Enslaved fans who wondered just how far the Norwegian black metal legends would push the steady progressivification of their sound might have their answer -- for now at least -- in 2008's majestically ethereal Vertebrae, because its much anticipated follow-up, Axioma Ethica Odini, sees the band reconnecting with metallic extremity on a scale arguably not heard since 2003's Below the Lights. True, it hasn't been that long, and apologies to anyone who got momentarily excited about the prospect of a Hordanes Land part two (come on, get real!), but the point is that blastbeaten tempos, blurred-wrist guitar strumming, and Grutle Kjellson's viciously ragged rasp haven't been this authoritarian on an Enslaved album in some time. Hence the forceful charge of album-opener "Ethica Odini," the thrash-and-roll swing of "Raidho," the blinding, slow-burning intensity of "Giants," the acrobatic guitar work of "Singular," and the focused, old-school black metal perfection of "The Beacon." Quieter passages, melodic arpeggios, contrast-giving keyboard parts, and Herbrand Larsen's distinctive clean singing still populate most every track, but largely in secondary roles (the predominantly gentle "Night Sight" being the only notable exception); which doesn't mean they are any less impactful, however, as evidenced by the deliberate pace and lingering Eastern accents of "Waruun," the soothing synthesizer waves of "Axioma," and the positively dreamy, vertigo-inducing melodic sequence splayed across closing masterpiece "Lightening." In other words, the "progressive" label still looms tall among the top three or four genre descriptions applicable to Enslaved's ever-complex and unpredictable sound (psychedelics not so much this time around), and the fact that black metal does too is all that longtime acolytes could ask from a band honorable enough to hang onto their musical roots while constantly intriguing and captivating them with new experiments.
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AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia