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Metal/Prog Metal DVD/Video Reviews


Return to Yggdrasil DVD

Review by Julie Knispel

Norway’s Enslaved, one of the foremost bands in the growing progressive black metal scene, returns to DVD via Return to Yggdrasil, filmed in Bergen Norway in 2005. This DVD’s setlist draws heavily from Enslaved’s 2004 album Isa; 5 of the 8 full songs performed are taken from that release, with one song each drawn from Below the Lights, Monumension, and Frost. The lineup showcased remains to this day: founders Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson on bass/vocals and guitar respectively, Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal on guitars, Cato Bekkevold on drums, and Herbrand Larsen on keyboards and vocals. Joining the group for this performance and DVD on acoustic guitar and vocals is special guest Stig Sandbakk.

Video quality is reasonably sharp, albeit occasionally dark (at the beginning of “Ascension,” the band is barely visible on the dimly lit stage). Long shots of the stage allow the viewer at home to take in Enslaved’s extensive use of back projections, which add to the vibe of their performance. Generally speaking, shots are allowed to develop; there’s no real addiction to quick MTV-style intercuts here, and a vareity of camera angles gives every member of the band an opportunity to grace the screen, and shots are generally selected in an intelligent manner. If a band member is in the middle of something particularly interesting, chances are it’s on screen as it’s happening.

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From a sound quality standpoint, there’s very little to complain about. Bekkevold’s drums burst from the speakers when the blast beats, while Bjørnson’s and Isdal’s guitars alternate between warm crunch and icy, stabbing chill. Vocals are perhaps a little soft, but the fact that the band added an extra vocalist for this DVD shoot allows more of their often intricate vocal arrangements to shine through than in typical performance. One thing the selection of songs and performances does is show how far Enslaved has moved from traditional black metal; save for Bjørnson’s raspy black metal scream on vocals, the band mostly treads more complex, progressive trails than one might expect considering their pedigree.

Highlights, musically speaking, include the intense take on “Ascension,” the lush symphonics and orchestration of “The Voices,” showing the band’s penchant for juxtaposing intense metal with progressive rock elements, and "Jotunblod,” the lone “straight” black metal song performed here, taken from the band’s second album, 1994’s Frost.

The main program (the Bergen concert) clocks in at just under 51 minutes. To fill out the release, and provide solid value, the band has added a series of bonus features. First among these is an interview recorded following the Bergen concert. Band members take it in turns to discuss things such as criticism of their decision to move away from singing in Norse and Icelandic, the drive to push further musically with each successive release, and more. During the interview sections, video alternates between footage of the actual interview and stage footage, often with alternate angles or sources used. This is followed by an extended on the road/behind the scenes documentary offering a look at Enslaved’s life between shows on the 2005 European tour. While it would perhaps help to understand a touch of Norse in order to get the most from this documentary, the essential truth shines through; Enslaved is a hard working band, serious about the craft of creating music, and unafraid to play smaller venues in order to get their message out. Hand held and camcorder shot footage adds to the rough and ready aspect of the documentary, contributing veracity and a “you are here” vibe.

Closing things out is the short form concept video for “Isa,” title track from Enslaved’s 2004 album. The video is interesting, consisting of an extensive array of double exposed video and a heavily desaturated, almost black and white look. Shot in what appears to be a frigid fjord somewhere in the band’s home of Norway, the video fits the song exceptionally well, setting the scene for future short form videos such as “Path to Vanir” and “Essence” from 2006’s Ruun (which will hopefully see release on DVD in the near future).

While short, Return to Yggdrasil offers fans of the band a fantastic snapshot of the group caught at one moment in time. Newcomers will likely find much to enjoy as well, as the solid performances, drawn from a variety of albums, gives them an opportunity to get a taste of Enslaved’s many musical aspects.

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