Reviewed: November, 2020
Released: October 2, 2020 Nuclear Blast
Reviewer: The Elitist Metalhead
The release of a new Enslaved album is always an event to me. In their 29 year career, they have yet to release a bad album. In my eyes, this band can do no wrong. There are a lot who may disagree and think that they abandoned their roots or even abandoned metal itself. Nothing could be further from the truth. They may have arrived with the second wave but there was something that made these Norwegians stand out early on. Could be that founding member Ivar Bjørnson was just 13 years old at the time of the band’s formation and just 17 years old when their critically acclaimed debut VIKINGLIGR VELDI was released. It could also be that while their peers were making darker and more Satanic music and donning corpse paint, Enslaved were making music about their Norwegian past when the old gods ruled. But they also took their music to another level, even early on. Each album progressed from the previous and it has been that way since their debut. With BELOW THE LIGHTS, we see the band mix prog rock and prog metal while keeping some of the black metal f0undations. Grutle Kjellson’s unmistakable snarls are a staple of this band’s impressive career. Their fifteenth full length, UTGARD, is the perfect successor to E while progressing their sound even further. Just when you think Enslaved have gone as far as they can, they do this.
“Fires in the Dark” kick this off and instantly the goose bumps appear. Clean vocal chanting poems in Old Norse start the song, talking about the creation of the earth from Ymir’s flesh. Who abandoned what roots? Now that I settled that, let’s get on with it, shall we? After the chants we have some clean acoustic guitars take us away. The song builds along with the chants until the 1:50 mark then we in comes Grutle’s growls over some eastern sounding riffs. This is where we begin to see that there is a focus on the vocals on this album. There are now three members of the band that are providing vocals. Grutle is still the main growler but he uses his cleans more on this album. Keyboard player Håkon Vinje provides some cleans and sounds comparable to their previous keyboard player and vocalist, Herbrand Larsen. Also, their producer and engineer, Iver Sandøy can play drums….and sing! Who knew? Evidently they did because they are using his vocal talents on this album as well. This as opened a whole new door for this band. No longer limited to just the contrast of Grutle and Herbrand, but we have three great and distinct voices all being utilized to the best of their abilities through this album. Halfway through the song “Sequence” they go full blown Pink Floyd and the vocals are just perfect. The song begins with a cool metal riff that continues over Grutle’s growls until the cleans come in and take the song to another level. Arve Isdal shows his chops on this one with some wicked soloing before going into that Pink Floyd moment I mentioned. If any other band tried this, the results would not even come close. How Enslaved pull it off is because of what they’ve always been able to do, write solid songs that flow together to create a musical journey on each album.
To try and limit Enslaved to a genre or a sound would not be doing them justice. In fact, I’d dare say that Enslaved are their own genre. They are not afraid to push the boundaries but they have never strayed from their roots at all. Even on the song “Urjotun,” where I’ve heard the band take some heat for how the song is totally techno/industrial driven. Then “Flight of Thought and Memory” follows it up and this one is pure modern Enslaved. This song is epic, fast, and furious, it has some great moments. The solo is shredding and the keys play along and then….quiet clean guitars, keys and spoken words take us to the end of the song. Only Enslaved can execute something like that and it work. Everything they experimented with on previous albums is now engrained in their sound. If you listen closely you will find that they have not forsaken their roots and they are still very metal. What they have done is expand beyond those boundaries to take you on a musical journey like only Enslaved can do.