Enslaved’s Mardraum: ten years on


Thanks to Enslaved‘s latest opus, I’ve discovered that there’s at least some extreme metal that my girlfriend is happy to listen to in the car. Alongside Vertebrae, Axioma… has been in heavy circulation, and has turned car journeys into a chance to kick back with some huge tunes. Spurred on to seek out more car-friendly metal¸ I’ve been working through the band’s discography – most of which I haven’t listened to for years – and what a treat it’s been. One record has stood out more than all the others: 2000’s Mardraum – Beyond the Within (Osmose Productions). I rarely hear it ranked among the band’s best releases, but in a nearly faultless back-catalogue, Mardraum floored me in a way that no other Enslaved album has managed to.

With Mardraum, Enslaved took their first steps towards the blackened progressive metal of their current incarnation, and right from the album’s opening notes there’s a strong Floyd influence on show. But the band that wrote this album is a far cry from the Enslaved of today. The uncompromising energy and aggression of Blodhemn still runs strong through the arteries of Mardraum: the break-neck riffery on ‘Daudningekvida’ and ‘Krigaren eg Ikkje Kjende’ reminds us that even with 5 full-lengths under their belt, Enslaved were still a very young band in 2000 (Ivar B. must have been about 22). There’s a rawness to the production, too, that lends an extra ounce of ferocity and silences anyone who might equate a prog influence with going soft. This is definitely not an album for the car.

The best thing about Mardraum is its huge sense of adventure. No compromise is made for the ‘sensibilities’ of traditional rock or metal songwriting. Take opener ‘Større enn Tid – Tyngre enn Natt’, a sprawling epic that slides seamlessly through a long chain of movements in a wide variety of styles and tempos, while staying compelling from the beginning right to its majestic conclusion. Other tracks (e.g. ‘Ormgard’, ‘Æges Draum’) see Enslaved toying with a heavily Death Metal-influenced sound, which (kind of surprisingly) works fantastically within their progressive/Black Metal framework.

After this brave and diverse album, there really was no telling which direction Enslaved would head off in next. While I love the sonic territory they ended up exploring on their post-Y2K albums, the reckless unpredictability of Mardraum will always be closer to my heart.

3 Comments

  • Reply October 27, 2010

    atanamar

    Mardraum is and will always be my favorite Enslaved album. I always wonder what part, if any, Kronheim played in the absurd songwriting of this era. Unfortunately, Vertebrae and Axioma aren't doing much for me, but Mardraum still gets spun all the time. One of my favorite albums of the last decade.

    And I seriously doubt there's any Enslaved album my wife would tolerate. 😉

  • Reply October 27, 2010

    Flesh Monolith

    Funny, with the new album I took it upon myself to revisit their catalog as well.

    I've always loved the band, something from every album, but I always view Isa as their finest moment (it also happens to be one of my favorite albums).

    I gave the new album quite a lot of time, but I think it's garbage, just like the last.They both, however have great songs "The Watcher" on Vertebrae and the first track on the new one. The albums are just full of crap, there's no single direction and they reek of commercial accessibility and lack of care; not progression.

    That said I think Mardarum's a bad album. Parts of the first song are great, and I usually pick it up because of that. But the other tracks are just every which way, there's no cohesion, it's like Opeth. Why does "Ormgard" have that pointless shift in production? Why is there a death metal track next to some silly tribal drumming chuggathon; I don't know this album's just silly. I guess if it weren't Enslaved I might not be so harsh on it, then again I probably wouldn't keep the cd if it weren't Enslaved.

    I wouldn't call it "reckless unpredictability" but rather adept songwriting that spans genres and tastes giving a good sampler to new comers and a general audience. Along with that there's nothing really "raw" except that bass,it's nice to actually hear that thing.

    It's a poor album as it's like having 30 awesome cats nipping at all different parts of your body; you can't just play with one.

    Sometime "progressive" just means scatterbrained. I think Enslaved could do quite well if they continued in the vein of RUUN, rockish song structures with black metal touches.

    Interesting perspectives nonetheless.

    -F

  • Reply October 28, 2010

    Richard

    I love Opeth ;_;

    Sometimes I think I'm the only one. Also, I'm going to do a post about Opeth in the near future, looking forward to reading your critique on that!

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