dropped from the chorus. This makes for a very fitting and aggressive conclusion to the recording, and thanks to the way the band ends “Æges Draum”, it does still feel like it’s a natural progression instead of just a sudden shift. Later tracks in this more epic Black Metal section of the CD do feature some Viking Metal moments and bridges that pop up, such as with “Krigaren eg Ikkje Kjende” and “Stjerneheimen”, but neither actually are that long with the latter closing out the track nicely, though the fade out used really doesn’t need to be there since you clearly hear the song end normally with the sound of fingers or the guitar pick going down the strings and ending before the fade out technically would. Had it been left alone, the transition between it and “Frøyas Smykke” would have been more effective and all around better to end the album with.

Aside that fade out at the end of “Stjerneheimen”, there’s a few other problems on the recording that can’t be overlooked, but come off more as similarly cosmetic issues then anything the band did. “Ormgaard” starts off with a hollow, higher pitched guitar performance acting as the introduction to the song. It works to build up a stark contrast between the intro and the actual music, especially when the deeper, rich music of the song does manage to kick in, but that early intro portion is actually quite irritating after a brief while simply because it goes on longer then it probably should, and due to the higher pitch of the guitars. On top of that the song “Krigaren eg Ikkje Kjende” seems to be a bit too loud for what the band is doing on the song, which is some pretty impressive and more epic-sounding Viking Metal transitions from strong Black Metal passages. During that Viking Metal section, the audio quality even seems to change a bit, and a lot of white noise comes into play in the background of this section. The static is actually quite loud in the mix, as if you took a recording and amped the sound up in the mix, not from the speakers, and that white noise is just the enhanced silence of the recording. This would seem pretty close to why it’s there since that section does just feel louder in volume to begin with. “Frøyas Smykke” does make for a good closing instrumental to the album, but aside that odd transition into it, the song itself feels really short, shorter then it needed to be to close such an epic release, and actually leaves the listener ins hock that it ends that way. The album feels unresolved and like there was more to it that the fade out used at the end of this track came in way too early, and was executed way too fast. A slow fade would have worked better, though, as stated, a longer track length itself would have also helped keep the album from feeling like someone just gave up right at the end of editing the album’s audio together and cutting off a pivotol moment that would leave the listener greatly satisfied with the final outcome.

Mardraum: Beyond the Within does deserve a lot of the credit that it has received over the years. However, there are some consmetic issues that seem to pop up with the release that you won’t be able to ignore, especially if you get really wrapped up in the album. While the songs are great and nicely transition between the Viking Metal and Black Metal styles from start to finish, each song having it’s own unique approach and reason to revisit it later, you can’t help but feel the last three minutes of the album was rushed by the person editing the effort’s audio together and just called it a day by using fast fade outs when they weren’t necessary. Sadly, this feels like a stab right into the heart at the end, and with the other cosmetic issues mentioned, it does hold this album back from being a Progressive inspired Metal masterpiece. If you’re a fan of Enslaved and have yet to hear it, or even just a casual listener wanting to experience the band or more of their earlier discography for the first time, Mardraum: Beyond the Within is an album you simply cannot and should not ever pass up, as it is an album you’ll come back to time and time again.

01. Større enn Tid – Tyngre enn Natt – 10:07
02. Daudningekvida – 3:31
03. Entrance-Escape – 7:42
04. Ormgard – 5:29
05. ̠ges Draum Р4:43
06. Mardraum – 3:40
07. Det Endelege Riket – 5:19
08. Ormgard II: Kvalt i Kysk Høgsong – 3:44
09. Krigaren eg Ikkje Kjende – 6:32
10. Stjerneheimen – 5:47
11. Frøyas Smykke – 1:52
Initial Pressing Score: 9/10

Enslaved
Enslaved

Physical review copy of this release provided by personal funds.