Label: Nuclear Blast
Genre: Progressive Metal / Black Metal
Release Date: 13 September, 2017
Let’s be honest, Enslaved have been steadily moving away from “Black Metal” for a long while now. This new album is another step in that direction, more prog than their previous albums. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t heavy. Oh, no, it’s plenty heavy, but if you’re expecting a return to Eld, or hell, even Isa, you’re not getting that here.
All that said, this is a magnificent record. Each listen brings more and more nuance out, and the playing is simply stellar. Enslaved are one of the very few extreme metal bands that keep progressing, staying heavy and focused, and gradually changing with every release. This isn’t a left-field album, where you go “What?” Instead, it sticks true to their core sound and expands upon it, with some incredible soloing, more organ, and more clean vocals. They haven’t lost any of their grit, and the record may be a little too smooth sounding for some, but no one can complain that this isn’t Enslaved, and that they’ve sold out, and yada, yada, yada. There is no mistaking who made this record.
Some standout tracks:
Opener “Storm Son” is just amazing. Enslaved almost always have a killer tune to start their records and this one comfortably joins the pantheon of “Convoys to Nothingness,” “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth” (probably forever my favorite Enslaved track), and “Lunar Force.” There’s a Viking-like cry, a horn, a horse, and then some beautiful melodic guitar. The song builds from there, gradually, the tone growing heavier, the music dreamy yet with an undertone of the ominous, until it all crashes in around the 2:40 mark. And even then, this isn’t crunching and stomping, but melodic heaviness. Very proggy in parts, accentuated by Grutle’s brutal, gurgling vocals (man, he’s great). There’s plenty of mellotron and keyboards on here, as well as some really tasty soloing. I can imagine most people hearing this one as the opener getting afraid, thinking the band has lost their punch, dealing now instead in subtleties rather than bludgeoning force or speed. Well, you’d be right and wrong at the same time. With this track we know immediately that yes, they are trading some of the metal bluntness for some more melodic nuances, but then about 6:40 into the song, things get heavy, and we get some of that sweet Black Metal picking, and the drums rumble and crush. Oops! Looks like they’re still plenty damned heavy, after all. Never, ever doubt Enslaved.
“Axis of the Worlds” starts out with a swinging beat, the guitars heavy and crashing, followed by some prime Grutle singing. This song kind of has a bit of a Manowar feel in that it’s adventurous, upbeat, and driving onward, laced with all sorts of melodic touches. No other extreme band mixes clean and brutal vocals with the efficiency and effect that Enslaved does. It feels seamless and important to the song and never a gimmick.
“Feathers of Eohl” is a perfect representation of the sound they’re going for. It starts heavy, with swirling, grinding guitars, and propels forward with fast drumming, melodic guitars, melodic vocals, all power and grace and finesse. Four minutes in, the bottom drops out, and we get left in a dreaming, drifting sea, floating on soft, aching melodies and lullaby vocals. We get just as quickly jarred out of this by the return of those guitars (and if this were mixed differently, they would be a LOT more jarring). “Feathers” allows Enslaved to show off almost everything they’ve been about as a band, from the beginning until now, and listening to it, you can hear the vast sonic wastelands they’ve crossed and conquered to reach this point.
E is beyond excellent. This is Enslaved firing on all cylinders, bringing the crunch with the melody, a perfect encapsulation of their career thus far. A tad less heavy, overall, than previous efforts, this is still nothing to wag your finger at. Layer upon layer of meaning can be discovered with each listen, and really, that’s pretty exciting. These guys deal in grandeur, in giant soundscapes, in epic, monolithic compositions. They are not content to sit still, but consistently push themselves to move forward. Gods bless them, they’re always moving forward. Here’s hoping we all move forward with them, too, because so far, it’s been richly rewarding.
1. Storm Son
2. The River’s Mouth
3. Sacred Horse
4. Axis of the Worlds
5. Feathers of Eolh
Total Playing Time: 59:48