Enslaved have never been scared to push the envelope, their sound evolving with each album to encompass more ideas, combine more styles and explore more uncharted musical territory. The timeline of their career has been one of development – from nascent black metallers to today’s titans of extreme prog.
“RIITIIR” is without doubt an extreme metal album; and yet… amidst the extreme vocals, slab-like guitars and fast, technical drumming are moments of real beauty, as Enslaved deliver melody, vocal harmonies and acoustic passages. And it’s more than just a collection of contrary styles hastily cobbled together to produce an ersatz prog album; here the diverse elements dovetail seamlessly, forming a collage of sounds that herald Enslaved’s total mastery of the form.
On the band’s Facebook page, guitarist and founding member Ivar Bjornson says:
‘Describing the sound on the new album is both easy and hard… It is easy because it sounds like Enslaved, whatever that means. It is hard because there are so many layers and different focal points. I have a feeling that it has a deeper complexity than our previous efforts, but at the same time, I do find it more catchy and moving.’
He’s spot on with the many layers and focal points. There’s also a lot of melody: if anything the more extreme sections throw the melody into even sharper relief. Listen to the vocal melody on “Storm Of Memories” and ask yourself if you ever expected to hear that on an extreme metal album. I can’t put my finger on why it’s quite so compelling, but it’s been playing over and over in my head for days now.
Enslaved have always shown themselves to be interested in doing things differently; the first time I heard them was “Heir To The Cosmic Seed” from 2006’s “Ruun”, and straight away it was clear that they were not just your average band. Their journey into experimentation and development continues with this new album. They haven’t lost their links to extreme metal; rather they’re building bridges to other musical spaces. It becomes apparent during the course of the album that melody is increasingly important to them, as well as the ‘feel’ of the song; “RIITIIR” is an atmospheric album built on great swells of emotion.
Each song has not one, but numerous things that differentiate it from the others; the sound is undoubtedly Enslaved, but any template has been thrown out of the window, this defenestration allowing them to vary sounds, rhythm and dynamics, from the more traditional extreme metal sounds of “Veilburner” to the rich vocals of “Death In The Eyes Of Dawn” that are almost euphoric in their delivery.
And talking of vocals, the interplay between extreme and clean vocals is more pronounced than ever on “RIITIIR”; often it’s almost a call and response, a conversation between two sides of the band’s psyche; while at other times the two are combined to moving, disconcerting effect.
Go further into the album and by the time you arrive at the remarkable “Roots Of The Mountain” it’s clear that this is a band at the top of its creative game, a group which has matured into a remarkable musical force. They are unafraid to drop in elements of math metal (the intro to “Storm Of Memories”), acoustic and electronica (“Forsaken”) and surprising vocal melodies (particularly in the aforementioned “Death In The Eyes Of Dawn”); there is even some piano in “Forsaken”.
“RIITIIR” (a compound word made up of ‘Rites’ and ‘Rituals’ which apparently means ‘The Rites of Man’) is an immense musical journey, from the cacophonous intro of “Thoughts Like Hammers” to the final, cathartic acoustic section of “Forsaken”, taking in more of the sonic landscape than you can possibly imagine. It is the product of a band that just gets better with every album, who keep pushing themselves to create ever more majestic and detailed work. On their 12th studio album, Enslaved have achieved something on a profound scale; an album of such complexity, detail and scope that it can rightly be described as brilliant.