Often metal’s most interesting and unique bands aren’t those who claim to transcend it, but those who push boundaries from within. Artistic evolution and maturation that at the same time furthers and widens our very perception of what “metal” can really be, and not just almost, insultingly abandoning it as an immature art form. It’s why, great and compelling as those albums are, Opeth’s “Heritage” and “Pale Communion” don’t often hit the same heights as their exquisite fusion of the 70s prog they so vehemently worship into their bestial and deathly Morbid Angel template on “Still Life” or “Blackwater Park”. It’s why spellbinding recent albums from progressive black metal explorers Enslaved like “Axioma Ethica Odini” are a far more exciting concept – and it’s why latest album “RIITIIR” was for some fans a step too far, still a snarling animal of a record but perhaps a dip too deep into the prog pool.
So as Enslaved seize the opportunity to open its follow-up “In Times” with the prolapse-inducing lacerations of ‘Thurisaz Dreaming’, it’s as exhilarating a moment as they come. Their Norwegian roots bubble forth like magma as jagged guitars stab and sear and Grutle Kjellson’s caustic gurgling shriek withers any sense of security over Cato Bekkevold’s powerhouse blast beats. “In Times” is not a throwback to Enslaved’s frostier beginnings, but when they decide to pump up the extremity levels it’s nothing short of breath-taking. Enslaved’s worth always lay beyond mere black metal however, and ‘Thurisaz Dreaming’s cacophonous frontal assault soon bursts with dynamic rhythmic shifts and Herbrand Larsen’s soothing but not timid cleans, both he and Kjellson feeling like true lead vocalists rather than Larsen simply being wheeled out for a chorus or vice versa.
The beauty of “In Times” lies in it being an expansive and enhancing celestial pilgrimage of a record, but without the occasional aimless flab of “RIITIIR”. With six tracks clocking in at nearly an hour with not one song under the eight minute mark, it’s remarkably focused and concise even in its spacier moments, like the title track’s latter half giving way to spiralling psychedelics after the first half pumps and drives, or the sublime closer ‘Daylight’. High point ‘One Thousand Years of Rain’ underlies tasteful rain samples with a softer but compelling reverb-tinged riff before plunging into an irresistible storm of galloping drums (Bekkevold’s one of the most underrated sticksmen in modern metal) before breaking into thick Norse chanting straight off of a longship. ‘Building With Fire’s’ thumping classic rock groove bounces off more abrasive passages before giving way to a stirring bass-line surrounded by airy cosmic synths, and ‘Nauthir Bleeding’s gorgeous blissful intro slides into some of the nastiest black metal of the whole record. Enslaved’s light and shade doesn’t seem to contrast in a traditional manner as it does blend together into complete transcendence, true masters of their craft avoiding jarring leaps in favour of seamless aural sweeps.
Black metal’s Pink Floyd have never really made the same record twice, and “In Times” is another fascinating installment in an enthralling discography as it embraces the progressive in a manner that seems both a nod to the past and not without its timeless qualities, less of a 70s love letter than its predecessor. It ebbs and flows like the waters of its artwork, and as far as extreme metal records go it’s really rather lovely.