Well, let’s face it, there will be very few metal albums released through majors that will find their way into this modest new blog driven by passion for genuine music stirring complex and extreme emotions.
I have been following Enslaved since their 1993 split with Emperor. At the time it was the latter band who excited me the most (“I am the Wizards” still remains sculpted in my subconscious), but the path that Ivar and friends forged for themselves in the last 20 years is nothing short of incredible. So the moment has arrived when they can fully afford to fly towards higher pastures, on the back of the enormous respect they have built within the metal community by continuously evolving their sound and by touring relentlessly, showin a particularly captivating human side. I wish them the best of luck in their new professional and creative adventure with their world-wide deal with Nuclear Blast.
I fully trusted Enslaved to turn on the fire with the follow-up to Axioma Ethica Odini: these guys are smart pros as well as open-minded intelligent artists, so they would have known how to handle this pivotal point in their career. RIITIIR (again, another splendid title!) marks indeed a significant progression from AEO (which left me dubious as I feared it might be the start of a descent towards more mainstream sounds) and, by Odin, what a stunner of an album it is too!
The musical and conceptual story that RIITIIR unravels is nothing short of mesmerizing and it seems to flow with much more ease in spite of the increased complexity of the musical score and lyrical content. The first thing I noticed with particular satisfaction was the much more refined and ad hoc clean vocal performance by keyboard player Herbrand Larsen, whose voice and melodies have become truly memorable. Secondly, Jens Bogren’s touch at the mixing desk worked wonders with the way the various layers are interwoven and the rollercoaster moods are juxtaposed, lifting this album to another level entirely. And finally, RIITIIR sounds more cohesive than AEO, which saw the more experimental stuff being concentrated towards the end: here we have of course moments that will take each of us to our own personal, most cherished Enslaved musical facet(s), but the overall feeling is far from a clever compendium of their best features. Listening to RIITIIR left me with the impression that the band has reached a point in their artistic and human journey where they actually can and want “let go”: the skills, the XX year long experience, the self-awareness of doing art with substance and the inextinguishable enthusiasm made it possible to sail through the vast musical ocean with a type freedom which does not necessarily translate in throwing in an irreverent rap (like Peste Noir or Blut Aus Nord’s latest) but in relaxing about the boundaries between extreme and melodic, metal and rock, like with a life-time lover’s embrace. Music will be there forever for Enslaved, and I feel RIITIIR is the start of another journey for them, as step to the next creative/philosophical level.
Depending on the depth of your musical knowledge, you will find a lot of magic moments that will remind you something else across the flowing, extensive 8 tracks which cover over an hour’s of pure aural delight (a 2LP worth of material, spread in a very intelligent and beautiful manner). The opener, “Thoughts like Hammers”, kicks off intensely with a mind-blowing few seconds-worth of mayhem (one of those moments you want to hear again and again) which instantly points the Viking sword at the listener’s throat, and that is a clear statement! I hear the first hint of the many syncopated/dissonant moments that will excite all the fans of “Nothingface” (the progressive metal masterpiece by the great Voivod), then it unravels into a dark journey through the mysterious beauty of man’s primitive consciousness: this is portrayed by keeping the mood smooth and fairly uncomplicated, painting sweeping landscapes with outright melody. Extremely easy to the ear, to me it feels like an introduction to a fascinating story; in fact it is with the following track, “Death in the eyes of Dawn” that I truly fall into the vortex of this spellbinding exploration of human rites. From now on I’d often feel like I am riding behind a flying Norn, witnessing the changes of the world (importantly, not just the northern lands) from Past to Present to Future: do prepare for an exhilarating journey which ultimately will have you lost within yourself.
“Veilburner” represents for me the most touching moment of the album: the cleanly sung melodies are amongst the most beautiful heard of late (Katatonia permitting). This is a new huge gem in Enslaved’s crown which I’m gagging to hear live. The track flows directly into “Roots of the Mountain”, possibly the truly outstanding masterpiece of the album: here I feel we have the most archetypal ritual of all, that of man entering the spirit of Nature by means of courageous exploration and communion with it. My inner eye begins a descent towards the roots of ancestral human consciousness: whilst looking for the source of life’s mystery, terrifying moments alternate to overwhelmingly beautiful ones, where the soul is flying towards the sky, eagle-like. (Ivar’s newly magnified sensitivity since becoming a father really will give us a lot of amazing moments from now on!). Suitably bombastic but never pompous thanks to a stunning chorus (again, Larsen does an incredible job!), the long piece is truly magnificent and majestic (wonderful guitar work!), and in its final moments and gives me a rush each time I listen.
Enter the captivating title-track, Riitiir: it is the perfect rollercoaster of groovy/melodic/aggressive, showcasing the great vocal variety this band boasts, reinforced to its maximum effect. Its ending is truly abrasive: this will storm our brains in its live rendering!
“Materal” begins with slow tribal drums and we find the kind of slowed-down, softened Snake-like vocal dirge before the tempest is risen regally over the ever present ritualistic drumming. The pace is sustained and the feeling eerie, until a solo cuts in and the track bends again into a melodic / menacing dichotomy.
“Storm of Memories” jumps at you with that Voivod feeling again, and then it turns even more intensely weird with layers of eeriness building the pathos, before the gates burst open to some breathtaking, storming blackness introducing the tale of man’s prime existential longing, immortality.
“Forsaken”, by pointing the mirror right back at us, spells the only truth we seem to hold. The amazing krautrock synth gives the perfect feeling of uncertainty and mystery, which is followed by one of the awe-inspiring moments of this album: Enslaved do not need to play the grandiose “majesty” card too often, but when they let it loose, man it is magnificent! The intense emotional unfolding of this album is nothing but spectacular, because this colossal outburst of epicness turns, finally, into a sweetly delicate outro: this universal human journey does not end in arrogant triumph but rather with a melancholy feeling of frailty. The curse of man is so, but Enslaved’s all-embracing view firmly reaffirms our capability to draw from past (spirituality) and present (rationality). Strengthened by science and enriched by our noblest heritage: cannot this give us a new flare of hope?
This leads me to the lyrical content of RIITIIR. Here we have indeed another pivotal moment in Enslaved’s career. These brave modern-day Vikings have drank and metabolized their travels’ experiences, having read, talked, listened, felt, laughed and loved… and seem to have reached the gigantic landmark that all wise men and women seem to reach when they truly open up their minds and hearts: the magic circle of universality! Enslaved’s inner eye willfully focused onto the mystical facets of man’s ancient rituals and plunged effortlessly into the archetypal oneness that unifies all human consciousness.
Locality eventually leads to universality, it is inevitable. One might be proud to be a Viking, or wish to be one, but in the end, when stripped bare to our primordial consciousness, we are all the same… we are all nature’s own.
1 - Thoughts Like Hammers
2 - Death in the Eyes of Dawn
3 - Veilburner
4 - Roots of the Mountain
5 - Ritiir
6 - Materal
7 - Storm of Memories
8 - Forsaken