ENSLAVED — Below the Lights (review)

ENSLAVED — Below the Lights album cover Album · 2003 · Black Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
ssmarcus
"Progression or evolution is best served if it does not include dismissing either the past elements or the future possibilities. Being all about regression makes music rotten from the inside in the long run, while total futurism tears up roots and make the tree fall," said Ivar Bjørnson, founding member and guitarist of Enslaved, in an interview with Metal Bite when Below the Lights first dropped in 2003. While referring specifically to the philosophy behind the music on the band's latest record, Ivar's comments could easily sum up the raison d'etre of many progressive and avant-garde metal acts leading up to and immediately following the turn of the millennium. This was an era where an open frontier of metal music remained undiscovered and many Nordic acts, Norway's Enslaved included, answered the call of exploration.

Below the Lights does its part in advancing these exploratory efforts by expertly threading together the most haunting elements of mellotron based 70's prog, Viking-inspired folk, and modern black metal. Coupled with an iconic album cover and esoteric lyrics, this is a record that fosters a palpable sense of impenetrable mystery. Who exactly is trapped below that snow covered forest? How does their pain and misery square with the abject euphoric beauty explored on tracks like "The Crossing"? Who exactly is having these mystical visions of impending darkness? I am not equipped to even attempt answering these mysteries. I am content with letting that mystery permeate through the music.

Despite the above praise, I'm still unable to afford this record a perfect rating. As I have mentioned in my reviews in the passed, black metal as a style is, for my own personal taste, a liability. Compared to a death metal growl, black metal vocals are thin and grating. If death metal vocals attempt to capture the power and terror of Satan himself, black metal vocals imitate the sounds of the small imps running around stirring trouble on Satan's behalf. Additionally, black metal guitars and drums are too keen on using tremolo techniques as the foundation of entire passages. "As Fire Swept Clean the Earth" could easily have been improved had those tendencies been tamed.
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