Elite hail from Mo I Rana, Norway, which is about a stone’s throw from the Arctic friggin’ Circle; so far north that they get virtually no sunlight for most of the winter, during which temperatures frequently dip to -30 degrees. That’s cold enough to sour the mood of even the most seasoned Norther. But metalheads know that anger and frustration can be a very good thing, as is evidenced here by the unrelenting fury and ferocity of Elite’s approach to their craft. This band of boreal black metallers has remained pretty much intact over their eight year history, having lost only guitarist and co-founder, Tor Arne Fallingen, in 2005. Such stability is almost always the result of heavy investment (or being perpetually huddled together for warmth) and we are the lucky benefactors, as We Own the Mountains pays dividends.
Elite’s third full length offering represents a giant next step in the impressive evolution of the band’s sound from traditional, if unspectacular, to more modern black metal. Whereas you will hear many of your old BM favorites in bits and pieces, Elite adroitly infuse elements of thrash, death, and Viking metal into their brand, resulting in a diverse, bracingly fresh sound. Flashes of Immortal and Dissection can be heard, as well as late-era Bathory and even a little Amon Amarth-ian melody. What makes this album special, though, is the passion with which the band delivers its shiny new black metal package. The sense of urgency on this album is palpable and Elite manage to maintain the energy throughout the endeavor. The riffing is tight and aggressive; the vocals are sincerely vicious and properly grim; the drums are cold and dry and deftly run the range from super tight blast beats to pummeling double bass; and the bass guitar, even while serving its subordinate, utilitarian role, often becomes much more, as on “Født til Vanvidd,” during which the sweet, swelling bass line takes center stage.
We Own the Mountains also boasts an array of elegant melody, folk sensibilities, and creative vocal embellishment. This is no half-assed attempt at dressing up a turd with cross-genre cherry-picking and hackneyed ornamentation. Each of the aforementioned elements serves as a keystone in the infrastructure of this album: tome worthy musical story-telling. Elite weave a rousing tapestry of icy, epic battlelore and wintry magic that doesn’t rely on the lyrics, most of which are in Norwegian. Each track on We Own the Mountains lithely invokes imagery befitting blizzard-driven black metal, from opener “Volvens Vinterseid’s” warrior ambush amidst snowy torrents to closer “Odal”’s lonely, battle-weary footfalls leading to the consummate clout of a large wooden door coming closed. In “Rovnatt”’s intro, as if to conjure ancestral ghosts at their runestones, warriors chant an eerie summoning that culminates in the seething, spittle-spewing grunts of the risen-to-battle. “Amanita Muscaria”’s mournful twin guitars and brief melodic interlude lead gracefully to a searing, thrashy riff that paints a picture of a Norse warrior finding the strength to rage. The more experienced trippers among you may recognize “Amanita Muscaria” as Fly Agaric, a mushroom with psychedelic properties. But you may not know that Scandinavians believe it was eaten by ancient Viking warriors before battle because it induced the state we’ve come to know as berserk, imbuing them with superhuman courage and strength with which to slay and flay their foes.
What is essentially the title track, “Legend,” is the album’s strongest and most visceral. Its intense, monotonic riffing layered beneath ephemeral, discordant tremolo creates an atmosphere of emergent foreboding that builds to the monumental refrain, “We own the mountains!” If at this point in the album you’re not standing on furniture, buck naked and fists thrust to the sky as you scream your undying allegiance to the Winter Moon King, one could only guess you’ve been torn asunder by one of those weird yeti things on the album cover, your lily-white soul shredded and strewn about the snowy mountainside.
This is crisply produced, tightly executed, riff-driven black metal that should appeal to veteran BMers and newcomers alike. We Own the Mountains proffers all the malevolent pitch of true Norwegian black metal folded into a reverent modern metal maelstrom that will melt your face, even atop the glaciers of Mo I Rana.