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Viking metal stalwarts Enslaved closed out the 1990s with their fourth full album, Blodhemn, taking advantage of the millennium threshold ahead to close the first chapter of their career from a stylistic point of view as well. From here on out (beginning with 2000's Mardraum), the group would transform its sound significantly with every record; but, although Enslaved's songwriting had never been anything less than inquisitive from day one, it had heretofore relied primarily on typical Scandinavian black metal attributes -- shrieked vocals, buzz-saw guitars, manic blastbeats -- only extended to Bathory-approved, epic lengths. Blodhemn (which means "vengeance in blood" in Norwegian) was no exception, and may in fact have seemed like the "blackest" of them all on first listen, thanks to the involvement of respected producer Peter Tägtgren, who recorded the band at his own Abyss Studios. According to some detractors, Tägtgren actually made the band sound Swedish, because of the album's generally shorter songs and cleaner, more compressed sound (a vast improvement upon its dismal-sounding predecessor, Eld, it should be noted), but as repeated spins gradually revealed, Enslaved's relentless will to experiment still writhed within. So despite the seeming rigidity of their titanium-plated exoskeletons, tracks like "I Lenker Til Ragnarok," "Urtical Gods," and "Nidingaslakt" (the last two being as "rock & roll" as black metal song structures get) merely disguise imaginatively contrasting riffs and occasional hints of sounds yet to come, like the psychedelic/electronic bridge seeping out of "Ansuz Astral." Elsewhere, dark hymns like "Eit Auga Til Mimir," "Suttungs Mjød," and of course the title track continue to add new triumphs to the band's by now almost unchallenged Viking metal supremacy. That's why, in spite of some imminently temporal qualities and enduring controversies, Blodhemn has largely been vindicated over time, as yet another victorious step in Enslaved's long and never-ending musical evolution.

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