Enslaved
Utgard

At this point, Enslaved can do pretty much whatever they want and need no introduction. If you don’t subscribe to that theory, I will fight you. Naked (I do all of my fighting in the nude exclusively). They’re no longer what one would necessarily consider black metal, although they have those influences creep up. At this point, they’re progressive metal. You already knew that, though… but if they decided to release a polka album or something similarly out of left field, I’d be like; “Yeah, okay…”

This deep into a career, one could be forgiven for wondering out loud what could Enslaved possibly offer different on full length number 15 (!). If you don’t believe the answer to that is “a lot,” then why are you here? So, you know, fuck around and find out, as the kids say.

Let’s start with the first track, “Fires in the Dark.” It begins with some chanting, which is probably just the beginning of some weird Democratic blood orgy (by “weird,” I mean “sexy”). Look, if you’re not into blood orgies, why are you even listening to metal? After the chanting, which lasts about 30 seconds, there’s a quick clean guitar part before the track really gets going. The chanting comes back briefly, too. Before the second minute, those familiar black metal rasps take over with an epic backdrop. Not too long after that, the familiar, almost gothic cleans make an appearance. It’s no surprise they switch off frequently with the black metal rasps. If you couldn’t tell by the long paragraph here, the opening track has multiple changes, but is well written as seemingly each one makes a repeat appearance. A great opening track from these guys. I do not apologize for the lengthy opining.

The next I wish to mention is track 4, “Homebound,” which was the first single released for the album and it’s easy to see why. Beginning with a bit of a bouncy, progressive riff, it quickly transitions into the black metal rasps. Of course, there’s a tasty chorus section and a fantastic, melodic guitar lead after the chorus. After the lead, there’s a clean section, back into the rasps, then the chorus. Small adjustments to your typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus formula such as this are why Enslaved are so revered in metal circles.

Directly afterwards is “Utgardr,” which has some strange spoken word, too. I say “strange” because it’s in Norwegian and I don’t speak the language. It sounds like an invocation, but it’s probably an ancient spell and you’re now all pregnant for having heard it. However, it’s a short interlude and does lead well into the next track, which is called “Urjotun.”

“Urjotun,” starts out sounding a lot like some video game fight music and borderline surf rock. Those surf rock vibes go away quickly, though. For the remainder of the track, the black metal vocals and cleans switch off harmoniously. In a track like this, though, those black metal rasps hit hard and sound positively feral. The juxtaposition is enthralling. When I mentioned above that Enslaved can do whatever they want, I meant it… and they take advantage of it.

Onward to “Storms of Utgard,” which is not the closer but it is the title track, so I believe it bares mentioning. It’s a quick little track very light on the vocals side. Both the cleans and black metal rasps are there, but in short supply as the music carries it. Specifically, the progressive side of Enslaved’s black metal hippy side carries it.

This can also be said for the closer, which is called “Distant Seasons.” It’s short, uses clean vocals exclusively, and is definitely more of a progressive rock track, maybe even gothic, as opposed to their typical progressive black metal. The vocals are predictably stellar, but as mentioned before, they’re all clean. There’s nothing wrong with that when the execution is masterful.

So, let’s quit screwin’ around and get to the verdict. One factor which had me a little lukewarm on Enslaved’s previous few albums was the length (insert dick joke here). That has been addressed this time. Instead of eclipsing an hour, this one sits around 45 minutes. So, that’s positive. It’s also well written, well produced, well executed, catchy, and fun. There are very few negatives, but they exist. Mostly, at the end of the day, if you’ve heard Enslaved since they predominately dropped the black metal, then you’ve heard this style and this album. Admittedly, as mentioned before, because of the replay ability which can be attributed to the shortened runtime, it has a little more staying power for me. However, if you don’t like modern Enslaved (and you’re probably not reading this if you don’t), then you’ll pass on this one. However, if you’re into it (and you damn well should be), then this album is for you and you’ll enjoy the ever-loving shit out of it.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by J Mays
September 14th, 2020

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