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Enslaved - Isa CD (album) cover




Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.14 | 223 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars |A| THE progressive black metal album for the ages. Period.

First, since this is my first masterpiece rating, I'm going to go ahead and clarify what I really mean when I award an album with such a title. There is a lot I expect out of a progressive album, and it's almost impossible for one to meet my expectations for deserving a golden masterpiece rating, a rating I reserve for only the best of the best. It must be an album that falls within my top 10%. Every track must be stunning, each having individual qualities that distinguish it from the others, yet at the same time altogether forming a cohesiveness rarely found in any albums out there (usually in concept albums). There must be few, if any, weak moments in the entire album. To me, there are three types of masterpieces. The first are the type that transcend beyond music itself to present an abstract concept relating to the human psyche, especially the subconscious, such as enlightenment (Close to the Edge), savagery (First Utterance), ect., obviously my favorite type. The second are those that are so perfectly written that they represent the best that a style of music can possibly sound, examples Selling England by the Pound and Miles Davis' Kind of Blue coming to mind. The third are the albums that do something so radically different than anything that's been done before that it reshaped and influenced music as we know it, such as ItCotCK or Hot Rats. Many of what I think of as masterpiece albums are two of these three combined. So as you can imagine, it's not too often I'll reward an album with such a rating.

Enslaved's eighth album, ISA, is easily the second type, and it meet's every bit of my expectations for a five star rating, possibly the greatest that black metal has and will ever sound, at these to these ears.

Enslaved is a black metal band from Norway (as many of them are), and one of the original pioneers of the second wave of the genre, before they even began adopting strong progressive influences into their music. From what I've gathered so far, the main song-writer for the band Ivar Bjørnson and bassist/guttural vocalist Kjellson (not coincidentally, the band's original founders) began listening to prog during the nineties, and started to gradually incorporate the style into their music just before the turn of the millennium, especially with Monumension, and increased the elements with each following album, similar to Opeth's discography. We find a greater use of keyboard, which is mostly used for atmosphere, more varied and flowing song structures, and more creative composition techniques, all while staying true to the style of music to which they first began. The lyrics are still in the vain of viking metal, though that's about all the band to do with viking metal, luckily. The music overall, the guitar work especially, has progressed to become much in the vain of Rush, King Crimson, and Pink Floyd, and perhaps even Tool, Porcupine Tree, and Anekdoten, bands that they site as primary influences in change of sound today. In a sense I've gotten an added personal bias for this band after recently seeing an interview of the bassists Grutle Kjellson's favorite album was MY favorite album of all time as well, Rush's Hemispheres. That caught me off guard, to say the least, and in his top five he mentioned Red and Dark Side of the Moon. I'm quite sure that I hear those albums in the band's music. Black metal influenced by those bands? What could be better than that?

They're a band that takes a bit of growing on you, or at least they were for me. I first had to get used to gutteral vocal styles, and extreme prog overall. My first experience with the band came from their 2008 release Vertebrae, which was the perfect album for me to be introduced to their music, as it is the most seventies prog sounding of their albums; I wasn't particularly awed, but still thoroughly impressed with the band's composition style. So I did a search on the band, and read a couple collaborator's 5/5 reviews on this album, praising it as a metal masterpiece. So I bought it, one of the few blind purchases I have and will ever make, and a first I was very skeptical that this album was better than Vertebrae, and was almost expecting to be disappointed. Upon the very first listen... WOW. The album, from the very first listen, was absolutely stunning. But I was still full of skepticism, as first impressions aren't always the most reliable. But lo and behold, each listen afterward it actually grew on me even more, now to the point where I regard it as having a special place in my top ten, maybe even five, depending on my mood, out of the hundreds of albums I've heard so far in my lifetime.

This is the NOT the type of progressive metal that utilizes all of the more cliche elements of prog that we all know and love, such as lengthy tracks, odd meter everywhere, and complicated instrumental arrangements. I love those cliches and I'm never afraid to admit it, but this is a different sort of beast, this is truly artistic, progressive black metal. The black metal component is true to the style, with gargling and scratching growls and heavily distorted guitar that works less as a melodic riff as more as rhythmic harmonic support for the texture of the music, but in itself is catchy enough to sound full and pleasing without a melody above it. All of the musicianship is more than competent, and proof of this is how well they play their music live. Progressive elements are similar to those of Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree, relying mostly on sound-scapes and atmospheric nuances to create a canvas of sound, rather than a melody that grabs your attention and "stuff" supporting it. This is probably the way black metal ought to progress since it is more sound-scape oriented in itself. It really is a wonderful combination, especially with the excellent use of keyboard in the album.

Everything in this album is borderline perfection, aside from a couple mixing flaws with the vocals and guitars here and there, something incredibly minor and not even very noticeable in most cases. It starts and ends with haunting keyboard sound-scapes, flowing right into the powerful Lunar Force, and the rest of the album escalates and rests between black metal heaviness and an atmospheric keyboard driven moment to breathe. The composition itself, the way the instruments' parts meld together, the chord changes, the riffs, the lyrics, the use of repetition... just about everything is perfectly in place for a meaningful purpose. There isn't a single moment listening to this album, not one, that I do not feel intoxicated by the brilliance and level of musical understanding that drips from this album.

Hell, I could go on for hours about this album, so I guess I'll end it with this concluding paragraph. This will forever hold a place in my special collection of the highest caliber of music for me to have heard in my life. Enslaved has become by far my favorite metal band in a matter of a few weeks, for there isn't an album I haven't heard of theirs (even their produced-quite-below-par debut album) in which I don't find great enjoyment. It's a wonder and a down right shame that this band isn't considered one of the prog metal giants up there with Dream Theater and Opeth, for I consider their music superior to that of those bands, and I do enjoy those bands. They've definitely gained great ground in the black metal community, but oddly enough, unlike Opeth, not the prog community. As a said before, this is a band that grows on you with some time, but I never expected them to top all the other metal bands of which I'd consider myself a big fan. And the album after this, Ruun, is certainly a great follow up to this amazing album. Usually when a band produces their best work, the next doesn't even compare, but Enslaved continues to release a solid album with every release. So, recommendations... who would I recommend this album to? Well certainly not the symphonic elitists, you guys STAY FAR AWAY from this album, you simply wouldn't understand it. However, if you're a fan of the heavier psychedelic music like Porcupine Tree, Opeth, Riverside, Tool, etc., listen to Vertebrae first, then move backwards, as I did. This album is absolutely essential in every sense of the word, except to those who consider music that isn't full of classical and jazz influences to be inferior. This will be one of the most proud masterpiece ratings I will ever give, for this is a band that gets so little attention when they deserve more than almost any metal band on this site. I have my tickets for the Opeth/Enslaved concert in May 16, and look forward to soaking in every moment of the performances of my two current favorite metal bands. Isa is a black metal masterpiece for the ages, and one of my favorite albums of all time.


Isa | 5/5 |


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