You have to hand it to Enslaved. Every time they release a new album you wonder if they can evolve any further and continue to broaden their horizons, while still retaining the harsh black metal exterior they first made their name with. Until now the answer has always been a resounding yes, the band slowly metamorphosing into what you might call progressive black metal if that didn't already have connotations that sound nothing like E. That the band have also managed to bring the majority of their fans along with them on this horizon broadening voyage has to be admired and in many ways wondered at. As they often are, parallels can be drawn with Opeth, another extreme metal outfit who now sound far removed from their starting point. The major difference coming through Enslaved never quite appearing like they simply decided to become something else, something different, something 'easier' on the ear. Enslaved may now slip into the prog charts, and deservedly so, but you sure ain't going to confuse them for Yes, ELP or King Crimson. Who do they sound like? Thankfully the answer to that is still Enslaved.
That all said, E widens the outlook further, the pummel of extremity still a driving force, but then so is smooth as silk synth passages, Pink Floydian like soundscapes, or even Bauhaus inspired avant-garde. "Storm Son" shows the belief this band now possess, a ten minute plus scene setter opening the album, and dropping the jaw. Horses brae, fog horns blare as clean guitars build a slow introduction that sets Enslaved's stall out with a big sign proclaiming 'We're doing this our way'. And they do, this slow, almost lucid dream like welcome smashed into oblivion, but not by the almighty hammer blow you might expect. Yes Arve Isdal and Ivar Bjørnson ramp up the riffage, but with smooth (dare I say Opeth like…) backing vocals, even here there's a caress of steel. With synth-strings heightening the intensity and as many changes in tone, time and tension as Dream Theater could ever bring (but without the blatant look at me-isms), not a second is wasted. First impressions are mighty, subsequent conjurings ever more impactful. Especially when the gallop of Cato Bekkevold's drums truly kick in mid-song and Grutle Kjellson's barking bites counterpoint the clean singing from keyboard man Håkon Vinje.
It's not a one off, but then never is the same blueprint copied, "The River's Mouth" playing a more straight forward game that still throws in a twist in the middle and a strangely catchy ending. With "Sacred Horse" more intent on swirling through pirouettes of Hammond organ and chanting vocals and "Axis Of The World" swaggering on an almost jaunt of death and near-Ghost like layers of voice, the variety is quite astounding. That it's all thematically linked and immensely cohesive, is barely noticed, so natural is this album's construction.
Leaving "Feather Of Eolh" to bury its melody deep in claustrophobic guitars and hammering drums – although the acoustic and voice breakdown is quite astounding. Whereas "Hiindsiight" looks back on this album with a deep but never self indulgent melancholy, melodic scales of discordance working in harmony with the harshest vocal in sight and earth shattering smacks of guitar. That the crawling dankness never compromises as an at times plaintive, at times tortured, saxophone as it plays out over the top, is a masterstroke. An idea that feels like it should spell disaster illustrating the majesty of what's been achieved.
Fourteen albums into their time together, Enslaved continue to make statements that refuse to bow or break. As every release crashes by you wonder if they've finally made their defining statement. On this evidence there's plenty more still to come.
See more about this release on our recent YouTube show!
1. Storm Son
2. The River's Mouth
3. Sacred Horse
4. Axis Of The Worlds
5. Feathers Of Eolh
Bonus tracks available on the digipak
8. What Else Is There? (Röyksopp cover)
Added: October 22nd 2017
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Enslaved online
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Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2017-10-22 07:55:45
Norwegian progressive black metal legends once again continue their trend of releasing 'album of the year candidates' with their latest Nuclear Blast platter, simply titled E. For this 14th studio release, the band sees the departure of longtime keyboard player/clean vocalist Herbrand Larsen, now replaced by Hakon Vinje, but they've managed to not skip a beat, as Vinje has seamlessly settled in here and the end results are spectacular. Opening near 11-minute epic "Storm Son" balances the harsh black metal the band have always been known for with the growing ascension of classic progressive rock we've seen in their music over the last decade, as Grutle Kjellson's harsh vocal rasps battle gorgeous Pink Floyd styled keyboard soundscapes and effective guitar riffing. Vinje's melodic vocals aren't far off from what we experienced with Larsen, and he dukes it out with Grutle's venomous barbs on the energetic "The River's Mouth" (which has some wild Hawkwind styled passages) while taking on a more haunting quality on the melodic black metal barrage that is "Sacred Horse". Some lush Mellotron pops up on the atmospheric "Feathers of Eolh", and we even hear a little sax on the prog, jazz, new wave, & black metal rave-up "Hindsight". The bonus tracks are equally as intriguing, with "Djupet" containing some massive doom elements and the cover of "What Else Is There?" blends black metal with elements of Bauhaus and Depeche Mode.
Overall, E is another monumental success for this Norwegian powerhouse. There seems to be no shortage of ideas within the Enslaved camp, and they are one of the few bands going that consistently bring fresh music to the table album after album, always keeping their fans on their toes with new shifts in their sound. Highly recommended!
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