2000, Napalm Records
Obtained Enslavement has deviated from their usual approach on this release by opting for a more guitar-driven sound instead of their patented layers-of-keyboards style, and it suits them well. I don't know whether or not they have been hiding the guitars all these years on purpose or whether they were laying bets as to the continued evolution of the keyboard-laden scene while it seemed like that style was constantly gaining ground, but I, for one, am glad that they have gone back to this elemental sound because when it comes to black metal I usually just prefer the basic formula of guitars, bass, and drums. There have been many worthy compositions, over the years, that have utilized a distinctly black style of synth playing (most noticeably those of early Emperor and Limbonic Art), but when it came to Dimmu and that band's layering of pop melodies, the scene definitely took a turn for the worse. And then we have the last Emperor album - which is not even worthy of contemplating, really. So in the meantime there has been a definite shift in the Norwegian or Scandinavian scenes, and while the Moonfog roster has embraced techno and the 'modernization' of electronica-influenced metal, other bands have seen the light and gone back to a more atavistic style.
Not to say that this album is really 'primitive' in any way: the compositions are expert, well-versed, melodically fulfilling, and complex enough to keep your attention, while the production gives the material a full rich sound that embraces the 'cold' arpeggios and sparkling tremelo riffing. This is actually a little more 'catchy' than the past music from this band, but that is not detrimental in any way as it never comes to the point, really, of being 'accessible'. Obtained Enslavement measure out their riffing sparsely, spreading the melodies over lengthy (by the usual black metal standards) songs that are not afraid to search slowly for a sense of atmosphere, and while there remains a large portion of all-out blast in what they are offering, it is the not the sort of speed-thrills that would ever make you lose your head: their method of draping slow, chilling arpeggios and strummed chords over a driving drumbeat reminds me, a little, of the new Mayhem album - but that isn't decisive. Combining their mastery of creating profound Norse black melodies and the always-intense throat-scarring screams of vocalist Pest (Gorgoroth) in seven new songs here, this band has created a very good, solid, listenable record. It comes recommended.