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Enslaved - Isa CD (album) cover




Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.17 | 213 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Crossing the Rubicon: Enslaved's point of no return towards excellence

I do not like black metal, never did. Black metal as a genre, for me, ever sounded like a bunch of people trying too hard to be something they are not, or a desperate way for sociopaths to find some sort of meaning in their lives or even a mere mean to get money using the genre's shock value. I am not alone here; many people think the same way I do. Some of those people, however, have much stronger feelings towards black metal and defend the idea that this genre of music should be wiped out of popular music, an opinion I definitively do not share with them because I know that, in rock music, there will be eventually someone who will be able to cross that line, someone or somebody who will be able to trample the commonplace and the shallow aspects of a genre, inspiring for greatness and wishing to break away from the cliches and the overdone stuff.

Enslaved is this somebody.

Yes, in spite of having rather strong feelings against black metal, Enslaved managed to find a place within my heart because of their will to strive for becoming better and better in each passing release, they try and out do themselves every time they release an album, either slightly changing their musical direction or harnessing in one single record their best possible compositions. In fact, they ONLY release an album if they feel that whatever they wrote is good enough, if it is well developed enough to make into a record. That is what first captured my attention about them.

Indeed, this band's wish for being better is what, in fact, makes it progressive. That is the same spirit as the guys from the 1970's had: make rock (or in this case, black metal) better. The many influences from moody, psychedelic and space progressive rock artists also help a lot in that regard, but even so the influences aren't apparent, they mainly serve as a mean to find a direction to their music, where to take it, how to make it twist and turn, how to develop their melodies and musical ideas in general. For that, in spite of having clear musical references, it is possible to note that Enslaved's music evolves as does the music of Tangerine Dream, Pink Floyd, Klaus Schultze, Hawkwind and Nektar.

Starting as a normal and rather generic, I would say, black metal act, they slowly evolved into something else and their 2004 album, Isa, is the point where they leave for good normal black metal territory. The two albums that came before, Monumension and Below the Lights, already showed or preceded that this would be the direction the band would eventually would take, although both were not so pronounced in the progressive territory, specially with songs such as The Crossing (from Below the Lights) and The Sleep: Floating Diversity - A Monument Part III (from Monumension).

Isa, however, is from start to finish a wave of moody emotions, an ever changing pallet spacial sonic blasts. Every song sets a melodic mood and develops it to the best it can (with the exceptions of the Intro and the Outro), having one song evolving into another. In fact, the album seems to have different chapters, where a series of songs evolves into one another, being divided into three parts: the first would be formed by Lunar Force - Isa - Ascension - Bounded by Allegiance; the second, by Violet Dawning and Return to Yggdrasil; the last by Secrets of the Flesh and Neogenesis. In the last part's case, Secrets of the Flesh serves almost as an introduction to the epic Neogenesis, where all the albums amounts to, where it spectacularly culminates to: an intergalactic metal voyage though the stars and planes of existence, much like the in space rock; as mentioned, however, I cannot hear any clear influences from this genre of music, but the idea is clearly there. The interesting use of both clean and harsh vocals helps to stress this as a whole.

Although the album has many positive qualities, I must say that it isn't all perfect. The only thing I would put as not being quite good is the mastering, which the band maintained as the usual dirty and raw black metal production is; that I definitively do not like. The other down thing are the compositions. Yes, they are very good, as a whole, but they aren't quite as strong as they are in future albums, such as Vertebrae and RIITIIR, my two favorites from Enslaved and the band's high-water marks. Here in Isa, despite being clearly directed at the progressive side of it, the band's music still retains too much of its black metal roots what, at times, keeps them from developing more some of their songs, as is the case with Lunar Force and Violet Dawning. That does not mean the songs are bad, but I think they had the potential to be much better. Obviously, the best songs are those of which who Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson managed to develop their ideas the best, like Isa, Ascension, Bounded by Allegiance and Neogenesis.

Rating and Final Thoughts

Isa is Enslaved's most beloved album by its fans and admirers for being the point in which the band fuses both its previous and future sounds the best: it has the visceral black metal from their earlier albums, but also has the technical as well as the well developed and written parts from their future progressive(r) releases. For me, however great this combination might be for the more eager fans of the blacker half of of Enslaved, feel that some of this album's magic is lost though the black metal repetitive relentlessness, that keeps this from being a perfect album. For this, I firmly believe that the most appropriate rating for this album is four stars.

CCVP | 4/5 |


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