Originally published in Guitar World, February 2011
The Norwegian metallers break with their past on Axioma Ethica Odini.
Over the past 19 years, Norway’s Enslaved have steadily evolved from a traditional black metal group into an extreme prog-metal powerhouse. The group’s latest album, Axioma Ethica Odini, marks yet another significant change in its sound and approach. Enslaved not only recorded the album themselves but also finally found the perfect balance between progressive and aggressive metal.
“With this album we wanted to get as close to our live sound as possible: urgent, upbeat and in your face,” says founding guitarist and main songwriter Ivar Bjørnson. “This approach actually ended up leaving an open field for the more melodic and progressive parts, and, in a way, helped crystallize them.”
When asked about the genesis of this creative shift, Bjørnson points to a pivotal moment before the recording of the group’s previous record, 2008’s Vertebrae. “Before the sessions for Vertebrae we were having a blueberry pancake breakfast in L.A. with [mixer] Joe Barresi,” he recounts. “He said, ‘No more wall of guitars. Just an old-school, live setup: one guitar in the left speaker and one in the right.’ I was a bit nervous, but it ended up giving us a feeling of rebirth.”
Enslaved—which also includes guitarist Ice Dale, bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson, drummer Cato Bekkevold and keyboardist Herbrand Larsen—were so pleased with the results of Barresi’s straightforward mixing philosophy that they applied it to their songwriting for Axioma Ethica Odini.
“Axioma was written with just two guitars in mind,” Bjørnson says. “It was a little scary, but it also gave us a great deal of confidence.” The result of this self-assurance is heard on tracks like the melodic ripper “Ethica Odini” and thrashing headbanger “The Beacon.” While Axioma is built on a simple dual-guitar foundation, Enslaved’s prog prowess can still be heard in the dizzying riffs of “Singular” and dynamic chord work of “Night Sight.”
But as Enslaved navigated between styles, did they ever get nervous that they’d gone too far in either direction?
“No, you just have to follow your heart,” says Ice Dale. “If everyone in the band likes a riff or idea, then we will go with it. If we stop and wonder—Will metal fans find us too proggy? Will prog fans think we’re too metal?—then we’re fucked.”