(By Kira Schlechter, Guest Contributor/Writer, RiffRelevant.com)
In just six songs (and two bonus tracks) on its latest album, “E,” the Norwegian band Enslaved has seismically shifted what metal is, blowing open the doors instead to what it can be – thematically as well as musically.
The lyrics are mythological, mystical allegories relating to personal inner struggles and wider metaphysical concepts. To achieve this blending, Enslaved occasionally uses runes as a guide or stepping stone to a track’s deeper meaning.
So hagalaz is the rune meaning “hail” or “sleet,” and in “Storm Son,” it carries both meanings: as bad weather literally and as a major life change symbolically or metaphorically. It’s a song that takes its good old time getting to what might be considered a chorus, but it’s really more a soundscape, a series of movements, rather than something with a traditional verse-chorus format.
Eihwaz is a rune associated with trees, and its use in “Axis Of The Worlds” reflects youth and age, growth and death, joy and grief. The song’s punchy, earthy swing grounds the airy dreaminess of the clean vocals.
Mannaz is a rune associated with foresight, which may make its mention in “Hindsight” ironic. Saxophone is a surprising addition to a track full of surprises and twists and turns and journeys; it explores concepts of time, nature, the conscious and the subconscious.
Musically, Enslaved seems to have set no limits on what a song “should” be, mixing the Gregorian-chant quality of the clean singing liberally with gutturals, treating tempo, structure, and groove as esoteric and subject to change at any moment. It is less progressive and almost more free-form jazz in its approach.
Instrumentation goes beyond the expected as well. “Sacred Horse” veers off on a Jon Lord-like organ tangent, then into a hypnotic breakdown, then into a thrashing ending that takes the breakdown’s main riff and blows the lid off it.
Cato Bekkevold’s drumming is a real standout here. The speed is certainly present, but what’s really important is the propulsion and impulsion he gives a song like “Storm Son” or the texture and depth he adds to one like “Sacred Horse” or the tenderness and delicacy he gives to one like “Feathers Of Eolh.”
The second bonus track, “What Else Is There,” is a cover of a song by the Norwegian electronic duo Royksopp, and is of special note. Call it Depeche Mode-meets-Bathory or something, with the two vocal styles fearlessly intertwining above a driving, percolating groove. As odd as it may seem, it’s a perfect addition to the original tracks, possibly serving as an indication or prediction of how much further Enslaved plans to go in the future.
The tracks on “E” may not be “easy” to latch on to, but they are supremely compelling. A single listen cannot possibly process all that’s going on within them – this is music that demands thought and attention and most of all, an open mind. And this is a band throwing all caution or expectations or preconceived notions to the wind, breaking down any and all barriers between genres. “E” is its own genre.
“E” is out from Nuclear Blast now. You can now order the physical editions of the album at the following links:
Or get the digital version and stream the new album here:
Kira spent 11 years at the Associated Press in Philadelphia, and another 11 at the Harrisburg Patriot-News covering music, specifically and frequently heavy metal. She’s been writing about and listening to metal since she was 15. Currently she also freelances for the Reading Eagle newspaper; in the past, she has freelanced for RIP, The World Of Hibernia, and Mademoiselle.