Ready for a Viking feast? Norway's legendary black metal band Enslaved are back with another collection of furious and haunting extreme metal tunes guaranteed to get your blood pumping and your mind working. With a few guest vocalists on a couple of tracks, adding some depth to the proceedings, Enslaved create raw, powerful black metal, mixed with progressive flourishes created by lush acoustic guitar passages and symphonic keyboards. Although truth be told, there's nothing really progressive at all about any of the ten tracks on the CD in a Yes or King Crimson sort of way, but the band does manage to create a general vibe not unlike a marriage of Pink Floyd and Bjorknagar (imagine that) that manages to give these tunes much more depth than most normal black metal. Many of the songs are pretty straightforward and not overly complex upon first listen, but they do have a flow to them that seems to uncover lots of hidden nuances after repeated spins. The guitar sound is BIG, with lots of layers, but doesn't rely on intricate riffs or solos. Take "Bounded By Allegiance" for example, a very modern sounding metal piece featuring fat guitar chords at the outset, which gives way to sweeping keyboards, power-metal double bass drums, and hissed vocals. A similar path is taken on "Violet Dawning", a symphonic number that, without the black metal vocals, would not sound out of place on a prog or gothic metal album. However, the band stays true to their roots on the relentless yet atmospheric "Return to Yggdrasill", a black metal tour-de-force that goes through many changes of mood and tempo. There's also a myriad of styles within the tune "Reogenesis", including goth, black metal, power metal, and even, dare I say, some commercial sounding nu-metal styles. It's a testament to their talents that they chose to do such a varied and risk taking piece, but I'm not sure how long-time Ensalved fans will take to this tune.
Probably the most intricate and adventurous song is the excellent "Ascension", which features lots of synths and organ, loads of heavy guitars, and a mix of screeching wailing with clean gothic vocals. Bassist Grutle Kjellson's vocals are an acquired taste, and will not be for everyone, so if you tend to shy away from frenzied black metal wails or low registed death metal barking, then Enslaved may not be for you. However, if you can stomach the vocals (and there are plenty of clean vocals on the album), and like symphonic extreme metal with chugging guitars and orchestral keyboards, then by all means dig in. The music on Isa (which, by the way, means "ice") is richly textured and very dynamic, always varied and keeping you guessing at what corner it will take you around next. This very reason is what separates Enslaved from many of their black metal brethren, and what makes Isa a real winner.
01. Green Reflection (Intro)
02. Lunar Force
05. Bound By Allegiance
06. Violet Dawning
07. Return To Yggdrasill
08. Secrets Of The Flesh (Instrumental)
10. Communion (Excerpt) (Outro)
Added: April 8th 2006
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Enslaved Website
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Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-04-08 08:54:38
I haven't heard all Enslaved albums, but of those I've heard, Isa strikes me as their most challenging and absorbing. Their songwriting is heightened to levels the band never reached before, with a broader vision of combining their roots of Norwegian black metal with more progressive elements. With Isa, Enslaved have set themselves apart from most other Viking black metal acts, utilising varied guitar riffs that border on avant-garde at times, both black and death vocals, as well as clean-sung deep voices, and perfectly nuanced synth work. Dennis Reksten's keyboard playing on the album is thorough and lends it a very distinct atmospheric vibe.
There are several guests on this album, all contributing to its diversity and success. After a dark intro and the first song "Lunar Force", highlighted by excellent black shrieks, pummeling drums, great breaks, varied soundscapes that even touch on electronica; the title track is presented with unexpected clean vocals and screams mixed. A bit like the last Arcturus album, the song features Nocturno Culto from Darkthrone, who also appears on the longer and more atmospheric "Bounded by Allegiance". This is a song where ominous synths are married with crushing riffs, plenty of time changes, and chanting vocals that recall the mid-90's beauty and the best type of bands where the male growlers started doing gothic vocals. However, it's not too long before black screams take the lead until a bluesy rock solo emerges out of nowhere, adding to the diversity of the album. There are so many aspects of Isa that characterize its sound. From drawn-out instrumental passages (best heard on "Reogenesis") with fearless blues licks to cold, dismal black metal experimentations and cinematic elements.
"Ascension" is possibly the broadest track on the album, guesting both Ofu Kahn of Red Harvest and country singer Stig Standbakk. Standbakk's vocals are amazing, providing a good contrast to the heavier, more extreme singing; but it's also the hammering drums and fierce guitar riffs that render this cut more interesting than the others. Stanbakk also sings on the acoustic-driven track "Return to Yggdrasill", with occasional extreme vocals and electric leads, and probably the best drumming on the albm. "Secrets of the Flesh" is a great instrumental, loaded with lots of interesting sounds and oddly-timed signatures.
All put together, the songs make up Isa, one of the best Enslaved albums, if not the best. It should be in your interest to check out both Arcturus and Akercocke's latest albums for similarly multi-textured, diverse tracks encompassing elements of death, black, prog, and even avant-garde.
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