ENSLAVED “E” Album Review

On October 13th, 2017, Norway’s Enslaved will unleash their 14th album, simply titled E. They formed back in 1991 as a black metal act, who didn’t adhere to the rigid formula set by their peers. Over time they have evolved into so much more than what they started as, and I would call it progressive, blackened, hard rock/metal. Ivar Bjørnson has been a busy guy over the last couple years. He has become a father, worked side by side with Wardruna master mind Einar Selvik on a project called Skuggsja, toured behind the last Enslaved album, and celebrated the bands 25th anniversary in 2016; not to mention ushering in a new era of Enslaved with this new record. “All this noise around the making of this album, the extensive touring, doing other projects, challenging situations like becoming a dad, it made everything so impossible that it was ridiculous!” Ivar laughs. “That brought a special frame of mind, I think, and those moments of creativity, of making music, became almost holy. The first chance occurred in Brooklyn in April last year. Because of airline tickets and all of that, I had to stay for two days after the show. I didn’t have much to do so I brought my laptop and my guitar. Having two full days in an apartment with no obligations opened a whole new universe and that’s when the third song, ‘Sacred Horse’, was written in its entirety. It was the most submerged time in composing I’ve ever had, so it overtook everything else. It was like when Tom Waits sings ‘What’s he building in there?’ You take yourself off to the little shack in the garden and do weird stuff, occasionally coming out to smoke!” No matter what the task at hand was, he and the band have blossomed into a thing of chaotic beauty; full of lush atmospheres, and progressive guitar playing.
E could be compared to what Opeth does with one major exception, I actually enjoy E. Album opener, “Storm Son”, is an 11-minute journey into new musical realms. The intro is very Norse pagan sounding, and could easily fit into an episode of Vikings; then the guitar enters. I absolutely love this clean guitar part, it is at once beautiful, and new keyboardist Håkon Vinje layers some wonderful atmospheric elements. I’d like to say that it’s a Mellotron he’s using here, and has a very Led Zeppelin-esque vibe. The verse kicks in with some nice clean vocals, peppered with touches of extreme vocals for flavoring. The backing vocal parts are almost like a chorus, and add another layer to this song. When I first listened to this track I wasn’t a fan, but I try to give things a chance; I am sometimes too harsh a critic upon first listens. I am glad I did, because I would never have understood how excellent this track really is. There are only 6 songs on the album, but total run time is 49 minutes. So, for the sake of not writing a dozen pages for one album, we will only discuss one other track, the album closer, “Hiindsiight”. Clocking in at just over 9 and ½ minutes, this is another monster of a track. The entire album is very progressive, but this may be the pinnacle of that. There is an incredible saxophone solo that starts just before the 4-minute mark, and, while it is bookended by some heavier aspects of their sound, it doesn’t even sound remotely out of place; there is also a reappearance of it during the outro of the song. I have always loved the sax, Clarence Clemons actually inspired me to play in school; I wish I’d have kept up on it, but I gave it up in the pursuit of metal over 2 decades ago. The entire song is wonderful on every level, and along with “Storm Son” is a perfect way to release the listener from the experience that is E.
Is there nothing they cannot do? No boundary that they will not cross? I feel that the answer is a resounding No! This whole album is a showcase of the need to evolve, to grow, and to fulfill their artistic vision. The extreme metal elements mix so well with the progressive overtones, the vocals flow, and stab (during the more extreme vocals) at the listener with such elegance that it is impossible to ignore. If you have ever enjoyed Enslaved, then I urge you to keep listening. If you have never heard their music, and love the things I have described here, then I urge you to start listening. E will be available on October 13th, 2017, and, if the past is any indication, a full-blown tour will follow. Check it out in any of the various formats that it will be released in!!!!!!

– Tom Hanno