Enslaved: The Sleeping Gods

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Enslaved: The Sleeping Gods
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Enslaved: Mardraum: Beyond the Within
Progressive Black Metal, Viking Metal
Scion A/V
May 10th, 2011
Release length: 28:30
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Formed back in 1991, Enslaved are considered one of the more important figures in the Viking Metal movement, as well as one of the more established and respected Black Metal bands at the start of their career. Throughout the years, the band has been included in plenty of compilation efforts, and have issued a decent amount of new releases, primarily full-length albums that have the run the gambit of being excellent to not that well recepted among fans and critics alike. It’s been roughly twenty years since the group formed for the release of their latest effort, an EP entitled The Sleeping Gods, which is being released through the label Scion A/V, one that came out of nowhere, but has started building speed with their most recent signings and releases such as this one. However, does this EP really have what it takes to keep the Enslaved legend alive and well in the hearts of the Metal community?

One of the things that becomes immediately clear is the production of the album, which is not really the best to capture the spirit of Enslaved. The music itself isn’t the most clear production you could find, but it ends up sounding a little hollow and not quite as rich as it should. While the band does blend together the Viking and Black Metal styles with a more Progressive tone, that latter influence to the band’s sound seems to be the pivotol point of the quality, allowing the music to sound more open and driven by atmosphere then the main styles of the band’s foundation. This is great when there is some impressive moments, such as the guitar solo and heavy Progressive elements of “Alu Misyrki”, but for the most part it ends up removing some of the bite that Enslaved brings with them. The guitars still have that decent heaviness to it, though nowhere near what it should be, and the bass is present and makes a good mark in the music to cause the EP to sound somewhat richer by having a deeper sound to it. The drums are all well done and are recorded nicely so that there is an even, rich sound from them, and the keyboards are about the same level allowing them to feel more like they are accompanying the mix instead of driving the album or overpowering the rest of the recording. Of course, this sounds great during the keyboard driven atmospheric/Ambient interlude track “Synthesis”, though it seems to depart greatly from the more Viking toned material that Enslaved performs on this release, both musically and lyrically.

The Sleeping Gods is a little bit of a rocky experience, but that winds up coming later on with the recording. This EP boasts two great tracks to start with that also establish the atmosphere of the recording. “Heimvegen” kicks things off with a nice mixture of a Progressive approach to Black Metal and Viking Metal with keyboards that give it a slightly epic sensation through material that feels lore-driven and in memory thanks to the more somber clean singing. Aside singing, there is the more rhaspier style that seems to border between guttural Death Metal growls, and just a more vile sounding Black Metal approach. This and the following track, “Alu Misyrki”, are the only two of the five to feature this style, and while it does work in a Progressive sense, they wind up feeling a little weak and uninteresting due to what feels like a lack of energy behind them despite the slower nature of the song. “Alu Misyrki”, however, really lays those Black Metal rhasps on thick with an energetic and overall violent faster song with slower passages thrown into the performance that puts the Enslaved that fans have come to know and love right to the forefront with pounding Black Metal, clean singing at times, and a generally unruly atmosphere to the song that immediately gets the listener’s blood pumping.

In all honesty, “Synthesis” feels very out of place with it’s more Ambient sound and mechanical, technological overtones that sound as if they are trying to capture the concept of a godly figure talking through the clouds while lost in a dream. When you look at it that way it can work to the environment of the recording, but at the same time it just sounds way too modern and mechanical to fit with the overall Viking and Black Metal sounds, despite the Progressive influence to them, and ultimately feels more like a bonus or hidden track that was slapped in the middle of the disc. It’s not bad, but it just does not work with the rest of the release at all other then to push the quickly established Progressive aspect of the band further then the first track, “Heimvegen”, managed to do with a stronger focus on that style and clean singing vocals that sound along the lines of praise through Folk-like chanting clean singing. But that’s not the only track that seems to do this, as “Nordlys” does take a strong Progressive Metal approach, but it at least fits the atmosphere the band establishes at the start, and doesn’t really seem to come off driven more through a mechanical approach, but at times does show a bit of a Rock influence to it’s somewhat melancholic atmospheric approach.

That is where the album starts to change things up. The closing track also varies greatly from the established tracks of the release. “The Sleeping Gods” does stick more to the Viking Metal approach, as it’s more of a worship chanting/ritualistic style song. By the time you reach this final track, it becomes obvious that this EP is perhaps one of the most experimental recordings that Enslaved has offered, and for that it’s quite enjoyable even though some of that experimentation does interrupt the flow and established concepts of the EP thanks to the first two tracks. However, “Synthesis” and “Nordlys” seem to be a bit too far out though and, though “Nordlys” does at least share traits with the concepts and atmospheres, they just seem like some kind of b-side material more then actual songs to the EP, leaving you to wish the band had just stuck “The Sleeping Gods” at the end of “Alu Misyrki” and called it a day while hiding “Nordlys” after a minute or two of silence to help retain a solid flow from point a to point b.

So is The Sleeping Gods really a bad EP? No, but it seems the band pushes into more experimental concepts for their style that do leave some material sounding a little bland and even out of place. The production quality of the album does do too well to capture the music in the proper light either, leaving it to sound a little more empty then it should have been, though “Alu Misyrki” does benefit a bit from being faster, which causes it to sound a little richer in the long run. But, after that track, it just becomes a bit of a question as to why the material is even there, especially with “Synthesis” that doesn’t seem to really fit in with the established material in any sense with “Nordlys” and “The Sleeping Gods” at least making sense as to why they are there. In the end the EP is a bit of a let down because of all of this, but Enslaved do at least offer two solid new songs, and a catchy yet somewhat melancholic instrumental with “Nordlys”, and a suiting end that could ultimately work with any Enslaved album of recent years. It’s worth checking out, but in the end The Sleeping God becomes more of an EP that the die hard fans of the band will embrace a lot more then the casual fan of the style, or the band.

01. Heimvegen – 5:38
02. Alu Misyrki – 5:03
03. Synthesis – 6:19
04. Nordlys – 5:46
05. The Sleeping Gods – 5:45
Initial Pressing Score: 6/10

Enslaved
Enslaved

Digital review copy of this release provided by personal funds.