Label: Nuclear Blast
Genre: Progressive Black Metal
Release Date: March 3rd, 2023
For Fans Of: Ulver, Opeth, Ihsahn
Eighteen albums in, Enslaved needs no introduction. They’ve been playing, pioneering, and perfecting their unique sound for over 30 years now, and their is well-documented and better-stated in other places. Given the fact that they are slightly older than myself, I probably wouldn’t do it justice anyway. But I do love this band and I love their music. As with every review of a band I love, I cannot promise that this will be objective. I realize this probably makes me a shitty reviewer, but when a band like Enslaved writes music, even if it goes in a direction I might not like, I can’t help but still hop on for the ride. Because these guys are masters, and who am I to question the way they choose to take their music? But, I happen to love the direction they’ve gone with Heimdal, and I continue to listen in awe of what they continue to do.
Whenever thinking of genres in which-ever medium, it is easy to continually think about the same characteristics over and over again. For example, if I were to mention fantasy books, likely the first thing to come to mind is The Lord of The Rings and various elements such as wizards, magic, elves, medieval weapons, etc,. Yet, that is only scratching the surface of the genre, and so many incredible books feature next to none of the aforementioned items. Or, they take those existing tropes and twist them in such a way that is so vastly unexpected and different from anything else. And even when we find an artist known for a particular style, we do the same thing as we do with genres; we go back to certain tropes and pillars, and subconsciously expect the next creation be made in a similar manner. Enslaved not only shatters any preconceived notion of the “progressive black metal” associated with their music, they also deliver exactly what I’ve come to expect from them, yet I can’t help but be shocked with each new release. Heimdal has it all; Grutle Kjellson’s iconic harsh vocals, angular guitar riffs, gorgeous clean vocals, thundering drums, a blend of unusual synths and textures, and lyrics that dive deeper into Norse mythology than a college class. But it is also a unique album in it’s own right; it’s going it’s own direction, not one necessarily paved by previous releases, although it will make use of the tools previously crafted.
I went back and listened to Utgard during this review cycle, and while I loved that record as well (made it into my Album of The Year list), Heimdal seems to have a clearer sense of direction. The juxtaposition of their black metal elements and melodic influences dominate, and blend together in more impressive ways. Songs like “Forest Dweller” and “Kingdom” are excellent examples of this; going from high-octane, heavy riffs to shimmering choruses and verses is smoother than a fretless bass jazz-lick. And the album is fucking heavy too. “Congelia” is centered around a slow blast beat that doesn’t change for four minutes straight, as Enslaved use its hypnotic nature to continuously build tension until the sweet, head-banging release well after the five-minute mark.
The last couple Enslaved releases have closed the album out on a gorgeous—dare I say it—ballad-esque piece. Subverting that particular expectation this time, the title-track is a three-movement prog-metal journey. It concludes the album nicely and is nice sonic-recap of the record in terms of tone and feeling.
The album as a whole is an immersive experience into the concept of Heimdal and his place in Norse mythology. You don’t have to listen to every lyric to know that the version of Heimdal Enslaved is presenting is far more intricate and complex than other pop-culture depictions. Albums like this, that give weight and depth to concepts such as this, enhance the musical experience even more. To know the subject material so thoroughly and seeking to emulate that musically will push music in places none thought to explore. I, myself, do not know much about Heimdal, aside from the bits shown in Marvel movies, and I realize the similarities between Idris Elba’s depictions and the original myths are nonexistent. Yet, with this record, Enslaved managed to convey to me that this one figure is an endless well of stories and theories; and I am fascinated by that. It elevates the record to another level.
Like I said in the beginning, I’ve come to expect Enslaved to deliver a work of art like this. This isn’t the first time they’ve written a complex concept album around an element from mythology, or mixed synths and black metal, or messed around with different instruments and styles; yet, I’m still blown away. Enslaved are masters of their craft, and Heimdal is another masterpiece to add to the collection.
1. Behind The Mirror
3. Forest Dweller
5. The Eternal Sea
6. Caravans To The Outer Worlds
Total Playing Time: 48:25
Starting his musical journey with Rush, Spenser has become an avid fan of metal and drumming. Other hobbies include reading and audio engineering. He can often be found reading some sort of fantasy novel.