The Pitch: Progressive black metal legends.... yada yada yada... The Norwegians are at it again... yada yada yada. It's Enslaved, you're required to listen to a new album at least once. FFO: Good music.
What I Like: Admittedly, that intro was pretty subjective. If I'm being perfectly honest, not every album has been a slam dunk; RIITIIR, despite it's powerful singles, was wrought with filler and in my opinion Vertebrae was downright boring and poorly produced. But regardless of how you feel about this band I do argue that any Enslaved album warrants at least a little attention. Considering their modest beginnings within the 2nd wave black metal movement and how far they have matured since then, especially when compared to their peers, they are a prime example of what it means to naturally grow as a band.
Which brings us to the simply-titled E. I had one specific concern/point of interest in particular going into this one, so let's get that out of the way first. With longtime member Herbrand Larson, responsible for both keys and clean vocals, abrubtly leaving the band, he left big shoes to fill. His contributions have been a trademark component of classic albums like Isa, and a huge turning point for the band's overall sound. Ultimately, these duties now fall to Håkon Vinje of Seven Impale. And let me tell you, they picked the right guy. In fact, had I not known of the lineup change in advance, I might not have even noticed. I can certainly hear some differences in his Mastodon-ish delivery on "The River's Mouth," but beyond that it's like nothing has changed. Furthermore, Håkon does more than enough to sell his proggy keyboard skills on "Sacred Horse."
As for the rest of the music, it's gorgeous as always. There's an extensive mixture of Grutle's harsh black metal vocals, bouncy and sometimes even Opethian guitar leads, atmospheric synths, and melodic interludes. While I loved the lush, expansive post-metal elements of In Times, I think that E has more standout moments. It combines the heaviness and high points of RIITIIR with the consistency and atmosphere of IT. Furthermore, I was fully engaged by this album on the very first listen whereas the last one was more of a grower. This seems to be thanks to an impressive balance of catchy performances with complex songwriting and ample twists and turns. Even the Röyksopp cover is enjoyable and somehow fits their style perfectly.
Critiques: E is a little on the long side. The album feels uneven: flawless and aggressive with its first 3 tracks hitting hard, but afterwards leaving room for trimming. Or perhaps they could have better dispersed the heavy moments across the album. And while I dig the old school progressive structure and organ of the aforementioned "Axis of Worlds," the main guitar hook is kind of annoying. Take my favorite tracks from this and the last one and you pretty much have a perfect album.
The Verdict: E is a fantastic new entry into the already impressive Enslaved discography. I'd rank it close to, if not slightly above, In Times but still below classics like Axioma, Isa, and Mardraum. More than anything I'm just impressed with how much staying power these Norwegians still have after so many years.
Flight's Fav's: Storm Son, The River's Mouth, Sacred Horse
-Review by FlightOfIcarus
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