Hordanes Land is a key stepping stone in Enslaved’s development of the viking black metal subgenre. In contrast to the fast, attacking blitz of Yggdrasill, Hordanes Land slows down the tempo, inflates the song lengths and peppers the compositions with a little more variation. The EP consists of three bulky songs, each consisting of a small number of progressions, ranging from 8-13 minutes. While in some respects Enslaved bite off more than they are ready to chew, in other respects the band has already found its stride.
One area where Enslaved really find their form is in the production department. Though the thin production of Yggdrasill captures the young band’s energetic spirit, it lacks the depth and texture needed to fully conjure the ancient, noble spirit Enslaved is aiming to recapture. Hordanes Land remedies that by producing a massive, echoic environment that lends itself to images of viking boats traversing rough, oceanic terrain. The rhythm guitars and bass are low and thick, creating a rumbling tone like rolling waves. The drums are similarly deep and thunderous. These low, heavy sounds provide a great foundation for the high pitched shrieks, symphonic keys and melodious guitar solos. While the guitar solos and vocals are strong, the keyboards often sound quite cheap. This is especially true of the dinky organ and choir samples.
Enslaved will liberally repeat a captivating hook for several minutes. Sometimes this is done to a flaw, especially on “Slaget I Skogen Bortenfor,” which tips the scale at 13 minutes. The song contains one too many repetitious sections that lack the substance to justify the duration. The next two tracks are little more concise and satisfying. “Allfadr Odinn” (a rerecording of a track of Yggdrasill) has an inspired, uplifting chorus full of shimmering choir and organ samples. It’s an early sighting of Enslaved’s psychedelic tenancies and distinctly recalls early Pink Floyd. “Balfǫr” is the strongest track; its foundation is a dark, serpentine riff and groovy rhythm, which at different points accompanied by piano, acoustic guitar and strings. The band uses the multiplicity of instruments to create exquisite harmonies.
While Hordanes Land has its flaws, it is still a highly enjoyable recording. Enslaved’s ear for an epic melodies is evident and every song has numerous quality riffs. Furthermore, the EP contains quite a bit of variety. There are harsh and gritty passages but there are also passages that are quite elegant. While this EP is heavily (and rightfully) overshadowed by Enslaved’s first few full lengths, fans will enjoy hearing this key step in the development of Enslaved’s sound.