OBTAINED ENSLAVEMENT - The Shepherd and the Hounds of Hell (NAPALM Records - CD 2000)
I don’t know if it’s only my imagination, but when people discuss black metal bands from Norway then they often forget about Obtained Enslavement. I also forget this band repeatedly. It surely is not because I think they were unworthy being mentioned! No, I really like all three albums of this band, but maybe it’s just because Obtained Enslavement was never considered a leading force on the Norwegian black metal scene and then it makes us forget about their uniqueness and brilliance? Well, for sure they are a band, which every maniac of this music should know and have their albums in the collection. They’re probably one of the first bands, which can be called symphonic black metal, but their music – despite having a strong keyboard / orchestral background – was simply way more harsh and uncompromising when compared to other symphonic bands like Odium, Tartaros or Morgul for instance. “Soulblight” and “Witchcraft” are surely killer albums. But there’s also one more, which I think people often don’t mention, maybe because it’s not quite as good as the two I just mentioned and it differs musically a little bit… I am talking about “The Shepherd and the Hounds of Hell”. The approach on this album is slightly different I think, for more easily listenable music, filled with melodic or even catchy, memorable parts, less chaotic, rough and less fast and finally with the good, professional production. So, gone is the real dark and obscure atmosphere of earlier albums… but don’t be afraid, “The Shepherd and the Hounds of Hell” is still a very good effort.
If I can mentioned some other bands, which are close to “The Shepherd and the Hounds of Hell” then I would say that this album is so diverse than every song or particular fragment can remind you something else. For example the way this album begins, with the first riff in the song “Scrolls of the Shadowland” is for me a true déjà vu, with Enslaved’s “I lenker til Ragnarok” from “Blodhemn”. Very similar riff, really… but then this song goes in completely different territory, so it is just a coincidence. And this motif is fast and really powerful, luckily it is not the only such fast and uncompromising part on the whole album, as there are more! They remind me bands like Odium for example and surely sound really damn good! In other moments the music reminds me Diabolical Masquerade, Enslaved, Dimmu Borgir, Tartaros, Kvist, to give just few names. Combine all these bands and you’ll receive what “The Shepherd and the Hounds of Hell” is like. That first song “Scrolls of the Shadowland” is surely among the best, with great opening theme, which is furious and aggressive, but it also has a nice, epic chorus with killer clean vocals and with melody that will stick in you for good. But Obtained Enslavement shows good composing skills through the whole album. It doesn’t matter if someone will call it a more commercial and listener-friendly take on black metal (how can black metal be commercial at all???), just because it is often more melodic or because the sound is cleaner. All in all, it still has such tracks like “Stepping Over Angels”, filled with anger and ferocity. Or “Ride the Whore”!
But I like this album not only for its aggressive side, but for as it is in its entirety: for its diversity, also for the atmospheric and melodic parts, which simply sound very good here. Take the title track for that matter. It definitely is the slowest and most melodic of all, but it still sounds damn good and has that melancholic feeling, which fits great the whole album. So, I honestly recommend you this material. I don’t think it has been re-issed or if it’s still available, but nowadays everything gets re-released, so I am sure that also Obtained Enslavement will get their chance and all their album will appear again on both CD and LP. If they do, get all their stuff, “The Shepherd…” album as well, as it is just damn awesome.
Standout tracks: “Scrolls of the Shadowland”, “The Shepherd and the Hounds of Hell”, “Stepping Over Angels”, “Ride the Whore”
Final rate: 80/100