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Enslaved never achieved the amount of international notoriety or album sales of fellow Norwegian black metal stalwarts Emperor, Mayhem, or Immortal, but the band's work is just as important to the continued, forward-thinking evolution (or, more accurately, mutation) of the genre. Case in point: Monumension, an astounding, experimental record that transcends the "Viking metal" tag slapped on Enslaved earlier in its career, while still incorporating the historical Norse lyrical themes that have become the band's proud trademark. (Notably, the album also marks Enslaved's first recording with lyrics written and sung completely in English.) Sonically, Monumension mixes traditionally bitter-cold Scandinavian ideas with a hint of the hardcore-based tribal progressivism and generally transcendent feel of Neurosis. Enslaved's previous release, Mardraum, was a staggeringly overlooked and complex release sporting an organic, subterranean rumble that fulfilled the creative, chaotic limits of an all-heavy, all-the-time post-black metal undertaking -- a record that found the band honing its songwriting to a fine point as well as fully realizing the band's potential (which grew significantly with earlier releases Eld and Blodhemn). Monumension is a thorough expansion of the principles that Mardraum put forth, focusing on concise song arrangements built around melodic signatures rather than an unwavering battery of riffs and harsh vocals. Granted, singer Grutle Kjellson still utilizes his razor-blade death gargle, but more often makes use of a haunted, echoing clean voice -- listen to "Smirr" and the strange but beautiful downbeat melodicism of standout track "The Sleep: Floating Diversity -- A Monument Part III." Elsewhere, arrangements are refreshingly daring and obtuse, especially the abstract Pink Floyd-isms of "Hollow Inside" and the compellingly sideways, yet still profoundly heavy, riffing of "Vision: Sphere of the Elements -- A Monument Part II." Monumension is a truly daring album, one that embarks on a refreshingly original journey through grand, dignified metal passages, exceeding many expectations. Blastbeat-worshipping purists may not agree, but to close one's mind to the dark atmospheres of Monumension is to overlook a bold step forward for the Viking/black metal genre. [The CD also contains a bonus track from Norwegian traditionalists HOV, a seemingly accurate reproduction of Viking chants performed by vocalist Trygve Mathiesen, backed by the members of Enslaved. Surprisingly, the track fits in well with Monumension's left-of-center approach.]

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