Saturday, July 11, 2015

ENSLAVED

BY MATT SPALL, Man of Much Metal
Artist: Enslaved
Album Title: In Times
Label: Nuclear Blast
Year of Release: 2015
In extreme metal circles, Norway’s Enslaved are held in very high regard, something approaching royalty some may say. For nearly a quarter of a century, the band have strived to release music of the very highest quality. But more than that, they have dared to be different. A constant evolution over the years still sees their extreme metal roots intact but as the albums pass, the roots have become ever-more intrinsically linked to, and entwined with, other elements. Progressive rock and metal, ambient, post-rock, jazz and a whole host of other ideas collide in what can only be described as some of the most fascinating and rewarding heavy metal currently being created anywhere in the world. Album number thirteen, ‘In Times’ is no different.
In the same way as a small child will push their parents in order to discover their limits and boundaries, so too do Enslaved with their compositional creations. Currently comprised of founding members Ivar Bjørnson (guitars) and Grutle Kjellson (vocals, bass) alongside Cato Bekkevold (drums), Herbrand Larsen (keyboard, vocals) and Ice Dale (lead guitars), Enslaved are simply not content it seems with sticking to a formula or adhering religiously to the status quo. It is for this reason as much as the music itself why I belive that Enslaved are so highly revered.
And yet, for all that, I remain one of the small minority that has never fully taken Enslaved to my heart. However, in keeping with a blossoming trend of late, I have finally and fully fallen under the Enslaved spell with the help of the magnificent ‘In Times’. I always enjoyed the quintet’s music but I always felt slightly detatched, admiring the output from afar rather than immersing myself in it. Call it stupidity or the bittersweet curse of having too much music to listen to. Nevertheless, whatever the reason, it ends here and now.
‘In Times’ features just six tracks which, on the face of it and if you’re bothered by numbers, appears a disappointingly small figure. However, the six compositions are all huge, sprawling affairs that push or exceed the eight minute mark, thereby offering the better part of an hour’s worth of music. But then again, song lengths do not alone guarantee value for money and a quality product. For that, enter the music of Enslaved.
I will admit that my first couple of spins through left me dazed and confused with more questions remaining than answered. It certainly wasn’t love at first listen, but stubborn tenacity and patience have paid off in spades.
The album is ushered in by ‘Thurisaz Dreaming’ which begins innocuously enough with the quiet soothing sound of a wave crashing gently on the shore. Within seconds though, this gentle beginning is thoroughly expunged by a full-on raw, spiky and venemous-sounding black metal riff. Angry riffs join forces with furious drumming and gutteral screams in an effort to pummel and bewilder the listener. From even this early stage, the increase in those black metal influences from the bands early days are striking. As is the Enslaved way, it offers a slightly different path from their more recent output via ‘Riitiir’ and ‘Axioma Ethica Odini’ before that. This black metal reintroduction effectively forms much of the bedrock upon which ‘In Times’ handsomely sits. Enslaved then revert to type as it isn’t too long before the composition introduces other ambitious elements in order to create drama and intrigue, cleverly juxtaposing the tumult that rages around it. Clean vocals flit in and out of the track, as do moments of quiet reflection and snatches of near-discordances flirt with the peripheries of the opener.
If anything, and in almost direct contrast,the follow-up,’Building With Fire’ is positively catchy. The opening riff gallops along with an upbeat tempo and a lovely melodic, rocking groove. The soaring clean vocals are mesmerizing too, adding an extra layer of immediacy to proceedings. The growls aren’t too far away and neither are the black metal references but they’re never as confrontational as seen within the opener. A lead guitar solo then joins forces with subtle piano work to create a stunning moment before those beguiling clean vocals return atop the anthemic opening riff that re-enters with joyous gusto. The pace drops away towards the end and the post-rock influenced guitar tone really helps to emphasise the gorgeously rich and organic production that has been achieved by messers Grutle, Larsen and Bjørnson with the mastering assistance of Fascination Street Studios. Infectious and majestic are just two adjectives that can rightly be thrown at this monster of a composition.
A haunting melody welcomes ‘One Thousand Years of Rain’ before the song veers into a more chaotic construction. It also offers a demonstrable folk metal feel that increases as the track ebbs and flows from one seemingly disparate idea to another and in so doing, tests the listener’s resolve throughout.
‘Nauthir Bleeding’ in contrast sees an increase in the otherwise subtle keyboards and symphonic embellishments, giving it genuinely epic feel. The melodies are again more pronounced and at the midway point, the track erupts into an almost euphoric stomping riff that’s complimented by a stunning and wonderfully indulgent lead guitar solo, all of which breaks up the more impenetrable extreme excesses to great effect.
The title track is the longest on the album and it provides some of the harshest and heaviest material on the record. The gutteral screams make a forceful return but just as the track threatens to become too overpowering, the tempo is slowed. So pronounced is the change of pace, it is the musical equivalent of being pushed over the precipice into the abyss. The swirling and jagged hypnotic riffing is replaced by sections that are almost soothing ambient post rock in their construction. But, rather than sounding forced or overly contrived, the apparently disparate elements are brought together seemlessly and rather beautifully.
‘In Times’ then concludes with ‘Daylight’ another epic track that fuses many different styles into a homogenous and euphoric triumph of a track. A mid tempo stomp dominates large sections of the track where the drums really come to the fore. The relatively simplistic elegance of the percussion is then wonderfully embellished by further clever lead guitar work and understated vocals that create an almost hypnotic crescendo of sorts to the album.
Topped off by utterly gorgeous artwork courtesy of long-term collaborator Truls Espedal, ‘In Times’ is an almost peerless album that manages to seemlessly blend extremity with genuine compositional intelligence, in the process creating another unique body of work that cannot be referred to as anything other than a majestic masterpiece. Or, to put it more simply, if you want your mind blown, it is absolutely imperative that you own ‘In Times’.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25
ENSLAVED - Thurisaz Dreaming (OFFICIAL LYRIC VIDEO)
If you want to read more of Matt's reviews and interviews, he has a blog. Check it out.
www.manofmuchmetal.wordpress.com

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