Like its partner, the s/t Emperor EP, Hordanes Land was probably exposed to most as a component of the split release organized by Candlelight records, who had also sold both independently in a more limited run. To that extent (and I mentioned this in my review of the 1993 Emperor EP), I feel like this is the 'natural state' in which to experience the recordings. Granted, this is the age of the .mp3 and a lot of people don't even listen to full albums anymore, much less a split recording or compilation, but the strings of nostalgia pluck too heavily upon my heart to ever want to listen to them in twain. That said, for the purpose of this review, I shall do my damnedest to stick with just Hordanes Land.
There are three compositions here, one which seems excessively long (over 13 minutes) and the other two not exactly qualifying as 'slim', for a total of over 30 minutes of content. Like their following full-length works Vikingligr Veldi and Frost, this is savage and frenetic Viking black metal with lyrics based in Norse mythology, but the forceful, thundering metallic ingredients are also saturated through keyboard orchestration. The keys are somewhat cheesier sounding than on the ensuing works: for example, the epilog to "Slaget I Skogen Bortenfor" feels like you are slumming around some sacred temple in a 16-bit video game, but this isn't really a problem for me, since the guitars are so vibrant, and Trym's drumming so damned consistent and punishing. What I also really like about this EP, even more than Vikingligr Veldi in fact, are the vocals, which seem much closer upon the scent of carrion as they knife through the stormy atmosphere.
Also, strangely enough, I feel like despite it's massive size, "Slaget..." is a more emotional stirring track than any of its 10-11 successors on the full-length debut. The guitars are more barbaric, even if part of that is that they feel like a carnal substrate to the dorky keys. The bleeding fingers of tremolo melody at the finale are excellent, and I also like the slower paced breakdowns with the escalating chord pattern. Next to this, "Allfadr Odinn" seems more influenced by epic heavy metal, with a straight shot of predictable melody alongside the louder, pumping bass. It too becomes rather cheesy in the bridge with the layering of the synthesizers, but it's not a bad piece, and neither is the closer "Balfadr", which has a few curious traces of the band's future progressive intentions through the mixture of piano, acoustic guitars, and bass that surround the pumping black/heavy metal of the verse riffing. Grutle here sounds far bloodier and more effective than anything on Vikingligr Veldi...
Hordanes Land is a pretty charming release, from the snowy mythic battle on the cover to the tendrils of variation found throughout the music, and if we WERE to place this in the spectrum of its split release with Emperor, I'd certainly favor it, at least over the reworked demo material that Ihsahn and Samoth included. Ultimately, you'll want the split, but even by its lonesome, the Enslaved material is adequate. The guitars are not always the most memorable, and the contrast of the amateur synth tones might turn out some potential listeners, but it was a solid introduction to a band that has never ceased to grow its sound and thrill its audience.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10]