No two Enslaved records sound exactly alike. Beginning their 21-year long career as one of Norway’s first black metal bands (and one of the first to focus on Viking and Nordic themes), Enslaved quickly and rapidly began to incorporate more and more prog elements into their Viking-themed metal formula. As such, each and every release – be it EP, split, 7”, LP, what have you – has been a marked evolution in the sound of the band. For many fans of metal music, the idea of a band taking large leaps away from their roots is an uncomfortable thought. For Enslaved fans, it is not only a welcome aspect of their music, in many ways it’s expected. Now, with 9 previous full-lengths and a handful of shorter releases, Enslaved have crafted a prog metal masterpiece with RIITIIR, and fans can take solace in the knowledge that it’s one of the best records they’ve ever written.
RIITIIR is like a musical tapestry of Nordic knots and patterns intersecting, winding, and looping around each other in meticulous and elegant fashion. Every song on this album feels “complete;” as in, from beginning to end, every moment, note, or rhythm feels like a cohesive and important part to this densely layered creation.
RIITIIR begins with ‘Thoughts like Hammers.’ From with a chaotic and noisy intro, a powerful riff gallops forth, followed close behind by a passage that quickly sinks its hooks into you. From there, the album begins to explore ideas and concepts that, while not entirely new to Enslaved, still feel fresh and unfamiliar (in a good way).
For the most part, songs are rooted in these wonderfully melodic passages and beautiful choruses. These passages give each song a sense of cohesion. They’re also extremely catchy, giving you just as much reason to bang your head as hum along. That being said, you won’t fully grasp the album after just one of two listens. As I mentioned before, these songs are layered with many ideas that blend and connect in ways that give the album a rich atmosphere without having anything sticking out like a sore thumb.
For instance, ‘Roots of the Mountain’ begins with the album's most scathing riff before launching into the heavens with what is arguably the most melodic chorus Enslaved has ever written. Seriously, I’ve never heard bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson hit these notes nor would I have ever guessed he was even capable of such a feat. From there, Enslaved out-Opeth Opeth through some of the key and time signature switches. The song hits its zenith with a solo that’s reminiscent of Enslaved’s previous album, Axioma Ethica Odini. In the final few minutes, the blackened riffage returns just before we’re played out by an epic and atmospheric reprise of the chorus, replete with choir-like vocals juxtaposed against guttural growls.
And that’s just one song.
If you’re looking for a Viking metal or black metal record, this is not the Enslaved album for you. The prog is in full force here, if that wasn’t already fully apparent, and on several tracks there are moments where contemporary Enslaved inspirations are apparent. The album's second track, ‘Death in the Eyes of Dawn’ has elements of Crack the Syke-era Mastodon, whilst on more than one occasion throughout RIITIIR a riff or vocal pattern will have distinct Mikael Åkerfeldt or Ihsahn flavors (but never feel derivative). The final four minutes or so of the album closer, ‘Forsaken,’ give off heavy Neurosis vibes, and serves as the perfect outro to this masterful album.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the lyrics. Enslaved have always had powerful lyrics, and RIITIIR is no different. Despite often sporting the “Viking” and “Pagan” monikers, references to the ancient myths and symbolism of Norse mythology are grafted to real-world themes, and delivered in an esoteric fashion so that, while certainly being present, they are not shoved in the listener's face. These aren’t battle hymns or retelling of old stories, these are songs with a deeper meaning that the listener can gain something from.
Enslaved are musical sages. Every song on RIITIIR is near-perfect in its craftsmanship and execution. It’s impressive that, on an album nearly 68 minutes long, with an average song length of 8 minutes, that at no point any song feel convoluted or overwhelming. In fact, I felt the opposite: the tapestry of RIITIIR is marvelous and beautiful, with every thread exactly where it needs to be.
Posted: Thu 11 October 2012