Friday 13 October 2017

ALBUM REVIEW: Enslaved - ‘E’

By: Daniel Jackson

Album Type: Full-length
Date Released: 13/10/2017
Label: Nuclear Blast

‘E’ could very well be the foundation for yet another great era in a discography that is already ludicrously loaded with top-tier albums.  It is a  shift made with finesse and the second half of “Storm Son” could be the basis for a whole new era of Enslaved on its own.

E’ CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. Storm Son
2. The River’s Mouth
3. Sacred Horse
4. Axis of the Worlds
5. Feathers of Eolh
6. Hiindsiight

The Review:

Just about anyone reading this should be well-acquainted with Enslaved by now. If you aren’t, stop reading this immediately and begin your journey at the beginning, with their debut LP, ‘Vikingligr Veldi’. It’s important to know where Enslaved comes from because, despite being drastically different in 2017 than they were in 1994, there are still faint traces of their black metal roots present in the music they make today.

2015’s ‘In Times’ was exactly what I wanted from Enslaved at the time. The previous album, ‘RIITIIR’, had taken a step too far into a style of prog that came and went without eliciting any real emotional response. It didn’t pull me in, or excite or affect me in any way. It just existed, and then faded from memory without leaving any positive impression. ‘In Times’ was nearly the opposite, having a deep emotional resonance and songs that rivaled some of their best work historically. The album was much closer to what made Enslaved so great following their early black metal years: blending progressive elements into a black metal context, while always sounding genuinely themselves.

That brings us to ‘E’. It’s Enslaved’s fourteenth full length album. Interestingly, this album feels like it has a lot of the same creative aims that ‘RIITIIR’ had at the time, but here the band are exponentially more successful with what they’re seeking to accomplish. There isn’t much black metal at all here, or at least nothing close to the musical space “Thurisaz Dreaming” occupied for ‘In Times’. There are sections that flirt with black metal guitar structure, but really, ‘E’ is a progressive metal album in which black metal plays a truly marginal role. And yet, despite my long-standing belief that Enslaved is at their best when taking a “best of both worlds” approach to their sound, this album succeeds largely on its merits in the prog domain.

That isn’t to say that ‘E’ isn’t an album without issues. The prolonged mellow section at the beginning of “Storm Son” is unnecessary, or at the very least could stand to be shorter, as it’s the sort of relaxed, breezy, lite-jam that’s probably a lot more fun for the musicians to play than it is for listeners to sit through. The same could be said for most of “Feathers of Eolh”, a song that seems content to just noodle away and let the weird notes and chords carry the burden of being interesting for long periods of time. Thankfully, the soaring middle section of the song keeps things lively and engaging between its less-inspired bookends.

While the album does have its flaws, those flaws are more than made up for with some truly admirable creativity throughout the majority of the album. The second half of “Storm Son” could be the basis for a whole new era of Enslaved on its own, bolstered by some excellent vocal work from Håkon Vinje, who fills the role vacated by previous keyboardist and singer Herbrand Larsen. His vocals have a smoother, natural feel to them, so much so that he might be an even better fit than Larsen was. His harmonies have something of a late 60s psychedelic character to them, which sits comfortably with the album’s overall direction. I’d love to hear what he sounds like on previous material too.

Enslaved find themselves—for at least the third time in their career—in musical transition on ‘E’. While there’s a deep-rooted part of me that hopes they aren’t ready to leave black metal behind completely just yet, it’s hard to argue that they haven’t found a compelling way to do exactly that. They’re a band in the process of truly severing themselves from the rage and darkness of their past, and doing so with much more grace and style than certain other major bands (i.e.Opeth) who’ve done the same recently.

‘E’ isn’t the sort of radical departure that ‘Mardraum’ was following ‘Blodhemn’, even if it does have some of that albums wild-eyed quirkiness, as in “Axis of the Worlds”. Instead, this is a shift made with finesse and done at a time when any reasonable person could envision the top of an hourglass running out of sand for a style Enslaved have explored for nearly fifteen years. ‘E’ could very well be the foundation for yet another great era in a discography that is already ludicrously loaded with top-tier albums.

“E” is available digitally here and on CD/LP here

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