Yggdrasill is where the Enslaved’s sound is truly born. Enslaved emerged from the ashes of the doom-death metal act Phobia, of which both Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson were members. Enslaved’s first demo, Nema is a messy misfire that still clings too heavily to doom-death conventions while trying to introduce black metal elements. Yggdrasill suffers from no such issues; this is pure epic black metal performed with inspiration.
Yggdrasill is an excellent example of raw production done right. While there is absolutely no makeup on this recording, all the elements are clearly audible, except the bass (naturally), which takes some effort to make out. The guitars have a sharp and thin tone that results in an edgy, attacking sound. The drums are slightly more upfront, but don’t wash out the other instruments. The keys take center stage whenever they’re played, but do so without bombarding the listener. As a result, one actually gets a sense of the kinesis between the musicians. One can feel the energy and excitement that was in the room as this demo was being recorded. The rawness only manages to enhance the intensity of those feelings.
The demo consists of four tracks of black metal and two keyboard pieces. The metal tracks are all longer, around 7-8 minutes each. In spite of their lengths, there aren’t a ton of elements at play. This is mostly fast and attacking black metal in which riffs are generously repeated. The riffs themselves are all solid, possessing a dark and mystical ambience. The repetition, along with sprinting pace of the drums and periodic interweaving of the bombastic keys results in a brilliant atmosphere. One can envision folkloric scenes of Vikings battling the elements to reach unknown lands.There are also a number of moments on the demo where the tempo is dropped a notch and Enslaved’s psychedelic tenancies start to sneak up. For example, the chorus of “Allfaðr Oðinn” centers on choir and organ samples that recall early Pink Floyd.
The first two tracks on Yggdrasill would go on to be rerecorded: “Allfaðr Oðinn” on the Hordane’s Land EP and “Heimdallr” on the Víkínglígr Veldí LP. While the two rerecordings are ultimately superior—the execution is stronger, especially in the rhythm section—the sheer vivacity of these early versions makes them a worthwhile listen. The other two tracks are definitely the weaker of the bunch. The compositions are simpler and involve fewer wrinkles; nonetheless, both songs contain some strong riffs and keys.
Yggdrasill provides one final treat for Enslaved fans in the stunning neoclassical piece, “The Winter Kingdom Opus I: Resound of Gjallarhorn”. The title could not be more apt. The song centers on a chilling and beautiful piano melody that immediately conjures images of a still, snow-covered forest far away from the hand of modern man. Choir and flute samples intensify the sense of awe and wonder. Unlike many of his black metal counterparts, Bjørnson has rarely indulged in neoclassical doodling; this piece will make you wish he did.
With many of the big name Norwegian black metal bands the demos are interesting historical points of reference but fail to be enjoyable listens in their own right. That is not the case with Yggdrasill. This is an energetic recording full of memorable passages and solid compositions. While this is still a few steps short of the sheer genius of Víkínglígr Veldí, this was obviously a gigantic leap forward for Ensalved.