More like a B+
Record Label: Nuclear Blast
Release Date: October 13, 2017
Since Isa, Enslaved’s trajectory has followed a relational, if expected, path. The Norwegians were building on a theme, using full-lengths like Ruun and RIITIIR as a stacking modifier for their courting of progressive metal’s opposing corners. Well, today, with E, the members of (inner) starship Enslaved drafted a manifesto that pulls them off their layer cake exercise. Just like Mardraum: Beyond the Within failed to prepare fans for Monumension, so too did In Times lapse fans into an undeniable—however revered—stupor. E shatters the pattern, rejiggers the telemetry and guillotines the “futh” from the “ark.”
A glance at E will reward the witless with Enslaved’s familiar tropes—long songs, Grutle’s trademark snarl and unconventionally presented Norse themes. The primary change is Håkon Vinje (keyboards/clean vocals) replacing Herbrand Larsen, who left in 2016 to pursue a career in producing and recording. Immediately, Vinje’s voice is different, almost a hybrid of Steven Wilson, Jaz Coleman and Brann Dailor. Effectively, Enslaved have a new instrument. In some ways, E seems built around this new instrument. Songs like opener “Storm Son,” “The River’s Mouth” and closer “Hiindsiight” exhibit brightness, as if the ending of the world has been saved at the last minute by careful contract of gods powerful and unseen. There’s a sense of vitality and grace—the three-part harmonies are incredible—throughout E. “The River’s Mouth,” “Feathers of Eolh” and “Axis of the Worlds” operate less on the idea of repetition (a classic Enslaved device), but are fugue-like, insofar as the ongoing musical development is made increasingly more complex. The warren of riffs, drums and vocals on “Sacred Horse” represents Enslaved’s interest in Bach-informed songcraft. That it’s E’s darkest track—the coda is a surprising visit to an ancient Persian caravanserai—says something against the relucent displays of guitar, voice and tone. Enslaved were tracking a course for the doldrums, but with E they’ve re-spirited the inner core with invention. And it’s wondrous to behold.