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Enslaved’s Below the Lights: A 15-year Retrospective

April 14th marked the 15th year since the release of Enslaved’s Below the Lights. A kaleidoscope of genres and techniques, Below the Lights showcases the band’s pure ability through a string of seven mercurial tracks.

While  “As the FIre Swept the Earth Clean” opens the album with a consistent drone and emotional call to action, “The Dead Stare” whips from an acoustic intro to thrash-heavy riffs, to sampling-enhanced breakdowns only the early 2000s would dare execute on a metal album. Along with this, Below the Lights features sprinklings of pagan motifs which are not as overbearing or kitschy as those of other black metal bands who opt for them.

Entering the middle of the album, Enslaved continues to set themselves apart by leaning on a second acoustic intro, flipping to a heavy atmospheric feel within the first minute of “The Crossing.” The longest track on the album, this one contributes the most to the story Below the Lights tells the listener. A fraught but meditative walk through the woods, “The Crossing” fades into a black thrash track about halfway through.

Abrupt shifts continue throughout the album with the next two tracks, “Queen Of Night” & “Havenless.” Both open with sampled intros but continue with almost no similarity between one another in feel and technique. Despite these variations, Below the Lights uses some parallelism to tie the end of the album in with the beginning, specifically resurrecting the second half of the sample used in the intro track in “Ridicule Swarm,” the second to last track. “Ridicule Swarm” represents the peak of the album in terms of the raw heaviness one expects from black metal.

Below the Lights closes with “A Darker Place,” a wandering song filled with samples, shrill riffs, and mellow prog rock elements. It’s important to note Enslaved’s almost universal acceptance as black metal, despite the eclectic genre elements used in this album. The fact that they are embraced in a subculture so prone to uniform album production hints at the potential in black metal which few artists seize.

Since you can already deduce that I think this album has aged well (I really do), I’ll add that I see Below the Lights as a prelude to a lot of the sampling-heavy atmospheric black metal often heard today (see: Wolves in the Throne Room). Below the Lights is a template for how immersive and versatile black metal can be without abandoning its rage and power. I hope that by it’s 30 year anniversary, we will see more acts expanding on black metal as an art form.

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