Long-running, legendary bands run a serious risk by staying around so long and continuously offering up new material. See, having so much success can split your followers into different camps, mostly those who prefer the earlier stuff and those who lean toward the later material. My tongue’s in cheek here. It’s great that a band can have a half-century run of legitimate relevance, people’s silly objections be damned.
The great Nordic Viking metal standard bearers Enslaved have fallen into that category. Their earlier stuff—records such as “Frost” and “Eld”—swung closer to the heathen-style black metal of the second wave, coming in gnarly and ugly for the most part, even if it also was flush with a lot of native melody. As time has passed and the band progressed in their ways, they’ve gotten less brutal and brainier, evidenced by their most recent albums “Axioma Ethica Odini” and 2012’s “RIITIIR.” Now, with their 13th record “In Times” washing up on our shores, people should know what to expect from these guys: black metal, atmospheric prog passages, long songs, and tradeoff between gurgly growling and spacious singing. Yeah, it’ not break-neck savagery the entire time, but Enslaved know what they’re doing. They pack a serious wallop live, and I really have enjoyed their work in the last decade as much as their early stuff. Oh, so I guess that makes me a member of the third camp who can appreciate all eras of the band.
“In Times” actually is my favorite of all the Enslaved records from the past decade. They really hit on something with these six songs that run about 53 minutes total, and they manage to weave a lot of memorable moments into what’s going on here. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this record from my first listen to my most recent, where I took my notes, and it’s impressive what Enslaved still are accomplishing in 2015. Yeah, you’re going to have people who eschew this because it’s not pure black metal, but whatever. It’s a damn good listen, and I really love the thing. As for the band’s integral parts, surely you know the two long-standing warriors Grutle Kjellson (bass/growled vocals) and Ivar Bjornson (guitars, keyboards), as well as punishing guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal, drummer Cato Bekkevold, and keyboard/mellotron/clean vocalist Hebrand Larsen, who added a serious element of melodic depth to Enslaved’s sound when he joined in 2004.
The record opens with “Thurisaz Dreaming,” which ignites from the start with a black metal-style assault, gurgling growling, and raucous grit. That spills into a dreamy melodic section, where the pace remains steady but more texture is added with clean singing and keyboards. “In the nighttime, I can hear you dream,” Larsen sings, only to have Kjellson growl those same words when the song swings back to darkness again. The song catches fire, twisting and turning as Enslaved are wont to do, with the track getting a blistering end. “Building With Fire” is arguably the strongest track on the record, opening with flames crackling, funeral bells ringing, and the music heading into dreamland. The thing fires up over the chorus, with Kjellson howling the song’s title with conviction, only to have things go back to serenity again. This pattern continues throughout, with melody always heading back to the eye of the storm, and the song ends rather suddenly, as flames chew the last moments. “One Thousand Years of Rain” has acoustic and electric guitars co-mingling and giving the start a rustic feel before it blows open into a rage, with the vocals absolutely mangling you. The carnage and power are apparent, with calls of, “The sun is dying,” spilling into the mix. The band then hits on a very Viking-centric pocket of melody, feeling like a festive beer hall chant, which leads into a final burst of energy that takes the track to its finish.
“Nauthir Bleeding” is one of the more melodic, serene cuts on the record, as the thing opens in cloudy skies, soaring over mountains and letting you see the layout of the land. The singing is breezy and spacious, with the growls acting more as a complement than a main element, though we do get some sections of gruffness and fury. It’s a pretty different sounding song, even for modern-day Enslaved. The title cut follows, thrashing heavily right away and leading into a crushing assault. Singing does enter the picture to counter the growls, with Larsen wailing, “Across the ocean of time,” as the band then leans into a ’70s-style prog section. There even is a pocket of vocal harmonizing, like they’re some sort of deranged Beach Boys, before we’re back to violence and a feeling that a major, bloody battle has been won. Closer “Daylight” is an interesting conclusion, as it delves toward ballad territory at times. Not in a weak, hyper-sensitive way, but just more in feel and scope. It has its slower moments, but those always are filled in with passion and great singing, as well as soloing that feels like it was pulled in from the cosmos. It also has its tougher spots, with chugging guitars, growls that sound coated in phlegm, and a dramatic, passionate finish that’s the perfect final salvo for this adventure.
“In Times” is a fantastic effort from this long-standing institution, and Enslaved sound inspired and bursting with life. These cuts have everything you could want, from grisly to gorgeous sounds, punishment and emotional depth. When all is said and done for Enslaved, I’m not sure where this record will fall in the pecking order, but I’d certainly put it closer to the top half. It’s their best work in a decade that has contained some pretty strong work from this band.
For more on the band, go here: http://www.enslaved.no/
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