For me, Enslaved can do no wrong. But still, many artists have come to disappoint me (you know who they are). Fortunately with “Utgard,” Enslaved continue to be one of the great bands of our time. The band seems to evolve just a little bit on each album while maintaining the core of their sound.
With their latest album “Utgard,” Enslaved incorporate the progressive expansion of “E” with the stripped down approach of “Vertebrae.” It’s like taking pieces of each album and creating their next step. The result is a 45 minute masterpiece of progressive metal. They trimmed away some of the fat and leave the listener with the perfect combination of complex yet almost direct music that Enslaved have ever made.
One highlight of the album is the clean vocals of keyboardist Håkon Vinje, who joined the band prior to “E.” Vinje has grown profoundly and even has a grit and rasp to his voice that was not present before. His performance just adds another layer to a rich album. Of course his keyboard work is stellar as is was on “E.” Vinje really shines on both vocals and keys on two of my favorite tracks, “Sequence” and “Distant Seasons.”
Let’s not forget the band had to replace long time drummer Cato Bekkevold so they called on co-producer Iver Sandøy to join them. Sandøy understands Enslaved’s music well, so the band never miss a beat (sorry about the pun). The band still maintain their black metal roots thanks to bassist Grutle Kjellson and his dry choked out harsh vocals. There are many harsh vocalists that I just can’t take anymore but Grutle is not one of those. He can shift from a violent growl to a sinister grumble without losing power. Plus his vocals just make the clean vocals even more powerful.
The album kicks off with “Fires in the Dark” which starts with chants, an acoustic guitar and eventually a guitar line that sounds exactly like Robert Fripp. Yep, Enslaved. The song has the feel on a march that Grutle is preaching over. The song takes off and you are swept away. The clean vocal by Vinje immediately shows the power he now has. It’s a killer opener in the great Enslaved tradition.
The band has so far released 3 tracks prior to release: “Jettegryta,” “Homebound,” and “Urjotun.” “Jettegryta” is a snarling beast of a track which lets everyone know that Enslaved still have their edge. “Homebound” is the prog/groove metal track which ramps up to hyperspeed from time to time. It made an excellent first single. This is one of the songs that shows the raspy vocal approach that Vinje has now. So much more emotion and power! The song also has a killer guitar solo. “”Urjotun” starts out with some new age synths and a rattling bass line from Grutle. This is a track that I could hear on “Vertebrae.”
In the middle of the album is the short, spoken piece “Utgardr.” I’m not a huge fan of that sort of thing but this piece is eerie and powerful. It’s a nice bridge between the first half of the album and the second half. “Flight Of Thought And Memory’ is an all out blitz on the verses while being lush and grand on the chorus. It’s classic Enslaved. And I love “Storms Of Utgard” which has a Maiden style gallop mixed with a ton of atmosphere. Enslaved are the kings of dynamics and this track underscores that.
I am always thinking that Enslaved will somehow run out of amazing ideas and music, yet they never do. “Utgard” is easily one of their best albums and that’s saying something because Enslaved have so many masterpieces to their credit. The lineup may have changed but the band never stop putting out incredible extreme prog metal. This is a candidate for album of the year.
1. Fires In The Dark
7. Flight Of Thought And Memory
8. Storms Of Utgard
9. Distant Seasons
Label: Nuclear Blast