Enslaved // Axioma Ethica Odini
Rating: 4.0/5.0 —Great, but a bit forced…
Label: Indie Recordings (EU) | Nuclear Blast (US)
Websites: enslaved.no
Release Dates: EU: 27.09.2010 | US: 09.28.2010

It is not hard to accept one fundamental axiom of the post-black metal Norway that I have referred to recently: Enslaved is easily Norway’s finest band. From the beginning the band has always been strong; grown-ups in a room filled with angry teenagers. This sense has not lessened with the passage of time. While certain members of the scene will forever be singing their equivalent of Alice Cooper ridiculous teen hits as 45 year olds (or older, like the man himself), Enslaved will continue to push the boundaries of black metal with a mature and progressive sound. Starting with the release of Below the Lights in 2003, Enslaved has produced four modern classics of “progressive, psychedelic black metal.” The fourth of this string of amazing albums was Vertebrae, which was released in 2008 and landed the band a tour with Opeth as well as more recognition than they had ever received worldwide. And with good reason: it was the best record the band had written to date.

I never had the good fortunate to review Vertebrae, but I can easily say that it was a perfect album. It advanced the sound of Enslaved, while staying on the trajectory the band had been on since 2001/2003. The record had a still greater progressive feel due to an unusually large amount of clean vocals that the band had written, something that differentiated the album from its predecessors and gave it a unique feel all its own. The production was thick, but organic (if loud) and the song writing had the kind of energy that you get from a band that is in the middle of their prime, not a band producing their eleventh full length. For whatever reason the writing on that album burrowed right into my Angry Metal Heart and set down roots.

And really, Axioma Ethica Odini is more of the same when it comes right down to it. The sound that has been articulated here is quite similar to the Enslaved that we have grown to love (and/or have loved for a long time). The tracks are mid-paced, and chuggy with the occasional bursts of speed and blasts that indicate the band’s history. For example, the track “Ethica Odini” breaks out of the gate in a much more simplistic style than we’ve heard from the band in a long time (“it is perhaps our most repetitive song in 15 years,” says Grutle Kjellson), but instead of upping “the black metal” they stuck with the vocal approach that made Vertebrae such a huge success with new fans and old alike. Another track that stands out is “Waruun”, which starts out with a classic Enslaved riff reminiscent of “Havenless” from Below the Lights, and continues into the trademark clean vocals, again.

So, from those descriptions, you can see this as the natural outcome of the band’s movement forward. Stepping back a bit from the progressiveness of Vertebrae, without abandoning it entirely, certainly the tracks “Giants”, with its heavy keyboards and clean harmonies and “Night Sight” with its very 70s prog intro (a little Wishbone Ash and a little Yes?) maintain the progressive trajectory. And all of this is really embodied in “Lightening”, which I think is one of the finest Enslaved tracks ever written. It starts out beautifully, with a heavy groove/prog part with a fantastic delayed lead that really just rocks my world and contains probably the band’s finest vocals on the whole record. But after this intro it jumps into heavy, powerful black metal riffing which contrasts with a chorus that I cannot describe as anything other than ethereal: it just floats over the tribal drumming and keyboards creating an indescribable atmosphere. There is very little “weird” or “progressive” about the song in the traditional sense, but the structure is perfect in its simplicity and melodic nature. It is a pure moment of musical ecstasy that really pulls up the end of this album.

But it is this final track that also casts a pall over the rest of this record for me. I was expecting this whole album to be as phenomenal as “Lightening” was. But instead, of the 9 tracks, 3 of them (“The Beacon”, “Axioma” and “Giants”) leave me cold, and others are good but they don’t have the same kind of kick that Vertebrae did. There is just something here that doesn’t feel like it’s clicking. Like somehow that x factor just didn’t fall into place somewhere along the line and I am left with the feeling that despite liking this album a lot, I could just as easily go and pop in Vertebrae or Below the Lights and be just as (or more) pleased. This could be the outcome of excessively high expectations, I admit. Enslaved is one of my favorite bands in the modern era and I guess I’m feeling a bit disappointed that I wasn’t laying flat on my back after the first play through. Instead, the record has had to grow for me, something that can be either good or bad (as, for example, both my favorite Katatonia and my favorite Opeth records were growers that I was disappointed with at first). But my gut instinct tells me that while the vocal approach on Vertebrae just sort of “snuck up on” the band, it was a more conscious effort on Axioma Ethica Odini, making it feel more forced; a feeling that I had a hell of a time ignoring as I was listening to the album.

Of course, given everything I’ve read about this record online, everyone is making it out to be the best thing since the beginning of the creation of music. I’m not sure whether or not it’s wise to buy into the hype, but it’s hard for me to deny that this record still contains some very high quality material that will definitely please long time (and new) fans of the band. But I was hoping to give this album a 5/5 because I love the music this band has created so much, but I just can’t. Four outta five it is, but let’s not kid ourselves: Enslaved is still basically the only band from the original wave of black metal that’s still doing anything this original or interesting.

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  • Gabriel Riccio

    Ulver, my friend. Ulver.

    • http://www.angrymetalguy.com Angry Metal Guy

      Ulver doesn’t count because they went IDM. They haven’t played a style of music that I have enjoyed for at least 15 years.

  • http://thenumberoftheblog.com/ groverXIII

    This album hasn’t grabbed me like Vertebrae or Isa, but it’s still very solid.

  • Gabriel Riccio

    Ulver went IDM for 1 EP and that was it. They have since done dark ambient, film scores in various styles, avant-garde conglomerates, etc.

  • http://crescentshield.com Crescent Shield

    I listened to it twice so far. Its really great but I have to agree with you. I feel there a 2 songs that just aren’t up to the quality of other ENSLAVED – Singular and Night Sight. But the good material on this is fucking brilliant, which is essentially the rest of the album.

  • http://crescentshield.com Crescent Shield

    Just listened again. THIS IS A MUST BUY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It’s impact is immediate AND its a grower!!!

  • doug

    I’ve only had one complete listen, but I will say this. When will bands stop super-compressing albums in mastering to achieve insane loudness? So many beautiful nuance is lost in dense wash, and quite frankly, its fatiguing to listen to.

    Enslaved will always be one of my favorite bands though. Right now im not seeing this getting more spins than Isa or Ruun.

  • Devilthorn

    I competely agree with you on saying that Enslaved is easily the best band that Norway has to offer, and the probably one of the only older black metal bands still doing anything interesting. With that being said, I wholeheartedly disagree with you that Vertebrae is better than this. This new album is easily the best thing Enslaved has done in their “prog” era. (also, I think that the prog era started creeping in on the Maurdraum and Monumension albums, and not on Below the Lights, as you said.) Vertebrae, while a good album, was a bit of a letdown compared to earlier Enslaved albums. I still find myself rarely listening to it, putting in other Enslaved albums instead. I think Vertebrae is the weakest of the “prog era” of Enslaved. This new album immediately hit me like a ton of bricks, and has not left my music rotation since I got it. While the clean vocals were a bit weak in places (particularly the very first time you hear them in Track 1), the rest of the album is amazing. You and I have had many discussions on metal over the years, and I’ve made no secret of my hatred of the prog genre, only being able to tolerate bits and pieces of it when it creeps into my metal….however Enslaved has perfected the mix of prog and my beloved black metal. It has to be good if it makes me enjoy prog….trust me. Honestly, I might even say that this is my favorite Enslaved album of all time, finally knocking Frost off the top spot. Enslaved has never made a bad album…some may not be as strong as others they’ve done, but every album they’ve made is easily a Must Buy for any fan of metal music. this is a strong contender for Album of the Year for me….not sure if it will surpass the excellent Ironbound from Overkill, but still being 2nd place after that amazing album is saying a lot. this album is a must buy for extreme metal fans…and just any fan of metal in general. Everything this band touches turns to gold, and this is no exception. Amazing songwriting, amazing musicianship…Amazing Band.

    • http://noizemakesenemies.co.uk m.b

      I completely agree with you devilthorn. For me, Vertebrae is possibly the weakest Enslaved album in their whole discography. While being so hyped in the metal press, it is nowhere near as good as ruun, below the lights, isa or monumension. The new album, however, hasnt left my player for weeks. It is truly a work of beauty!

    • http://www.angrymetalguy.com Angry Metal Guy

      Well, I Monumension was actually included in this. And I said their last four opuses (opi), which implied that I don’t think the others are up to par.

      And I love Enslaved, as you’re well aware, but I really think Vertebrae is a better album and it’s easily my favorite album. I would go so far as to argue that it’s their best record and will continue to do so until the produce one that’s better. ;)

  • adam antichrist

    I’m loving this album, like I’ve loved everything since Monumension. But i got the new dimmu borgir at the same time, and it really solidifies the point you are making. Abrahadabra sounds (and looks!) almost identical to what cradle of filth have been doing since oh i don’t know about 1998.

    There are some pertty familiar sounds on Axioma, eg Ethica Odini sounds similar to “ground” off vertebrae in my opinion. But i’m obsessed with this record and hope they tour australia soon. Best thing in metal by far.

  • bloodler

    this album was a mistake, has a completely generic feel to it the clean vocals are shit, what the hell were they trying to do? get on the radio? vertabrae was way better

  • Nicky Brown

    AMG, you write “Enslaved is easily Norway’s finest band.” That seems facile to me. I think that Norway is currently distinguished by having surprisingly many excellent prog and metal bands considering their population of only 4 million.

    My fave Norwegian band these days is Keep of Kalessin. Their Kolossus and Reptilian are unbelievable. Require a lotta effort to get into tho.

    Surprisingly Keep of Kalessin is becoming a household name in Norway due to their appearance in the Norwegian Eurovision, where 1/4 million people voted for them, and the ensuing documentary about them by the Norwegian State Radio & TV.

    Guys, give KoK some runs. You’l be surprised how good this band is !

    Nicky.

    • http://www.angrymetalguy.com Angry Metal Guy

      It’s funny that you should use the word “facile” and then suggest that Keep of Kalessin is Norway’s best band. I’d go so far as to say that it’s a tad ironic.

      While I like the band just fine—though, frankly, Reptilian was far from ‘unbelievable’—I certainly wouldn’t rank them in Norway’s highest echelon, which I believe should be reserved for bands like Enslaved, Ulver and Taake. And that the band is becoming a household name in Norway because they went on Schlagerfestivalen is hardly something that should be used as a credit to the band.

  • Nicky Brown

    AMG, I didnt write that KoK was Norway’s best band, just that they were my fave Norwegian band (and they’re one of my overall fave five bands).

    I agree with you on the Eurovision thingy, I jyst mentioned it as an interesting fact.

    I don’t think that we actually disagree that much – you just have a more polemical style ;-). I fylly agree with you about the greatness of Enslaved and Ulver. Taake I don’t know yet, but I’l happily pursue your tip further.

    I don’t mind your “Angry”, cuz you definitely know a lot abut rock, so I’l be comin over more often now.

    Continue the good work, and continue bein angrrry ;-)

    Nicky.

  • Anonymous

    I think from what i´ve heard from this album that they sometimes try a little too hard to sound “epic” A song like the title track i think, we have your typical atmospheric Enslaved black metal part, then we have a COMPLETE deep purple/sabbath esque part with melodic singing that appears a little forced songwriting wise. Then we have the epic “Giant” that has a death metal part ala Opeth meets Morbid Angel who meets Scar Symmetry in a heavy disharmic down and up three notes progression with growls! Love that! Then we have a “epic” chorus, ofcause! It´s big and it´s epic, but allmost too much for my taste, it comes off a bit pretentious to me, but i guess i have to give it a few more listenings :)