ENSLAVED's first official release HORDANES LAND came out as an EP just a year after their 2nd demo “Yggdrasill.” It was released independently at first and then a few weeks later also as a split with the first Emperor EP. I have the remastered edition that was released in 2004 with the debut album “Vikingligr Veldi.” The lineup is the same with the two founders Ivar Bjørnson on guitar, keyboards and vocals and Grutle Kjellson handling bass. Trym Torson is still on board on drums.
There has been a major leap in songwriting on this first release as the three tracks are much more varied and complex than the demos. The track “Allfáðr Oðinn” which is included on this EP was the strongest and most progressive on “Yggdrasill” and the band recognized that and used it as the template for their further evolution down the path of ever more progressive black metal. Already at this stage they have a unique sound that despite keeping the basics of second wave black metal in tact, they offer a whole variety of ideas that is layered upon it.
From the opening track “Slaget...” that offers a somewhat artificial sounding choral chant we get a strange keyboard progression that is actually quite catchy and succeeds in overpowering a brutal buzzsaw wall-of-sound with the typical black metal style of shrieks and growls for vocals. The track also shows a much more epic approach in the music as it is divided into three distinct acts and just creeps over the 13 minute mark. In addition to brutal black metal parts there are slow sections that even have classical acoustic guitar sections in the mix. The other two tracks are no less brutal in their delivery, catchy in their hooks or progressive in their developments. They both are well over the 7 minute mark.
The production is still lo-fi but not as so as on the demos. I find myself listening to this EP a lot for although it lacks the complexity of 21st century releases by the band, it is a satisfying listen that is interesting for its own sake as well as putting the band's history in some sort of context. I enjoy this early period of ENSLAVED just as much as the later releases. This is a surprisingly well crafted musical experience and this is only the band's first release. It demonstrates that the band not only mastered the brutality of black metal but that they could also adapt it to include some truly interesting and diverse elements. For me this is beyond for collector's only and I highly recommend this.