Enslaved – RIITIIR
Posted by Terrible Certainty Zine
For damn near all of Enslaved’s long career, the prospect of a new album brought some serious intrigue. Simply put, these guys just don’t sit still for long. Over the years they’ve stretched, kicked open, and finally abandoned the black metal envelope, morphing with each new release without the first concern about black metal conventions. At least that used to be the case. There’s considerably less curiosity these days, as the Norwegian titans have been more or less on a consistent plane for a while now, since around 2006’s Ruun, when the balanced shifted and Enslaved became a prog band with black metal elements rather than the other way around. As a fan, I’ve had no major gripe with this new reality, although there are occasions when I’ve itched for the injection of more fiery aggression. But this legendary outfit continues to release excellent records, even within the more stable framework of their contemporary style.
All this said, I thought I had a pretty good idea what to expect out of RIITIIR. What I didn’t expect is just how powerful Enslaved’s shifts and developments
would be. Perhaps I was caught unawares because the first sample from the album, lead off number “Thoughts Like Hammers” didn’t especially blow me over when I heard it streamed on NPR, of all places. But as is so often the case, the song works much better in the context of the album. Still, although all of RIITIIR delivers with might, there are definitely higher peaks on this album. “Thoughts Like Hammers” is the most predictable modern Enslaved song on RIITIIR, but it does set the tone for the album in terms of length and variation. RIITIIR comes off as a much more epic affair, with unusually long songs (nearly all are eight or nine minutes) that organically twist and turn into both aggression and airy, prog-rock territories.
That sounds just like all recent Enslaved stuff, right? Yes and no. Without a doubt the basic blueprints are the same, but Enslaved has stepped up its already legendary game. There are considerably more variations in mood, layering, and percussion on RIITIIR. Some of these progressions are striking, while many are quite subtle, but the band covers much more ground with the same approach, and the result is Enslaved’s most compelling and memorable album in years. It also pushes the needles on both ends of the band’s prog/black metal continuum. The icy black metal stretches are still there, and when they come they pack a petulant bite. But the proggy, rock side of the band’s sound integrates a greater range of melodies and texture.
Even during many its harshest moments RIITIIR feels much more laidback and restrained than typical Enslaved. Take “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” for instance, where Grutle’s kingly gruff bark is restrained and dialed back to a throaty growl of the ancients, setting a bleak tone that contradicts a decidedly smooth and casual riff. During the bridge the vocal tone sinks even deeper into gurgling menace over a weaving, jagged guitar line. It’s only then that the track locks into the familiar territory of contemporary Enslaved mode, and the familiar voice from the last few albums just accentuates how much the preceding stretches, while instantly recognizable as Enslaved, offer something that recent albums have not.
“Roots of the Mountain” explodes out of the gate with a venomous passion seldom matched on recent albums, but quickly segues into lighter territory before breaking down entirely with a brief Beatles-indebted interlude. Marathon album closer “Forsaken” is a dynamic monster, eventually devolving into forlorn vocal melody and then an extended, almost post-rock like downcast outro in a sullen finale.
RIITIIR eclipses expectations, not just delivering every bit of the first rate Enslaved you know, but also building on that with a new level of progressive mastery. The album’s depth and variety, and some of the most confident, well-executed melodies to date, make it a complex work that’s both challenging and infectious. An intriguing and tremendously impressive album. Absolutely essential.