Hordanes Land [Split CD]

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Somewhat overshadowed because its original configuration saw it splitting album sides with the more headline-grabbing Emperor (burning churches will do that for you), Enslaved's Hordanes Land EP was, in retrospect, a debut of no lesser significance to the burgeoning Norwegian black metal scene. It may have been even more visionary, in fact. Whereas Emperor, for all of their embryonic orchestral ambitions, still owed scene godfathers Mayhem for their satanic/occult subjects and were already singing in English; Enslaved were busy reinventing Viking metal from where Sweden's Bathory had recently abandoned it, and using ancient forms of their native tongue (not to mention ancient Icelandic on some tracks) to rail against Christianity from a decidedly historical -- not merely counter-religious -- point of view. As epic as Bathory to boot, the 13-minute "Slaget I Kogen Bortenfor" and ten-minute "Balfar" contain several different movements to help keep the listener riveted from start to finish. (For the record, these were synth-enhanced blast riffs and wild screaming alternating with acoustic guitar-laced doom guitars and crowned by somber recitals for the former, and piano-accompanied staccato riffs and surprisingly melodic, almost classical music-inspired arrangements for the latter.) And the comparatively brief, seven-minute "Allfadr Odinn" pursues a tack only subtly less elaborate (and no less successful) to make one's brain cells work, even while making the headbanging neck sore. In sum, this is an essential document of Viking metal's symbolic and physical border crossing from Sweden to Norway, and a revealing glimpse of Enslaved's genius yet to be revealed.

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