ENSLAVED — Below the Lights (review)

ENSLAVED — Below the Lights album cover Album · 2003 · Black Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
UMUR
"Below the Lights" is the 7th full-length studio album by Norwegian black metal act Enslaved. The album was released in April 2003 by Osmose Productions. Incorporating more and more progressive elements into their "core" black metal sound over the last couple of albums, "Below the Lights" is probably one of the most progressive and diverse releases yet by Enslaved.

...while still being rooted in black metal, the music on "Below the Lights" features quite a few elements from 70s progressive/ experimental rock. Especially the occasionally used mellotron and organ lead my thoughts in that direction. As and example the mellotron intro to the opening track "As Fire Swept Clean the Earth" has that epic yet melancholic feel to it that I also associate with the intro the "Watcher Of The Skies" by Genesis. I don´t think it´s a coincidence that "As Fire Swept Clean the Earth" is the opening track on "Below the Lights" just as "Watcher Of The Skies" is the opening track on the album where it is featured (that would be "Foxtrot (1972)"). The closing repetitive and quite spacy sounding minutes of "The Dead Stare" have a very obvious Hawkwind sound to it (nice psychadelic sounding synth effects) and is another example of the strong 70s progressive/space rock vibe that is present on "Below the Lights". Or maybe take a listen to the intro to "Queen of Night" which features flute and a prog folky sound.

When that is said "Below the Lights" probably isn´t an album that will suit the taste of many "regular" progressive rock fans who aren´t accostumed to extreme metal. The vocals are for the most part still very extreme and delivered in an aggressive raspy sneer. There are occasional clean vocals featured on the album too, but they are not that dominant. "Below the Lights" is a very diverse album and while that´s not always a strength in my book as too much diversity has a tendency to ruin consistency, it´s an asset here. In addition to the progressive elements I mentioned above you´ll find both blasting black metal sections, blackened thrashy sections, epic atmospheric sections and a viking chant no less. The latter occurs in the track "Havenless" and to be honest I found it quite silly to begin with, not being a great fan of viking or folk metal in general, but it´s kinda grown on me and I´ve come to the realization that it sits quite well on the album and brings a different atmosphere to the table that makes the album even more long lasting that it already is. The album features enough variation for you to return to it again and again.

The sound production is enjoyable but compared to later more mature and well produced releases by Enslaved, I think it leaves a bit to be desired. On the other hand I like the rawness and unpolished sound of "Below the Lights", so I guess the sound isn´t an issue in the end.

"Below the Lights" is a very strong album showcasing both Enslaved´s black metal past and progressive extreme metal future. It´s a distinct sounding album both compared to the rest of the band´s own discograpy but also compared to extreme metal in general. It´s an album that´s taken a while to grow on me, but patience has paid off this time. A 4.5 star rating is fully deserved.
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