Retrospective: Enslaved — “Below the Lights”

When recollecting the histories of some of the greatest metal bands there’s often a sink or swim moment following lackluster albums or a musical dead end, where it was a necessity to reinvent themselves in some way (or quite simply release an incredible comeback album) — Metallica went more commercial with The Black Album after the excesses of …and Justice for All, Judas Priest made their glorious return with Painkiller, and Megadeth’s opus Rust in Peace simply blew the rest of their material out of the water. Even if it’s easily the most red-headed stepchild of metal genres in terms of general musical approach (and non-musical controversy), black metal has a number of artists that followed a similar trajectory. Bathory took things in a mythological and epic direction with Hammerheart and beyond, Darkthrone has been inspired by heavy metal and crust punk for nearly two decades now, and Ulver abandoned the genre once they had nothing more to offer it.

This leads us to Enslaved in 2003. After releasing classic albums of black metal’s second wave with Vikingligr veldi and Frost, they began incorporating more and more progressive elements beginning with Mardraum and Monumension; increasingly dynamic song structures and technical playing as well as largely abandoning the relentless blast beats and trem-picking that characterized the early material. However, some of the experimentation on Monumension fell flat in several ways, thus deeming it necessary for the band to take a big next step. After abandoning unnecessary baggage in their lineup Enslaved crafted Below the Lights, an atmospheric, technical, yet beautifully dark and heavy album that defined progressive black metal and paved the way for what might be the most consistent string of releases in extreme metal history. Today is the 20th anniversary of its release, so let’s revisit what makes this monumental album so special.

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Album Review: Heretoir — “Wastelands”

It’s been almost six years since Heretoir graced us with their presence, with 2017’s The Circle being one of the most poignant post-black metal records I have ever listened to. Memories aside, I have felt that black metal is no longer my genre du jour, and the more time I spend away from it, the more I feel disconnected to it. However, Heretoir brings me back to the genre’s embrace with their newest EP, Wastelands.

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Nine Circles ov… Colin’s 2023 So Far

We’re already coming close to the halfway point for 2023 and since I’ve had too much going on to actively seek out new music recently, I figure it’s time to highlight albums that have made some degree of impact on me over the past few months. Aside from one or two exceptions I don’t expect many of the albums here will join Enslaved and Dødheimsgard on my AOTY list; nevertheless, they deserve a shoutout, even if the wheel isn’t being reinvented.

I’ve made sure to select albums that haven’t been featured on the site yet (aside from popping up in our weekly playlist or mentioned on the AOTM podcast), so let’s dive in with a chronological look at what 2023 has had to offer so far.

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Album Review: Aridus — “Serpent Moon”

As often as black metal artists are explicitly influenced by nature, these environs are too often limited to boreal forests and snowy landscapes. There’s quite literally a whole planet’s worth of unique biomes to draw from, if only the time and effort is put into crafting suitable black metal for a given environment. Taking inspiration from the barren and beautiful high desert of the American southwest, sole instrumentalist Galen Baudhuin presents in Aridus a suitably bleak yet riff-filled debut with Serpent Moon.

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Nine Circles ov…Recent Albums Keeping Me Tethered to Metal

It’s been over nine weeks since I’ve written anything for the site other than the weekly playlists and – truth be told – I was feeling a little less than enthusiastic about the state of extreme music in the year of our (metal) Lord 2023. Most of my music explorations have been outside the genre or stuck in the well-worn alleys of nostalgia. Which is perfectly fine, and simply notes my connection to metal, not the state of the music for the rest of the world.

There have been rays of light here and there, though: the latest platters from VoidCeremony, Dødheimsgard and Liturgy – all reviewed by our killer staff – found a place in my rotation. But for this edition of Nine Circles ov... I want to focus (for what I think is the fourth time) on recent albums not covered by the site but found a way to break through the wall I’ve put up to focus on other avenues of interest. Maybe you’re in a similar place, and maybe you’ve found some of the music I’ve recommended in the past to speak to you like they do me. Let’s find out.

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