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Enslaved - E Award winner

by Justin "Witty City" Wittenmeier at 10 October 2017, 12:29 PM

E” is the fourteenth full length studio album from the prolific Norwegian band ENSLAVED.  Ever since “Isa” (and possibly further back, if you really get down to it), the Black Metal band has incorporated more and more Prog into their sound.   In a scene where bands often time can’t get out of their own way, ENSLAVED’s discography has often been a breath of fresh air for both Black and Progressive Metal.  With “E,” they become more Prog than ever but, unlike other bands such as OPETH, retain their Metal sound.  The sounds found in this album isn’t so much Prog in terms of out there ideas or trying to cram as much notes as possible into a bar but rather its more seeing the band stretch their boundaries to a certain line, come back around, and then return out to venture further past the line.  I could best describe this album as a Heavy Metal PINK FLOYD.  Of course, the two bands couldn’t sound further apart but, much like PINK FLOYD, ENSLAVED use longer song structures and depth filled sonic excess to create oceans of sound and atmosphere that blend in seemingly with their core sound.

Grutle must be commended for his harsh vocals.  He has always been one of the better Black Metal vocalist but he really outshines himself here.  His guttural sounds and screams are like a hurricane made of acid, such is the fury from which they burst forth from within.  Without a doubt, this is his best vocal performance.  Speaking of vocals, longtime member Herbrand Larsen has left the band and now replaced by Hakon Vinje on clean vocals and keys.  His performance is also nothing short of spectacular.  His voice is similar to Herbrand’s but not quite as low pitched.  The constant change up between the harsh and cleans vocals really adds to the atmosphere.  They have used dual vocals for some time now but it really fits in with this album’s style and never seems forced. The opening track, ‘Storm son,” was a good choice for both the first single and video (and track placement) because in the almost 11 minutes it runs, every style and sound in the album is represented.  It is a safe bet that if you like the song then you’ll be drooling by the end of the album. If it isn’t your thing, then I don’t see having a need to continue with the remaining five.  However, I think most ENSLAVED fans, especially fans of their last four or five, will find everything here to their liking. It probably goes without saying but tru and klvt Black Metal purists will need to look elsewhere.  ENSLAVED have grown beyond the confines of the genre and created a Metal sound only they can do.

“Storm Sun” begins with the sounds of nature and impending battle. The epic opening gives away to clean keys and Grutle’s wonderfully melodic bass. Cato’s drums may not constantly hammer like most other Black Metal but the intricate and well timed work speaks for itself.  The guitar duo of and  slowly creeps in until they are playing crunch yet melodic riffs that work in rich tandem with the rest of the song’s smooth vocal delivery finds its place well among the back ground vocals as does the random harsh attack of .  His harsh vocals are like lightning strikes against the storm clouds of Hakon’s own voice.  The two of them are as important of a duo as the guitar players.

Six minutes or so into the song, the sound changes and the music goes a bit more Black Metal.  It may not be as furious of an assault as their own old stuff like “Frost,” but it’s still chaos among their progressive calm.  Even when they get heavy, the songs remain melodic.  However, even when they are melodic, they don’t go too soft.  Much like the rest of the album, each song is just so well balanced.  Unlike a lot of Prog Metal bands, there isn’t any mindless self-indulgence or guitar wankery here—each instrument, sound, and note has its own place and time within the songs’ frames.  “E” doesn’t contain any fluff.  “The River’s Mouth,” is suddenly a very different type of song, almost a different band. Whereas “Storm Son,” definitely rode into a wide plain of variety, this song is more focused and it immediately begins heavy with Grutle showing us how harsh vocals should be done.  The drumming is speedier but still lives just inside the pro realm.  The guitars are more riff based this time around, focusing on being the foundation of the song rather than being added elements to the melody.

Sacred Horse,” has a quick, folky intro before the dam bursts and a hammering drums and rapid fire riffs tear up the landscape.  Grutle sounds especially rough here and there is a darkened energy to both his vocals and bass that cannot be denied and can barely be contained.  The lead guitar is a highlight with its startling sense of sound and melody.  The last couple minutes of the song are the definition of epic: thundering bass from drums and the guitar, keys, and the almost chant like clean vocals end the song with a bang. The next track, “Axis of The World,” has some of the best riff work and leads on the album. Grutle and Hakon both give a top vocal performance but their instrumental use is just as potent.  The bass and guitars in the last minute and a half echoes the glory days of OPETH, with the Prog Metal riffs and the harsh vocals ripping everything apart. The most experimental track, definitely more Shoe Gaze elements than ever before, is “Feathers of Eolh.”  It is a wonderful track that’s well put together; the band clearly took a risk with this song and it paid off.  There are a few uses of harsh vocals here and there but the bulk of the song is voiced by Hakon. He really shines here, both his vocals and his keys. He plays a large part in giving the song its heavy Prog leanings.  The drums are all over the place here and give the song an almost random feel as they speed up and change styles many times throughout.  The guitars too give way to various sound as well; in addition to the more typical Black Metal riffs, there is also some groovy filled riffs but clean an an acoustic guitar.   The riffs towards the end of the song are particular interesting, the drumming as well.  I don’t think it’s the best song on the album but its definitely the most rewarding because its great knowing ENSLAVED can definitely pull off anything.

The final track, “Hiindsiight,” is, alongside “The River’s Mouth,” the best song on the album.  Much like the aforementioned track, it is definitely more on the metallic side in terms of vocals and a lot of the riffs but it also experiments with the use of the saxophone.  The keys really play well with the sax, boosting the songs Prog leanings to compensate for the doom metal riffs. Seriously, parts of this song sound like MY DYING BRIDE. It is awesome. “E,” is an album that shows the strength of a band that is willing to push their sound to places most Metal bands, especially Blackened ones, would never go while still letting the Metal flow. It is an album that will never get old and contains a tone of depth. In the couple weeks I have been listening to it, I am still finding new things to enjoy.   2017 has been a great year for Metal and with this album ENSLAVED will probably land on a lot of top five lists, if not taking the number one spot.

Songwriting: 10
Originality: 10
Memorability: 10
Production: 10

5 Star Rating

1. Storm’s Son
2. The River’s Mouth
3. Sacred Horse
4. Axis of the Worlds
5. Feathers of Eolh
6. Hiindsiight
Ivar Bjornson – Guitars, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Grutle Kjellson – Harsh Vocals, Bass
Arve Isdal – Lead Guitar
Cato Bekkevold – Drums, Percussion
Hakon Vinje – Keyboards, Clean Vocals
Record Label: Nuclea Blast


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