Norwegian viking/black metal veterans Enslaved have had one of the truly great and consistent careers of any band in the genre, and after the critical success of their last masterpiece Axioma Ethica Odini , it was pretty hard to imagine that they would be able to keep continuing this high level of creativity for much longer. Well, any doubt will be quickly shattered once you hear their latest release Riitiir, another stunning collection of progressive black metal, and an album that sees the bands epic songwriting venture even further into new levels of majesty and grandeur.
Let me make one thing clear up front, Riitiir is epic in every way, shape and form. It's a long album, and the 8 songs are all lengthy, but the band keeps you on the edge of your seat and never for one second do these songs meander or bore. Opening cut "Thoughts Like Hammers" has elements of '70s prog rock as well as the furious black metal the band has always been known for, with bassist Grutle Kjellson's harsh growls battling the wonderful melodic vocals of keyboard player Herbrand Larsen. The two are at it again on the excellent "Death in the Eyes of Dawn", another highly progressive track featuring layers of intricate keyboard arrangements and no shortage of tasty riffs and solos from guitarists Ice Dale & Ivar Bjornson. Kjellson's menacing shrieks are just dripping with evilness on this brutal, complex, yet highly melodic gem, and the clean vocals of Larsen on the chorus are haunting and unforgettable. The winding, twisting "Veilburner" might be one of the most textured and layered songs this band have ever done, littered with a wide assortment of crunchy riffs, shimmering chords, and acrobatic drum work, and again the dueling vocals are spectacularly done. Think Opeth at their zenith and you can begin to appreciate the masterpiece that this song is. With "Roots of the Mountain" the band furiously blasts into some crushing black metal, but it's all done with much sophistication so you don't get non stop blast beats, rasps, and repetitive riffs, instead you can expect some atmospheric moments (love the Mellotron flutes!) and clean vocals to temper the brutality. Kjellson's roars on this one are just so well done, as the bassist seems to be making a claim for having some of the best extreme vocals in the business.
The title track is another complex, progressive monster, with fascinating lyrics that are woven perfectly into the song by Kjellson & Larsen, and on "Materal" the band slow things down a bit, offering up almost doomy, melodic riffs at the outset before rapid fire, tremelo picked notes arrive with evil growls, making for a nice contrast in styles that really works. "Storm of the Memories" ups the complex, progressive nature even further, with the guitars, bass, and drums all working in counterpoint as spacey keyboards flutter in the background and yearning vocals can be heard drifting off in the distance, ultimately all coming together in a wave of relentless black metal fury complete with punishing blast beats, evil growls, and manic riffing. The wonderful closer "Forsaken" starts off with some haunting piano from Larsen before the rest of the band come crashing into the mix with plenty of bombast and symphonic soundscapes, making for a truly epic finale to this brilliant album.
There was a time just a few short years ago when Opeth were considered that 'can't miss' band, and while they still are in the minds of many, a case can be made that Enslaved really are the ones who have been the most consistent and truly 'progress' with each release. No two of their albums sound alike, and just when you thought they couldn't embrace their prog rock desires any further while still retaining their black metal roots, they surprise us once again with this masterpiece called Riitiir. Easy contender for album of the year!
1) Thoughts Like Hammers
2) Death in the Eyes of Dawn
4) Roots of the Mountain
7) Storm of Memories