Genre: Progressive Black / Viking Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Enslaved’s musical repertoire has always been quite unique, from their very beginnings back in the early nineties, with close bonds to Scandinavian mythology that very few bands have managed to handle correctly over all these years. They have a vast discography with so much to give to the listener and going through their catalog, is equivalent to a learning course in extreme metal appreciation. While taking a turn and adding prog elements from the early 00’s and on, their first albums are pillars of the Viking black metal scene.
I can’t stretch enough how “RIITIIR” completely blew me away when I first listened to it in 2012, which is among their most recent albums in a series of their own blend of black and progressive metal. Frankly, each fan has their own favorite among records released in the 2006 – 2015 period and that’s what makes a new Enslaved release, a very serious event that one should prepare themselves for. It’s not just another you’re going to put in the list among new stuff. You make space for it, like planning for a night out with friends.
Following “In Times”, the band has gone through a big line-up change by recruiting a new keyboardist, Håkon Vinje, who is “younger than the band” as Grutle says. The shoes he had to fill in that position were quite big but the man just nailed his performance in the whole album, being a pivotal part of the compositions that now explore the sound of Enslaved even further. He also is a great clean vocal singer, with many chanting parts in the tracks that make up a stellar result along with Grutle’s known work.
Regarding the album’s album title, “E” actually refers to the rune “eswah”, (meaning “horse” but more deeply, reflects the idea of “trust”) and is written as an “M” that is shown in Espedal’s artwork. Musically, while keeping a more metal identity at parts of the record, there are quite a lot of progressive elements, many keyboard soundscapes and atmospheric lines here, while the clean vocals are used even more than on “In Times”. All the ideas are masterfully executed, the flow is perfect with acute rhythm changes and the musicianship is as always, top-notch.
The tracks have highlights of their own and each one totally does worth the listen. The work on the keyboard is majestic, creating background textures as well as amazing melodies (just check tracks “Sacred Horse” and “Axis of the Worlds”) that you might not have heard in Enslaved before. Apart from the fact that I love Grutle’s hard and clean vocals, the double cleans or chants in “E” are jaw dropping in every track. I’m glad that Einar Selvik from Wardruna also joined in the last two tracks of the record and contributed to their overall beauty.
If that wasn’t enough, listening to “E”, you will also stumble upon saxophone parts in these last two tracks, played by Kjetil Møster. He made the ending of “Hiindsiight” and closure of the album remarkable, with this particular track being amazing in general, as it has great doomy passages and atmosphere. “Hiindsiight” ends the record as perfectly as “Sacred Son” opens it.The more metallic side of “E” lies at tracks like “The River’s Mouth” and “Axis of the Worlds”, which have more distinct Enslaved-forged riffing. The guitar lines are a piece of work, even at more patient parts (like in the middle of the first track) they are potent.
Breaking the tracks into different sections, Enslaved make the idea of combining different styles together look simple. Take “Feathers of Eohl” for example. It builds up a heavy guitar part, quite captivating when listening to it, along with it’s deep clean vocals and switches between really calm singing from then on, supported by the eerie keys and saxophone, before bursting into the distorted guitar execution again, so naturally. And I would not say the track is among the best here, it’s amazing. In the same manner, magnificent are “Sacred Horse”, “Hiindsiight”, “Axis of the Worlds”.
The three elements of great vocal work, keyboards and compositional content sky rocket this fine record. Enslaved have infused a lot of prog and this time, the glances back to the 70’s (names like Pink Floyd have been mentioned around) are clearer than ever. “E” should appeal to metallers and non metallers alike and you should dig into it’s conceptual dimension as well. It’s quite hard to even pick a favorite between these tracks and there are moments here that could easily give you goosebumps, but spoiling everything would not be fair.
By noticing that recent Enslaved albums get very good remarks, I have come to the realization that Enslaved might just not be able to release a bad album and only if they are lobotomized somehow, they might fail themselves. “E” is another contender for the year’s best and adding Vinje to the line-up is a breath of fresh air that shows Enslaved reinventing themselves at points even after fourteen albums.