Released on the 1st October 2012, the album 'Riitiir' formed the twelfth full-length studio album from Norwegian progressive metal goliaths, Enslaved.
The album commences with a triumphant tsunami of cacophonous noise that announces the introduction of the first track 'Thoughts Like Hammers'. Less than a minute in and Grutle Kjellson's growling vocals, over a progressive metal backdrop, declare that Enslaved are still in business and the doors are wide open for another (inspirational) progressive-metal extravaganza. As with the more recent Enslaved album's, Herbrand Larsen joins Kjellson's vocal output, with his own cleaner and far more melodic approach. Indeed, Larsen's calming tones take an even more predominant role in 'Riitiir' than they have with any of the band's previous releases.
The tone remains experimental and progressive through the lengthy opener that is 'Thoughts Like Hammers'. Indeed, at 9 minutes and 30 seconds, the track is the second longest on the album. However, the album as a whole is made up of tracks that are all edging further into the 'progressive rock' arena of length, of which each track atones to this with complex and diverse structures. With every single one of the songs passing the 5 minute mark, with most sitting at around 8 - 9 minute, 'Riitiir' is certainly an album that needs some thoughtful digestion upon its first listening.
That's not to say that there aren't some startlingly catchy guitar riffs snuggled (or should that be smuggled?) in amongst the dramatic weaving pathways carved out with the forging metal undertones that remain nestled within the very roots of Enslaved's song construction.
Second track, 'Death In The Eyes Of Dawn', plays with such licking riffage, which opens the field up for a ambient-cum-metal singing dialogue between Kjellson's harsh metal-vocals and Larsen's atmospherically ambient singing tones. But there are always plenty of twists and turns in store. Bursting out from behind the next doorway is yet another crushing metal onslaught that successfully turns the tide of a track in seconds. Indeed unpredictability is an absolute mainstay for almost the entirety of the eight track album. There's always a change of pace or direction edging itself from around a sudden corner.
Temperament takes a sudden shift from the outset of the third track, 'Veilburner'. Its foot-tapping intro sets forth a monumental ascent towards almost gospel like vocals that make for a truly haunting audio experience. From here the track takes the listener up to another injection of progressive metal song-structure, changing where Cato Bekkevold's galloping drumming signifies that we're back in the seat for another rollercoaster of a ride that will bounce between catchy metal sections and calming bouts of ambience.
Like a monolith amongst the cold Northern landscape, 'Roots Of The Mountain' bursts out with a particularly welcome return to the band's earlier Black Metal sound, that just as quickly readjusts once again to another dose of catchy riffery and spectacular (near awe-inspiring) harmonising that keeps on escalating towards breathtaking choruses, that feel more in tune with the band's separate components than they perhaps ever have. The track seems to sum up the ambitious desire of the band, in a spectacular joining of everything that is quintessentially Enslaved in the year 2012. Its grandiose nature is as audacious as it is perfectly suited to who the band are today. And as the track nears its ending, the tone becomes magnificently inspirational as well as equally uplifting, making for just over nine minutes of emotionally engineered madness.
The track 'Riitiir' is the shortest on the album, and perhaps one of the least (musically) adventurous. However Kjellson's cutting growls make for an impactful mid-album statement that there is still darkness amongst the ambient landscape of the album.
Staying with the increased 'metal' tone, 'Materal' stamps its place on the meandering course of 'Riitiir'; drumming, thick guitars and rough vocals making for the largest chunk of the lengthy track. And with a squealing guitar solo instigating a foot-stomping bridge that feels almost ritualistic in its hammering beat, the track is not short of its own intricate stories to tell.
'Storm Of Memories' leaps into the fold with some questionably 80's sounding musical gymnastics, choice electrical sound effects and background sampling. It's only after a good three minutes of the track have gone by and a decidedly Black Metal sound returns that Grutle Kjellson joins the ensemble once again with some guttural vocals. The darker sound won't last though, and soon enough we're back into the enchanting harmonising of our progressive metal/rock sound. And it's here that the first touches of predictability start to edge into the music for the very first time in the album. But somewhat saving the day, the track ends on a glorious Black Metal note that shows the listener that no real harm was done, and it's on with the mesmerising musical show.
With final track 'Forsaken', for a song that crosses over the eleven minute marker, the energy and momentum that is maintained throughout the duration of its length shows the capabilities of this immensely creative group. The pace starts off fast and furious, with Bekkevold's drums forging onwards with an unrelenting stamina. And then of course, it all changes. A markedly subdued break in the metal takes the track on for a minute or two until a slow, almost Doom-ish middle section alters the tempo once again. Then we're on to a calming, empty-sounding acoustic segment that eventually leads the song out to its subdued end.
The end result of such a diverse and complex musical structure utilised for an entire album? Breathtaking. Awe-inspiring. Seemingly chaotic at times, it is all still held tightly together with a confidence that echoes through the sudden and often conflicting tempos and elaborate changes.
And what's apparent from the first minute of the album is how focused Enslaved are with achieving the right sound, structure and lasting impression of the music they're delivering. It seems to engulf a philosophy that is always on the very cusp of revelation. A deep Nordic history, casting the listener back to eerie bygone days.
The album is as melodic as it is impactful and aggressive. There's pumping energy in the music as well as calming passages and enchanting paths to explore. And even in all its complexities, 'Riitiir' remains fluid in the face of so many diverse changes. And ultimately it all works and fits together masterfully.
Where does the band go from here? The only place they can go...somewhere different and unexplored once again.
- LIMITED EDITION RELEASE -
The limited edition release of 'Riitiir' also includes an additional (Region Free) DVD entitled 'Behind The Veil: The Making Of Riitiir'. The footage is entirely self-filmed camcorder footage of the band in the recording / mixing / production studios. This basically entails pieces of rough dialogue from the band members as well as their producer and the final mixer. Along with this you are shown the various recording equipment used, for some reason in particular the classic microphones that the band record with.
Interestingly, there are also short snippets of video footage showing artist Truls Espedal working on the logo designs utilised for the album as well as him actually painting the front and back covers for the album sleeve (yes, the 'hands' pictures are actually paintings and not photos - they're that good!).
Somewhat disappointingly you never really get to see the band actually playing their instruments together and/or recording. There are brief snippets of the members doing very small pieces on the odd instrument here and there, but nothing of any really substance. This, if I'm honest, is a real shame.
So the 'Making Of...' footage is really just that - behind the scenes showing the recording equipment used and the creative and intricate recording processes that they undergo to achieve the impressive results that they get. Not the best documentary footage it must be said. But still worth a watch nevertheless.
I've been a fan of Enslaved since their first EP vinyl release "Hordane's Land" back in the early 90s. Whilst they may have started out as a black metal band, their style has moved along over the years, so that (I think) they term themselves a Viking Metal band now (but maybe they've changed again since...). Whilst other black metal bands, such as Darkthrone (whose "A Blaze in the Northern Sky" still ranks as a classic), Burzum, and Emperor sought to get ever harsher, this resulted in considerably less musical releases - mainly as the production changed - the bass was turned down, the guitars just buzzed, and the overall outcome was a headache even for a seasoned metalhead like myself. I also tired of their increasingly childish actions and comments - I turned off them all except Enslaved, who continued to push themselves musically, and I continued to buy each release. The first review here is a great review and there's no need to go through each track again, but just to say that I had been looking forward to this release, and it hasn't disappointed. It has moved on again since their last album with a slightly more progressive sound, and with tracks clocking in at 7-10 minutes, there is a of of variation within and between tracks, but with plenty of heavy passages to keep you on your toes. Well worth a listen. If you want to hear something of a similar nature ie a black metal progressive album check out Ved Buens Ende's "Written In Waters". Another old album but stands the test of time.
The new album, what can I say, utterly, utterly beautiful. I got lost in the soundscape and felt the world drift away. It has been a long time since a work of music has had this kind of impact on me. I will admit that as a Band, the output by Enslaved is always well received, but this album is something spectacular. From track one, Thoughts like Hammers, to the final track Forsaken, I was totally immersed in this album. This was one to sit back and listen to. For me this was a head phone experience and I let it wash over me like an unrelenting tide. Grutle's vocals are as always perfect, whether they are sung or growled, but for me the clean vocals during the final track were so gentle as to be a lullaby. The track Roots of the Mountain held me in an embrace, following the song lyrically was almost hypnotic and once again Enslaved have hit a high standard with their current work.
I don't know if Enslaved are Black Metal anymore, but what they are most definitively is extraordinary.
I've been a fan of Enslaved for a while, not as long as others having only followed them since Isa was released, but I always buy their records as their output can always be relied on to be creative, have songs that I can take time to listen to and explore and that they have moved on a bit from the genre that they were first lumped in with but still retain those roots. In a word to describe this like all of their albums is enthralled, enslaved would maybe be more apt though if you'll excuse the pun!
As ever this album shows much of their progressive influence and the songs are a good bit over 5 minutes but you don't notice or find yourself hanging on wondering when the song will end because of all the pointless noodling just for the sake of showing off or to pad the track out. I love Roots of the Mountain in particular as for me that track in particular is very satisfying in bringing it from the start and then full circle again towards the end to the conclusion and has many points of the harsher side to the music contrasting with the cleaner parts and to blend them together in other sections and bring about a conclusion. It's this that makes me say that the record is truly beautiful whatever extreme being displayed throughout, perhaps made a lot more apparent when I watched the video to Thoughts Like Hammers which seems quite tranquil but if you consider what you are seeing has a certain strength and harshness of its own, something some metal fans missed when they were disappointed to find that the video didn't show the band at all or wasn't very "metal". Another sign that Enslaved have transcended beyond typical black metal and have managed to branch out and appeal to music fans who would not normally be into metal especially that with black metal roots!
Another remarkable album from Enslaved, building upon their previous album Axioma Ethica Odini. Very familiar trademarks of dramatic long tracks, white noise and duets between the gutteral singing and more melodic singing. As seems to be the case with their music a number of listens are required until I can finally understand what is going on and make sense of some the ajoining sections and melodies.
This is probably my favorite Enslaved release, I feel it takes off were Axioma left off and makes a way better beast. They really have perfected their sludgy folk tinged progressive black metal sound with this, everything just screams prog. Grutle's harsh vocals sound amazing throughout, proving he is one of the more unique black metal vocalists. There are the 70's prog clean vocals which add a really great dynamic and contrast to the music, think Pink Floyd mixed with Bathory. Also the keyboards and samples add a great atmosphere and contrast in texture, also a great nod to 70's prog rock. The almost sludge metal riffs that are sometimes used make me think that they have been listening to a lot of Mastodon and Opeth which really is awesome. Buy this if you are a fan of there early albums like Axioma or Monumensions, one of the best albums of 2012.
Still listening to it, but initial impressions is it's not as good as their last 5 or 6 albums, but then again, their output is of such a high quality then I'm only judging them by their own unequalled and extremely high standards. Still a good album though. I'll probably end up loving it!
This album progresses from Axioma Ethica Odini and further develops the progressive, complex and melodic aspects of their sound. There are blastbeats, trippy keyboard interludes, epic symphonic refrains, full-on metallic rages, elaborate song structures. This is astounding.