Formed in Bergen, Norway in 1991, Enslaved are one of Scandinavia’s foremost musical acts, having previously released no less than thirteen studio albums, spanning a twenty-five year career which they recently celebrated with a grand world tour. Despite being ostensibly an extreme metal band with strong roots in the old early 90s black metal scene, Enslaved are not an “underground” band, especially not in their native Norway - Enslaved have regularly won the metal category of the Norwegian “Spellemannprisen” music awards as over the last few years. In fact, in 2014, founding member Ivar Bjørnson was commissioned by no less than the Norwegian government to create a piece of music to mark the passing of the 200th anniversary of the national constitution. Despite their dark origins, Enslaved are now effectively a mainstream musical force both at home and abroad.
Over their long career, Enslaved have never been afraid to experiment, mixing elements of progressive rock with cold black metal riffs and folkier elements, all combining into a neo-norse fusion of dark and light that simultaneously looks both back into their black metal past, and forwards into their more progressive and musically diverse future.
With this, their latest effort, simply titled “E”, Enslaved have sought to push further into prog territory whilst still keeping their feet firmly planted in the thundering riffs and growled vocals of blackened heavy metal, as we've come to expect from Enslaved since the early 2000s back when they first started really experimenting musically. Opening track “Storm Son” begins with sounds from the dark Norwegian forests and a blast from what could be the Gjallarhorn itself, reminding us of their deep association with Norse mythology nordic culture and history, before eventually settling into the staccato guitars and raspy vocals we've come to know and love from Enslaved, not long followed by some evocative lead guitar work and thundering drums that are not unlike the pounding of the hooves of old Sleipnir himself.
“The River's Mouth” picks up the pace, charging forwards with thrashing guitars and rhythmical drumming, bringing us to the album's mid-section, and the stand-out track of “E” - “Sacred Horse”. Like rowing a viking longship through the mists of thought and time, this track is a mind bending journey through epic soundscapes and ethereal atmospheres, with twisting, turning guitars and brooding, folky nordic melodies all spun together like the Norns weaving the web of fate. This is Enslaved doing what they do best.
“Axis of the Worlds” kicks off like a furious charge of a Viking raiding party into a rival army's shield-wall – the battering of the drums and the clashing of guitars the weapons of war, before the familiar proggy guitars step in to mediate and cut through the raw aggression, eventually ending up in a chaotic Nordic nightmare and a maelstrom of sound.
Penultimate track “Feathers of Eolk” takes up up, soaring through the clouds, high above the fjord, drifting through northern dreamscapes. This is Enslaved at their most progressive, and they are quite happy to be exploring this territory, not afraid to put the heaviness aside for a few moments and just do what seems to come so naturally to them.
Album closers, “Hiindsiight”, sees the band take the speed down to an almost doom metal crawl before bringing in the familiar airy, progressive guitar work, before heading back down into lumbering guitars and guttural growls, before proceeding into a jazzy mid-section that is highly reminiscent of Ihsahn's recent works. Must be a Norwegian thing, to fuse metal, prog rock and jazz so easily and so fluidly, creating a chimera of different musical genres.
With “E”, Enslaved have pushed further and further into experimental territory, yet not losing sight of themselves of where they come from, at all times maintaining focus on their core ethos, producing yet another record in a long line of well-crafted and musically accomplished efforts that never miss a note. Like modern vikings, Enslaved sail bravely on into the unknown, looking for new musical shores to chart and explore, old hands at the sail and never afraid to see what lies beyond the horizon.