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Enslaved - Heimdal CD (album) cover



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siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JRF/Canterbury, P Metal, Eclectic
4 stars ENSLAVED seems to have achieved a sort of metal immortality having survived the battle field for over three decades now and consistently releasing one quality album after another with no end in site. The band is back three years after "Utgard" for another black / Viking / progressive metal adventure with another interesting and unique variation on the progressive black metal sounds that have been churning about since 2001's "Monumension." HEIMDAL is the sixteenth album from this Norwegian metal powerhouse and the title refers to a god in Norse mythology who is the son of Odin and nine mothers. Now how exactly does that work? Those crazy Scandinavians!

This album features six brand spanking new tracks and the title track of the "Caravans To The Outer Worlds" EP which served as a holding place between "Utgard" and HEIMDAL. The album clocks in at 48 minutes plus and features a more beefed up black metal heft after the folk fueled "Utgard." In fact in many ways HEIMDAL echoes back to the early 2000s sounding as if it was crafted somewhere between "Below The Lights" and "Isa." For any diehard fan of ENSLAVED, this album won't exactly take you somewhere completely new but rather does what virtually every ENSLAVED album exceeds at and that would be taking you on a familiar musical ride that continues the progressive black metal paradigm of the last 20 years and offers new twists and turns.

In the case of HEIMDAL we get a mix of crushing black metal guitar riffing, Grutle Kjellson's expected raspy enunciations with the contrasting shift into clean vocals as well as a spooky atmospheric backdrop that offers some very tripped out psychedelic keyboard parts from time to time. On the proggy side of the equation HEIMDAL offers the usual interesting compositional constructs with several tracks sailing beyond the 7-minute mark with the closing title track being the longest. Still sounding like no other band on the scene, HEIMDAL chugs along with the usual black metal bombast all teased out with extended progressive expansiveness including the occasional clean vocal led acoustic strum-a-thon that makes me consider a bit of a Viking interpretation of Pink Floyd.

Perhaps the most glaring differentiation from previous works is the use of keyboards which offers some interesting contrapuntal contrasts to the usual black metal and mellower clean vocal segments. Sometimes they are straight out of the 60s psychedelic rock playbook only set to the thundering roar of Norwegian mythological narrations. Another feature that i'm not remembering very prominent in previous ENSLAVED albums is the use of call and response in the form of an all male beauty and beast tradeoff with raspy utterances ceding to clean vocal tenderness and back again. Having well kept up with 21st century standards ENSLAVED continues to imbue a stellar production job that allows all the musical motifs to shine like a diamond in the rough.

Perhaps one could accuse of ENSLAVED of playing it safe and not taking any major risks but it is quite common for well established bands to deviate from their formula only to lose their fanbase and never really recover. ENSLAVED has navigated the turbulent waters of the decades by playing its cards strategically and by offering a familiar sound while changing things up enough to keep things from being a cookie cutter approach. In other words ENSLAVED is in it for the long haul and with 16 studio albums, 4 EPs and 32 years in existence, it seems this band is in no danger of burning out any time soon and continues to releases satisfying and enthralling albums. HEIMDAL is no exception to this rule and although i was a bit underwhelmed upon first listen, a few more spins has revealed new angles to perceive. Another winner for ENSLAVED.

Report this review (#2937742)
Posted Wednesday, July 5, 2023 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "Heimdal" is the sixteenth full-length studio album by Norwegion progressive black metal act Enslaved. The album was released through Nuclear Blast in March 2023. It´s the successor to "Utgard" from 2020, although the two full-length studio albums are bridged by the 2021 "Caravans To The Outer Worlds" EP. The title track from the EP is also included on "Heimdal". There have been no lineup changes since "Utgard", but keyboard player Håkon Vinje sings less clean vocals than before, and drummer Iver Sandøy sings more. They have relatively similar voices, so it´s not something most people may notice, but when you know, you´ll hear it.

While "Utgard" was probably one of the most polished albums in Enslaved´s discography, "Heimdal" is one of their more diverse and experimental releases. The basis of the band´s sound is still progressive black metal with Norse mythology/Viking related lyrics, but they´ve branched out for now many years and albums, and "Heimdal" adds another layer of experimentation to their sound. On most tracks you´ll find the tried and true Enslaved formula of atmopsheric yet heavy progressive riffs and rhythms, beautiful lead guitar work, epic keyboards and clean vocal passages, but also the raspy black metal screams of Grutle Kjellson and more "regular" black metal parts. But on a few tracks (or on parts on tracks) Enslaved have opted to challenge themselves and their audience.

"Congelia" is the most standout example as it´s almost like listening to a black metal version of a Hawkwind track. It´s repetitive, slow building, driving, psychedelic, and feels like it just goes on for 8 minutes with the same riff being played. That´s not entirely true though, as there are riff changes throughout the song. While the premise may sound a little tedious, "Congelia" actually turns out to be one of the most intriguing and innovative tracks on "Heimdal". Another one is the atmospheric "The Eternal Sea". "Caravans To The Outer Worlds" is a standout track too, but I already praised that song in my review of the EP where it is culled from.

"Heimdal" features a clear, detailed, but also heavy sounding production, which suits the material perfectly. Personally I found "Utgard" a bit too polished, and thankfully Enslaved have found a better balance between the epic clean parts of their music and the more heavy and raw on "Heimdal". For that you also need a sound production which allows that, and this production makes the material shine, like the best sound productions are meant to.

Upon conclusion it´s nothing less than amazing that a band like Enslaved with their sixteenth full-length studio album still sound as relevant as they did in the early 90s, when they first hit the scene. Successful musical changes throughout the years, and minor tweaks to their their sound have probably kept them alive and relevant all these years, and it´s not neccesarily a formula which works for all artists. Enslaved obviously have an open minded audience though, or have grown one over the years, who accept that they´ve grown and don´t play the same version of viking black metal they initially did. If they keep releasing quality music like this, I can´t see them stopping in the near future, and hopefully we can look forward to many, many more releases from them. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

(Originally posted on Metal Music Archives)

Report this review (#2944135)
Posted Sunday, August 6, 2023 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars It has finally clicked in me that Hugsjá co-creator Ivar Bjørnson comes from Enslaved! Thus, I am far more willing to give them the very close attention that they deserve.

1. "Behind the Mirror" (6:21) eery Viking horns warn off the stealthy raiders coming across the still waters. Cool! The music then kicks in, sounding more subdued for dark metal but then the vocals enter and the horn-like twin guitars and then the chugging sophistication of the rhythmic interplay of the fourth minute makes it much more interesting. Nice mutli-voice vocals over the last third remind me of CYNIC's "Veil of Maya." (8.875/10)

2. "Congelia" (8:02) Kind of monotonous (and relentless) despite some nice guitar soloing and choral vocal singing. Lots of similarities to KAYO DOT / TOBY DRIVER projects. (13.25/15)

3. "Forest Dweller" (5:56) acoustic guitars and electric walls of sound (including Mellotron) give this one a ORPHANED LAND sound and feel. Interesting BRENDAN FRASER effect on the vocal over an acoustic guitar accompaniment in the second minute. The dominance of the synth play over the acoustic guitar is fascinating. I really like this! In the third minute the band and vocals ramp up to prog metal (heavy on the Hammond) with growl lead vocals and Opeth-like background chorus. With the return of the synth dominance and Middle Eastern melody lines in the the fifth minute I am once again reminded of Isreali band ORPHANED LAND. The final vocal lines remind me of IGGY POP. Nice stuff. Because of its refreshing behind of styles and themes, this is my favorite song on the album. (9.5/10)

4. "Kingdom" (5:52) nice opening guitar riff sucks one in and then the racing rhythm section brings its own power and adrenaline. Until the chorus at the three-minute mark, this song feels a bit cruise-controlled. Don't get me wrong: the impressive musicians are working hard, but there is so little development in the music (besides the chorus) that over six minutes it feels a bit like an endurance race. The little pause and lament at 3:40 is my favorite moment on the album. Very cool. Another top three song. (9/10)

5. "The Eternal Sea" (7:26) another interesting song for the strong presence of keyboard synths within the metal soundscapes (which, again, feel very TOBY DRIVER-esque to me). I really like everything up to the five-minute mark, but do not like the sudden decent into hell that is taken at this point, despite the pleasant leveling off only 40 seconds later. Another top three song. (13.5/15)

6. "Caravans to the Outer Worlds" (6:45) massive low reverberating bass, strumming acoustic guitars and synth play open up this with an ominous, potentiated sound. At 1:08 the full band kicks into the main theme with a reckless abandon that reminds me of some of the more dynamic passages in MAUDLIN OF THE WELL or even DEVIN TOWNSEND songs. The little chorus thing at the 2:30 mark reminds me of Fates Warning lead singer Ray Alder, but the rest of the song's vocal performances are more typical (even the IGGY POP-like basso profundo is now familiar). The final minute is rather cool with the bass and drum playing off one another. (13.5/15)

7. "Heimdal" (8:07) dominated by bass guitar chord play acting as the leader (and some great drumming beneath), the growl vocals feel a bit Halloween spooky--almost comical. The fourth minute is passed in a near-vacuum as spacey guitar and growly vocal recitation in the back, but then 4:18 we ramp up into a simplistic 1970s THIN LIZZY-like rock motif. When the vocals pick up at the very end of the sixth minute they're delivered choral style sounding very much like country-mates MOTORPSYCHO. Interesting. But a little too weird and disjointed for my puny little brain. (13/15)

Total Time 55:39

There was time, as many of you know, that I could not review an album like this. I think that my repertoire of familiarity with the metal sub-categories is finally beginning to pay off as I can definitely hear and feel (and enjoy) the creativity and similarities in the musics I'm hearing. Yay!

B/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog metal lover's music collection, Heck! Even some prog purists will probably find this quite interesting and pleasing.

Report this review (#2949298)
Posted Monday, September 4, 2023 | Review Permalink

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