Discography Review: Enslaved

Feb. 12, 2016


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Appropriately in time for black metal history month, these were all reviews I had done previously for Metal Archives (some with new edits), but for those who hadn't seen them and for the sake of putting everything in one place...and due to my general love of this band, I decided to compile them all together here.  Hope you cleared your schedule, because this could take awhile.  Some of these can be a bit hard to come by, but if you're like me and need them in your collection, I suggest ebay and discogs for the most part.

1 Viklingligr Veldi See Details for Viklingligr Veldi

While I doubt anyone who followed Enslaved from the beginning could have guessed how much their sound would change over the next two decades, a few must have sensed that there was something special here. It’s 1994: Varg is in jail, Euronymous dead; and peers Darkthrone, Immortal, and Mayhem have released some of the strongest and most influential works of their careers. Yet from the very beginning, Enslaved forge a progressive sound that is wholly their own.

Sure, there are the trademarks of early second-wave BM all over this thing: repetitive tremolo hooks, under-produced howls, cardboard-sounding blastbeats. But similarities end here. Not even Burzum had the balls to average every track on the album above 10 minutes. VV does so without resorting to monotony. There are borderline points such as on “Vetrarnott,” but largely each track succeeds to engage through effective use of changing movements.

Consider the build on “Midgards Eldar” as an example. A soft acoustic intro, then a dreary riff emerges aided by creepy horns and arena drumming. Suddenly, an ugly bass solo and change in pace. Double bass, fills, new riffs, then a slower section. Few others were experimenting with the level of dynamics at play here, but the entire album is chock full of them. There are heavy bass guitar passages, phaser guitar solos, and plenty of instrumentals. The drumming is well above the typical blastbeat tropes and synth use is understated and effective.

While Enslaved would further tighten and perfect the ideas at play on later releases like Frost and Mardraum, VV is a blueprint that was unprecedented for its time and place. Its influences are apparent on various later BM acts such as Taake, Absu, and Wolves in the Throne Rome. If you call yourself a fan of Enslaved, you would be amiss in not at least giving this album a few spins. Those who are only fans of their later works will likely be less keen on what they hear, but without Viklingligr Veldi, there would be no Isa or Axioma to enjoy.

2 Frost See Details for Frost

Viklingligr Veldi redux. Less than a year after their debut, Enslaved returns with another unprecedented release unlike anything going on in the scene. But this time, Grutle and the gang have sharpened their swords and honed their technique. Lengthy running times have been abandoned in favor of a whatever-the-arrangement-calls-for approach. Frost brings it faster and harder while maintaining its progressive black roots.

While those who may have read my review of VV will find some similar comments, there are plenty of changes as well. The amount of vocals have increased along with their consistency and intensity. Shrieks come through not unlike an early Bathory record. We also get our first taste of clean chanting that will become a trademark over the next few albums. Guitar riffs are more varied within each song. Bouncy tremolos rise and fall while crashing into evil-sounding minor chords. The treble-end is favored, giving the album a more jagged, icy feel.

The drums continue to dominate and destroy with their flurry of double bass, heavy-handed snare hits, and fills. They sound as if they are recorded in an ice cavern and endanger band members with falling stalactites. This atmosphere is further enhanced by the psychedelic synthesizers, jawharp, and use of organ. Lyrics are in full Norwegian and cover topics regarding Norse gods, heroes, and villains. Frost is epic in a different way then many other folk and Viking metal acts. Rather than relying on a patriotic call to arms approach such as later acts like Ensiferum and Amon Amarth, Enslaved features sounds of battle that seem more realistically chaotic and unpredictable. Taake and other acts would later incorporate similar sounds on their albums.

To name a few favorites, “Svarte Vidder,” “Jotunblod,” and “Loke” each bring the pain with their breakneck speed and raw guitar work. There are slower moments, and these are crafted equally well. Enslaved even briefly hints forward to stranger experiments such as Monumension with wonky 70’s prog incorporation. In the end, Frost is an absolutely essential album to Enslaved’s discography. Tighter than VV, but not as adventurous as some of their later works. Those seeking something more melodic would be best served with Isa.

3 Eld See Details for Eld

If only this album could be as good as the opening track. Different from anything they had yet done on Frost or Viklingligr Veldi, “793…” is a 16 minute war opus complete with Kubrick-esque intro to set the scene. The folky acoustic guitars, clean chanting, and subtle distorted chords abandon Enslaved’s previously harsh style in favor of something infinitely more similar to Quorthon’s Nordland albums. From the beginning, Enslaved made stylistic choices that were unusual for their time and place in black metal history. Each album serves as a testament to their progression, and Eld is no different with its further thrust into viking metal.

Unfortunately, the rest of Eld is a mixed bag. While the lighter portions of the album are exemplary, the heavier ones come off as sloppy in comparison. The rattling tremolos that had become a part of their trademark sound at the time are faster and harsher than ever. The pitfall is that these riffs are bashed against each other so haphazardly that listens often become grating and arduous. Compositions become less of a progression and more of a roulette game. It’s Enslaved meets Dillinger Escape Plan without the latter’s ability to order the chaos.

The drumming takes a few steps backwards as well. Much of the excellent variety showcased on Frost and VV have been replaced with endless blastbeats. Without a counterpoint, the sheer velocity and ferocity is lost. There are still fills and other beats to be found, but by and large one can expect to be pummeled by the BM woodpecker.

As far as production goes, the mix is pretty similar to that of Frost: chilly and cave-like. The primary difference is that the bass guitar seems to have further disappeared. If you really listen, you can hear it bouncing around in the background during the quieter sections. Given the fun little runs it does, I wish I could hear it a little better.

For all of its problems, Eld isn’t a one-trick pony. Songs like “Kvasir’s Blod” and “Glemt” are of better construction and manage to meld together folky choruses with thrashier verses. The ideas of these songs will form a foundation for further growth on Blodhemn. Enslaved continue with their excellent lyrics about Norwegian folk tales, and it is notable that this will be the last time that they solely utilize their native tongue.

So there you have it. As far as Enslaved goes, there are worse albums you can listen to for sure. Eld is an important album that showcases many transitional elements as well as career highlight songs. It simply doesn’t work well as a whole. For those delving into their early period I would recommend Frost or Blodhemn instead. Fittingly, like fire, the raging sounds here just cannot be tamed.

4 Blodhemn See Details for Blodhemn

I’m just going to throw it out there. Of Enslaved’s work in the 90’s, Blodhemn is my favorite. The foundational elements of Vikingligr Veldi, improved structure of Frost, and increased folk style of Eld are distilled down into a brew that is fit for Oden himself. Tracks like “I Lenker Til Ragnarok” and Urtical Gods” are gripping stories of Norwegian mythology told through a thrashy, head-banging BM so coveted by other groups like Absu and Taake.

A vast improvement over the slip-shod construction of Eld, Blodhemn’s tracks feature a near endless stream of memorable riffs that play off of each other perfectly. The guitar sound is fuzzier in a way that helps even out the tone and make the trademark tremolos balance out with the other elements at play. Likewise, the blastbeats are a bit more subdued and bassy in the mix, allowing them to create a more hypnotic quality.

The vocals are excellent. Deep, folky chants echo hauntingly on the fringes of distorted soundscapes. Snarls are aggressive and imposing. Sometimes the two play off of one another as on the excellent “Nidingaslakt.” The incredible staccato pieces on this track are like a blueprint for Proscriptor’s performance on 2001’s Tara. Throw in the occasional death metal growl for good measure and you have the recipe for a helm-splitting good time.

Accolades to the musicianship all around. Riffs are varied and well-constructed. The usual bag of tricks is complemented by some 80’s chord-heavy Bathory worship, nods to Immortal, and more traditional rock sections as well. The tremolos are stronger than ever with melodies that could herald nothing less than a massive army riding to war. The drums crush their way through double bass rhythms, breakneck blasts, and various little touches that help further emphasize the Viking aesthetic. Everything is capped off by some sparing use of atmospheric keys.

I could go on, but it would be redundant. Nearly every track on here is a winner from start to finish. They range from awesome to fucking awesome. By the time my foot is tapping to “Brisinghamen,” I am ready to grab an axe and start swinging. Buy this album now and thank me later.

5 Mardraum: Beyond the Within See Details for Mardraum: Beyond the Within

With the dawn of a new millennium, it was fitting that Enslaved begin to think about their future. With former heavy-hitters like Mayhem, Darkthrone, and Gorgoroth either stagnating or changing styles, the early 2nd-wave black metal scene was at an end. So far we had seen Enslaved progress from droning progressive black, to more concise songwriters, to epic viking story-tellers with a penchant for speed. With Mardraum, they begin a slow transition into wider territories and sounds.

Those expecting another Blodhemn or Frost are in for a surprise. There are elements of both of those records here. The Bathory-inspired riffs and structures, the epic war marches and chants; the album even begins with a splendid 10-minute oeuvre not unlike “793” on Eld. The difference is that all of these elements begin to take on new qualities and occupy a different space. Everything sounds bigger, moving from the icy cave and the battlefield to stare into the night sky and ponder the distance of each star. Okay, that’s hokey as shit, but I am not sure how else to put it.

Production-wise, the bass guitar has moved back up a bit and rumbles around adding new textures and a warmer feel. The guitar continues with a tone and level similar to the squelchy balance found on Blodhemn. Harsh vocals are sharp and more aggressive than ever. I had compared the previous approach to that of Taake, Absu, and even Quorthon, but here it matches the evil of Gorgoroth. Alternatively, the cleans are explored in a higher register, quite successfully I might add. The continued use of reverb makes them sound like warnings from the ghosts of fallen soldiers.

Enslaved also explore new ideas in the riff department. The usual tremolo melodies remain stronger than ever, but are consistently broken up with spacey rock solos, country-sounding bass breaks, and Maiden-esque power chord marches. Despite the frequent genre changes, transitions are clever and surprisingly smooth. I find myself grinning frequently during this album at how seamlessly the opposing riffs are crafted together. And the drums. The DRUMS. This has always been a selling point for in how willing Enslaved is to defy typical BM convention by being extremely technical. Mardraum is no different, but the added energy here is nothing short of astonishing. This guy must have been listening to a lot of Rush prior to recording.

In the end, Mardraum definitely makes my top 3 Enslaved albums and often rivals for #1. It’s a tall order in such an amazing discography, but so much is done right. It is more explorative than the excellent Blodhemn or Frost, more concise than the Floydier Monumenstion or Below the Lights, and more technically adept than melodic masterpieces Isa or Axioma. Despite its high ratings, I don’t see many people talk much about this album, and that is a crime. You must buy this album today.

6 Monumension See Details for Monumension

While Mardraum began a shift in style by taking a few steps towards a simplified, cleaner approach, Monumension represents a giant leap. All but gone are the breakneck riffs of chaotic battle such as “Urtical Gods” from Blodhemn. They have been replaced by bass-heavy, plodding dirges of chord runs, half-paced tremolo, and Floydian keys.  If there was legit black metal in the 70's it would sound like this.

To say, as some do, that this was the beginning of Enslaved’s foray into progressive is a misnomer. Progressive music is simply that which favors a more classical approach containing different movements, textures, and feelings. As such, Enslaved have been progressive since Vikingligr Veldi. The shift that begins here represents more of a change in pace and playing style away from traditional black metal aesthetics to something that is equal parts Borknagar, Iron Butterfly, Black Sabbath, and Pink Floyd.

The change is not necessarily a bad one. “Floating Diversity” is a huge success in my opinion. There is a strange harmony between the union of clean vocals and synths straight out of Dark Side of the Moon and the foreboding synths and crunchy guitar sustains. It may not pack the punch of anything off of Frost, but it still leaves its own distinct impact.

For longtime fans, there are a few shreds of Enslaved’s former love of the axe. Tracks like “Enemy I,” “Vision…” and personal favorite, “The Voices,” feature harsh, memorable riffs and some excellent drum work. The vocal screeches are as strong as ever, and the pace is faster than anything else on the album.

As far as what to expect from a full listen, Monumension evokes a similar feel as many 70’s prog acts. Darker moments reminded me of listening to “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” while the softer songs always harkened back to Waters and Gilmour. Drums tend to be understated and sparse, favoring slower patterns and atmospheric cymbal choices. Guitars and bass crunch along in a wall of sound that is laden with feeling, but is not very interesting on a technical level. Vocals really run the gamut. The band had not yet found the clean style that is easily recognized on later albums like Ruun and Vertebrae. Instead, Monumension is full of old-school shrieks, spoken word, the aforementioned Gilmour imitations, and a few death metal growls for good measure. There is even a lengthy drinking worthy chanting section that harkens back to Eld and Blodhemn, but favors an approach closer to Heidevolk.

For all of its experimentation, Monumension is far from a failure. I never find myself bored or in disapproval with what I am hearing. The journey features plenty of ups and downs, all of which have a nice flow and create something that is truly greater than the sum of its parts. That being said, I still tend to find myself thinking back to the energy of earlier releases. I wouldn’t want Enslaved to keep putting out the same album over and over, but they could stand to infuse a bit more thrill into this new style. I recommend this for a listen, but also encourage readers to look to Isa and Ruun for what I feel is a more memorable fusion of old and new.

7 Below the Lights See Details for Below the Lights

I can’t talk about Below the Lights without dedicating some time to the absolute triumph that is “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth.” What a beautiful song. That mournful opening riff worms its way into my soul and brings me very near tears. Typical of Enslaved, there are plenty of varied movements and sounds to be found here, but rarely are they executed so perfectly. And those stunning synths in the outro? I could listen to this track all day.

But enough. You are undoubtedly here to learn about the album as a whole. Unfortunately, after such a high-point opener and its violent counterpart “The Dead Stare,” I find myself largely disappointed for the remainder of its runtime. While Below the Lights covers similar ground as Monumension, it does so in a fashion I find less engaging. Tracks often take to long to come to a point with builds that ring as generic and lazy. Lacking the 70’s weirdness of its predecessor, Below the Lights begs for stronger songwriting to match its straightforward approach.

There are some cool start-stop riffs that have become synonymous with Enslaved’s later work, but that is part of the problem. Even the successful moments of this album feel like demo versions of the far more accomplished Isa. The epic minor chords, the slowly wavering tremolos, the haunting cleans and longing howls: they all pale in comparison. Had I heard this album on its release without foreknowledge of later works, I may have held this in as high regard as many of my peers do. Alas, I am but a plebian, having only joined the bandwagon recently.

Doing my best to view Below the Lights in isolation, there is still plenty to like. Apart from the guitar, drums continue to be varied in approach and are played expertly even if they are a bit buried in the mix. I would venture to say that the drums are one aspect of this album that are done better than on Monumension. On the flip side, the bass tone has undergone a major change in tone from the ever-present clanginess to a more typical background drone. It’s fairly uninteresting, but helps keep the overall sound full and strong. Finally, the synth work is just stunning. Following a less-is-more philosophy, the few tracks it appears on never fail to captivate, as on the intro and interlude of the otherwise uninteresting “Ridicule Swarm.”

In sum, I would venture to say that Below the Lights is likely Enslaved’s most over-rated work to date, but I am sure it was an achievement for the time. Far from a bad album, tracks like “As Fire…,” “The Dead Stare,” and “Havenless” are more than worth your time. But with so many albums to choose from, those daunted by diving into the discography for the first time would be better served by either Isa or Frost depending on their particular taste.

8 Isa See Details for Isa

This album has grown on me unlike any other album in their catalog. Their early albums gripped me right away and either became fast favorites or settled into at least basic enjoyment. A lot of the newer stuff didn’t interest me at all and continues to do the same. Isa, on the other hand, planted a seed with its unique atmosphere that continues to bloom with every listen. It makes sense in a way, as I feel Isa represents the apex of Enslaved’s transition from black metal to a more classic, progressive sound.

While Below the Lights and Monumension were the start of Enslaved’s affair with Pink Floyd, Isa more successfully incorporates the new elements into their own sound. Instead of berating us with throwbacks of Hammond organ and psychedelic passages, we get a much more subdued and haunting aesthetic. The organ parts are mostly pushed back into the mix (aside from Ascension), letting the beautiful guitar parts lead the way. These key arrangements are stronger and more complimentary than before, likely due to the new full-time keyboard player. The riffs are a return to the abrasive, heavier sound of Blodhemn and Mardraum. But the progressive nature is far more kin to the classical movement approach of Opeth than the mathy chaos of Dillinger Escape Plan (particularly noticeable on Eld). The choice of chords, solos, and rhythms is often breathtaking.

All of this creates an atmosphere that it absolutely apart from any other album I have heard, Enslaved included. It manages to be simultaneously dark, hopeful, cosmic, and longing. Everything is a discordant balance that creates a larger melody. The black metal growls play along with the cheerier organ. The deep sadness in the clean-sung passages provides a counter-point to the angry, brooding bursts of guitar. The drums hold it all together with excellent time changes and overall sense of composition. It is something best left for you to take in for yourself.

“Isa” and “Return to Yggdrasill” were songs that jumped out at me from the beginning, but “Violent Dawning” and the lengthy “Neogenesis” have grown on me. Every track has its own strengths, even the instrumentals. I highly recommend giving this album a few spins before making up your mind. Give it a go, take a few days or even weeks, and then try it again. I’d be surprised if you don’t discover at least a few new impressions.

9 Ruun See Details for Ruun

Coming fresh off of the success and increased melodic focus of Isa, Enslaved was at somewhat of an apex in their career. They could have taken a step back to their harsher technical roots, forged something new, or continued to push forward into the more alternative-style of progressive. With RUUN, Enslaved definitely chose the latter. It’s a choice that likely divided a lot of fans and brought a new slew of listeners. While RUUN breaks little new ground, I argue that it is just as good as its predecessor and in many ways serves as a companion piece.

The production of this album is quite similar to that of Isa, if not a touch cleaner and louder. The overall tone has shifted subtly as well. Where the former was more melancholy and delicate, RUUN is angry. Guitars continue to favor the same chord-heavy progressions, but with riff structures that have an axe to grind. The wonderful “Fusion of Sense and Earth” features sad overtures from the organ-style keys a-la Isa and Below the Lights; but this time the accompanying guitars sound like the devil to their angelic attempts to soothe. The more sparing tremolos are so harsh they harken all the way back to the likes of Frost and Mardraum.

Vocals continue to reign supreme over the simplified musicianship. One moment a calculated, melodic zen-master; the next a scorned enemy filled with bile and contempt. The best examples are probably on the title track and “Tides of Chaos.” The very Maynard cleans work extremely well with the guitar’s obvious leanings towards Lateralus-era Tool. Harsh vocals on the latter song sound like a demon narrating a Shakespearean play. It’s all very theatrical and wholly enjoyable.

As should come as no surprise, especially if you have been following my other reviews, the drumming here continues to be exemplary. Despite the reduced pace and simplified transitions, Cato spins straw into gold. Even simple 4:4 affairs are full to the brim with tom fills, varied symbol use, pattern changes, and arena-style volume accents. The sound is mixed so well I can almost see him working. Screw it, I’m going for yet another Tool reference with the similarities to Danny Carey. As far as comparisons go, it’s definitely not an insult. But Cato is not afraid of the occasional blastbeat either.

Even as I listen again while typing, I continue to find new levels of enjoyment. As each song ends, I find myself wanting to list it in my favorites. But then the next starts, and I start to wonder if maybe this should be the one instead. Gun to my head, you can’t miss the super memorable riffs in “Api-vat” or the mournful vocals on “Essence.” It would be easier to list the tracks that I don’t care for, which would be zero. Another triumph for Enslaved. More please.

10 Vertebrae See Details for Vertebrae

From the first bouncy synths of “Clouds,” I could tell I was in for yet another progression in Enslaved’s ever-changing sound. I am thankful that Enslaved chooses to push into new areas, but it can be difficult in that every time I get comfortable with one sound, they are onto the next. This is particularly true of Vertebrae. Following right after my melodic-period favorites Isa and Ruun, this release was held to a high standard.

This context may help readers understand my overall letdown, but I refuse to believe that expectations alone are the problem. Vertebrae fails to hold my interest more so than any prior release. In addition to the guitar “riffs” suffering from a severe case of power-chord-itus, their tone feels castrated and subdued.  The compositions, though holding promise at times, often fail to deliver.  And while the former two albums did not tote much more accomplished playing, they still carried on in a manner that was engaging and memorable. If there is one moment here that gripped me, it was the excellent solo in “Ground.”

The other instruments are no different. The synths neither have the beautiful mourning of Below the Lights nor the 70’s Floyd charm of Monumension. When present (rarely), they sport a much more modern, electronic feel.   The drums aren’t much better. While they are still played well with various patterns and beats; much of the energy is lacking. Perhaps it is the production, but I can almost visualize the drummer with a dead-panned stare and occasional yawn.  The whole thing just has a strangely "poppy" veneer.

My favorite song is probably “New Dawn.” Unlike the other tracks, there are some decent ideas at play and they come together to form something that sticks a bit better. This is definitely the highlight of the clean-sung hooks as well.  And of course, the closing single "The Watcher" has somepretty solid moments as well, even if it fails to reach the heights of their more notable lead tracks.

That is about all I have to say about this album without repeating myself. I find Vertebrae to be a fairly sleepy affair, that leaves me with few things to contemplate.  As I return to the album and this review about 2 years later, I have a bit more appreciation than the first time, but not much.  I will say that one new things that stands out to me is this:  I feel like Vertebrae wanted to be In Times.  There are some very similar ideas, from basic breaks and melodies to specific guitar solos.  I think Enslaved for one reason or another just did not have everything in place to make it happen yet.  The latter album absoultely soars in comparison due to a monumental improvement in the production department as well as much better attention to creating flow within each track.  In any case, give this one a go for yourself, but this is the first album chronologically that I could tell you to skip and you wouldn't miss much.

11 Axioma Ethica Odini See Details for Axioma Ethica Odini

Relief. That is what I felt during the opening moments of Axioma Ethica Odini. After the extremely dull affair that was Vertebrae, I was wondering if Enslaved had any steam left. Fortunately for all of us, these aging Norwegians aren’t ready for the retirement home just yet.

The guitars are back with a vengeance, the drums are kickin’, and the vocals have an urgency I haven’t heard since the early 2000’s. Everything is infused with a renewed energy that was notably absent on its predecessor. Stylistically, Axioma is probably most similar to Ruun. Melodies carry a certain darkness and paranoia. Tracks like “Ethica Odini” and “Raidho” make me feel as if I am running, stumbling through fresh snow as wolves make chase from the trees behind.

Both the clean and harsh vocals are an absolute triumph. The former have more memorable hooks than an 80 year old fisherman, while the latter are delivered with a conviction that gets the blood pumping. I don’t think Grutle has sounded this brutal since Mardraum. While Isa and Ruun still stand as my favorites of their later period, his voice is more depressive and subdued on those albums.

In some ways, Axioma reminds me of Blackwater Park. From the clean vocals and occasional death metal growls to the guitar compositions, similarities abound. Listen to “Waruun” or “Night Sight” and tell me you don’t hear it. On a personal level, the comparison may also be driven by the fact that both albums are re-energizing epics that come right after some of the most boring material of their careers. I realize I just raised a lot of eyebrows with that statement in regards to Still Life, but my opinion stands.

Everything about the instrumentation here is strong. The guitars, though still decidedly less technical than in the early days, play a number of striking riffs that flow from one to another seamlessly. They are not afraid of the occasional curveball either by transitioning from a chill wall of sound to a writhing, evil bouncy tremolo more akin to Taake. And the way the guitars combine with the relentless, ever-changing drums reaches epic levels more than once.

Also notable, the dramatic synths are back! The mid-album title interlude features an absolutely peaceful landscape a la Below the Lights as a brief foray into the eye of the storm before once again being swept up into the cyclone. They also return in several tracks with the organ sound most recognizable from Monumension and Isa.

In the end, Axioma still may not beat my love for the pre-Mardraum catalog or my special place for Isa; but it still stands as a monument to the band’s ability to crank out fresh material even after 17+ years. It is pretty rare for a long-time band to turn out albums so frequently and manage to be so consistent. And after a misstep like Vertebrae, Axioma was just what the doctor ordered. A little Tool, a little Opeth, but unmistakably Enslaved mastery from start to finish.

12 RIITIIR See Details for RIITIIR

If one were to consider the progression of Enslaved as the change of seasons, RIITIIR would most definitely represent the summer. We braved the long, cold winter of Frost, the depressing autumn of Isa, the rejuvenating spring of Axioma, and now a warm sense of hope from this 2012 release. Yeah, I know my seasons are out of order, fuck you too. Regardless, RIITIIR is an album that changes the game yet again.

In addition to their usual bag of tricks, Enslaved successfully incorporates elements from more recent atmospheric black metal acts. One example is the absolutely stunning “Roots of the Mountain.” This epic track is backed by a haunting, echoey tremolo similar to those found with Drudkh and Wolves in the Throne Room. The production in general gives off a vibe similar to the Portland scene. This may sound like a drawback, but Enslaved make it work by having 20 years of songwriting development under their belt.

It’s hard to quantify, but I would guess that this record has the highest clean to harsh vocal ratio to date at a good 70/30. As far as metal goes, I tend to lean much more heavily on growls and screeches than singing, but there are exceptions. RIITIIR wins me over in this respect. Where Axioma impressed me with the screams, this album gets me with the cleans. In a way, it is surprising as I have never felt particularly fond of Grutle’s modern approach, but I think he finally masters what he has been trying to achieve over the past few albums. There are oodles of catchy hooks to sing along to.

The lead guitar continues with the usual mixture of simple hooks, minor chords, and rolling tremolo. But there are variations. One of my other favorite tracks, “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” has some excellent effects-laden picking straight out of Lateralus in addition to some harsher moments that are reminiscent of the group’s early works. There are even a few acoustic segments scattered throughout the album that transition flawlessly and never feel tacked on.

But RIITIIR is far from perfect, having its share of bland moments. The title track comes and goes without leaving much of an impression. Riffs in the second half can range from uninspired to irritating at times with the drumming losing steam. Some tracks have great ideas and catchy hooks, but overstay their welcome by a few minutes. At 67 minutes across only 8 tracks, this is their longest record to date and ripe for problems in this area. Other times arrangements feel like recycled ideas from Isa and other albums. The worst offender is a middle section of “Veilburner” that I swear is exactly the same as another song they have done already.

All said and done, RIITIIR is a solid album. I wouldn’t say it is as consistently strong as its predecessor, but its appeal grows with each listen. Furthermore, its unique sound helps to encourage repeat listens rather than becoming interchangeable with the arguably better albums in the discography. If I were to recommend a starting point to someone who is not into black or extreme metal, this would be it. There is enough alternative aesthetic at play to satisfy even the staunchest of nay-sayers, while also providing some tasty bait to dig a bit deeper.

13 In Times See Details for In Times

It is truly amazing how much Herbrand‘s clean vocals have evolved and improved with each release. As much as I love their dark, depressive qualities on Isa, that was the voice of a boy. With RIITIIR and now In Times, these are the mature tenors of a man. Whether it is the result of some professional coaching or trial and error, the outcome is no less captivating. Comparisons to Åkerfeldt are warranted, but fail to capture the entire picture.

Hopefully you share my man-crush on Enslaved’s keyboardist, because this is probably the most clean singing you will hear on an Enslaved album to date. It’s to the point where I wonder if they might pull an Opeth (speaking of Åkerfeldt) in the near future. But this is not to say that the growls are any less harrowing. The opening of “Thurisaz Dreaming” and darker moments of “One Thousand Years of Rain” certainly give Grutle his due with performances not dissimilar from “Roots of the Mountain.”

Moving along to the other instruments, this may very well be the most diverse album stylistically well. While there is still plenty of the expected Enslaved brand proggy chord work and time changes, there are other times when song structures feel simplified. This is particularly apparent on “Building with Fire,” a song that is very near traditional rock. There are even a handful of rock solos on this album, my favorite of which occurs during the final heavenly moments. Also new to the fold are some of the slower, picked melodies that drop the distortion in favor of chorus and delay effects. I never thought I would find myself thinking about Deftones while listening to Enslaved, but the dreamy, space-rock vibes and guitar tone are straight out of songs like “Hole in the Earth,” “Sextape,” “Rosemary,” and “Entombed.”

With only 6 songs, I am trying hard to avoid a track-by-track review, but I must return to “One Thousand Years of Rain” for a moment. Much like “Roots of the Mountain” on RIITIIR, this is the crown jewel of In Times. It’s simply breathtaking. The catchy-as-hell core riff is simultaneously blistering and sorrowful. It makes me want to bang my head and shed blissful tears all at once. We also see the return of a folky, chanted interlude not unlike on Below the Lights’ “Havenless.”

All in all, this may very well be Enslaved’s chilliest album to date, but one that is still plenty enjoyable and well-written. My initial impression was to say that it had fewer memorable moments than RIITIIR but shows increased consistency. This may be true to a point, but with each subsequent listen, I find myself more and more attuned to the various hooks and melodies. Prior to the album’s release, I heard some nervous talk about the song lengths. Those concerned can rest easy. Nothing is more annoying to me than a 10 minute track that sounds like one or two riffs on loop. Enslaved provide more than enough different content and smooth transitions in each song to keep them moving. In fact, this album seemed to fly by in no time at all.