Having long forsaken the path of raw black metal, it has almost turned into a sport to see what the Norwegian extreme progessive metal act Enslaved conjure up whenever they announce a new album. The Norwegians are some of the few that have both managed to maintain (a bit of) and musically evolve from their extreme / black metal roots, finding a direction of their own.
‘Utgard’ is already the fifteenth studio album of Enslaved. Conveying different meanings, it’s the place in Northern mythology were the giants dwell and the gods of Asgard do not rule. A dangerous, chaotic, uncontrollable lansdscape where madness, creativeness, humor and chaos reign. On other plains of conciousness, it can be a place that unifies the above and the below, as well as a realm that is a vital part of the self. In other words, ‘Utgard’ is pretty much open to your own interpretation.
Having been a fan of the band’s early discography and also having a deep appreciation for their newer work, the first steps of the journey into ‘Utgard’ are simply getting immersed in it. On every record, it takes a while to get a sense of what Enslaved has created. On previous albums, there always has been this one guiding song that opens the metaphorical to another dimension for yours truly. In the past, it has been ‘Sacred Horse‘, ‘The Roots of the Mountain‘ and ‘One Thousand Years of Rain‘. This time around, ‘Homebound‘ opened the gate onto the plains uncontrollable chaos, creativity and musical madness.
The first songs of the record have a sense of familiarity. “Fires In The Dark,” is a more mellow, progressive Enslaved track, with soaring clean vocals and Grutle’s recognizable raspy, raw ánd epic vocals. The song embodies the sound of Enslaved while it simulteasnouly embeds elements of rock ‘n roll, spacey soundscapes and a retro vibe. Coming up next is “Jettegryta”, a heavier, faster, more metal orientated tune with a few unexpected twists and turns.
Opening with a poppy (up)beat rhythm and dreamy keys, “Sequence” is more experimental than the previously mentioned songs. After easing into these melodies, the band throw off the listener with raging guitars before it slows down again. The track definetly stands out and it will demand some revisiting to be fully grasped. Balancing melody and agression into epic perfection, “Homebound” is the personal favorite on the record. The atmosphere and clean vocals give it a sense of grandeur, while the faster riffs and harsh vocals bring the listener back down to earth. It’s a fantastic juxtaposition between high and low, raw and beautiful, epic and a bit dirty.
“Utgardr” is a precursor for the synth wave / ambient influenced track “Urjotn”. It’s not per se an odd detour for the band, given Ivar Bjornson’s ambient side project Bardspec. As has been proven by various artists, metal and synth wave flow well together and “Urjotn” is no exception. “Flights of Thought and Memory” and “Storms of Utgard” will guide you back to the more familiar realms of Enslaved, while “Distant Seasons,” again charts some new grounds. Starting off with a jazzy vibe, a dreamy atmosphere takes over and the clean vocals, constant sound of raw riffs and guitar melody, make it hypnotic outro for the record.
‘Utgard’ is in essence Enslaved. The album progressess along the path the Norwegians have carved for themselves and they often also leave that road in search of something new. It might take some time to journey through the land and soundscapes of ‘Utgard’ but it’s a rewarding trip and one that ultimately leads to a reconfirmation of my appreciation for what Enslaved has accomplished in the past and do so over again and again in the present.
Label: Nuclear Blast
Release date: October 2, 2020
1. Fires In The Dark
7. Flight Of Thought And Memory
8. Storms Of Utgard
9. Distant Seasons
Words by Laetitia