Enslaved: Axioma Ethica Odini (Nuclear Blast / Indie Recordings, 9/28/10)
Enslaved: “Ethica Odini”
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Enslaved abandoned black metal long ago in favor of expansive rock songs coated in darker aesthetics. This release continues in the tradition of post-Syd Barrett Pink Floyd by creating compositions of textures over a few simple rock riffs.
There is plenty here to like. Enslaved is a group of fantastic players, and, in isolation, some of these parts are extremely interesting. Chord-voicing games on “Singular” warrant repeat listens, as does the heavy, stuttering riff that intros “Waruun.” Close attention to the cymbal accent patterns will reward the more rhythmically-minded listener.
However, when taken as a whole, these songs are a hodgepodge. This is particularly frustrating, given the band’s past great works and the hints of greatness with which it continues to flirt. Parts rarely relate to each other in an intuitive way, and instead mesh together awkwardly in a herky-jerky mess of pseudo-epic singing, clean guitar arpeggios, black-metal tremolo picking, and cringe-worthy talking parts.
If the melodic vocals were all like “Lightening,” Enslaved might be onto something. Instead, most of the melodies are immediately forgettable, making the clean vocals an irritation as they distract from the point of the song without offering anything. Many parts — such as the chaotic transition into a clean guitar break into a brief, sung outro in the final minutes of “Ethica Odini” — invite the listener to ask “why?”
Still, this record benefits significantly from a stripped-down approach to songwriting from which Enslaved had strayed on its more recent releases. The album’s high points come in moments when a riff is allowed to grow and then transition into a complementary part. The deceptively simple intro to “The Beacon,” followed by a half-time part with floating rhythmic emphasis, is a perfect example of this technique. Similarly, the driving riff that carries “Raidho” flourishes with subtle keys added to it after a few repetitions.
This record has strong moments that hint at the expert riff-craft and songwriting that Enslaved has demonstrated in the past. Given the success of more minimalist songs on this release, we may yet see Enslaved release another great album. Axioma Ethica Odini, however, does not have the cohesive vision that elevates music above the pack.