There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Folks who know Enslaved claim the band is made up of nice, normal guys. And that makes perfect sense: The long-running Norwegian quartet has never quite fit in with its first-generation black-metal peers. Enslaved even went so far as to adopt the “Viking metal” tag to distinguish itself from the Satanic types. And if Vikings with guitars seem just as goofy as devil worshipers, at least the guys in Enslaved don’t always take themselves seriously: Listen closely to the end of “Hollow Inside” on 2001’s Monumension and you can hear bassist-vocalist Grutle Kjellson laughing at his own balladeering. But what’s so fascinating about recent Enslaved recordsand the new Below the Lights in particularis their ability to almost transcend genre. Below the Lights’ unbearably beautiful opener, “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth,” is heavy enough on its own, but not when played back to back with records by purists such as Darkthrone and Marduk. Like those Scandinavians, Enslaved has mastered all the right hallmarks: blast-beats, tremolo-picked guitars, cat-hiss vocals. Yet there’s something about the group’s delivery that comes across as melancholic rather than barbaric, even on such speed-and-intensity exercises such as “Fire” and “Ridicule Swarm.” Kjellson doesn’t sound in charge when he rasps, “I close my eyes/As fire swept clean the Earth”; he sounds as if he were trapped inside 28 Days Later. And though the blues are all-pervasive, the black metal isn’t. More often, Kjellson and guitarist Ivar Peersen’s instincts lead them toward heavily rhythmic, heavily distorted rock that exists somewhere between metal, punk, and prog. They deliver the goods in ways that their peers don’t even tryfrom the integration of analog synths to a newfound inclination for unaffected singing. Even better, they keep the scope small: There’s none of the kitchen-sink too-muchness that detracted from their last two albums. Below the Lights is Enslaved at its most adventurous and focused, a black-metal album that even a nice, normal guy could love. Brent Burton