Every album by Enslaved is highly anticipated by me. “E” was even more than usual however. The big lineup switch was a major cause of this. Keyboardist and clean vocalist Herbrand Larsen left the band toward the end of last year and his voice in particular was a big part of Enslaved’s sound for me. I found out from the band Seven Impale (via Instagram of all things) that their keyboardist Håkon Vinje was the replacement.
As a fan of Seven Impale, I knew Vinje was an amazing keyboardist. He is one of the best young players in prog. The question I had is could he sing well enough to cover the clean vocals. Seven Impale assured me that he could (though he never sang lead in that band). After hearing the lead track “Storm Son,” it was clear that yes Vinje was more than capable of taking over the vocals in addition to the keys and that Enslaved was back with a vengeance.
As a whole, “E” keeps the overall blueprint of Enslaved’s sound intact. It’s extreme prog metal with those great atmospheric moments along with cold blasts of Norwegian metal. I like that the band does take advantage of Vinje’s keyboard prowess along with his love of vintage instruments. Grutle Kjellson still has one of the best death growls in the business and Ivar Bjørnson still writes great songs. Drummer Cato Bekkevold really elevates his playing on this album. He’s underrated for sure and his performance should get him the attention he deserves.
“Storm Son” is not only the opener but also a big epic statement. Wind, a horse, and a horn…you feel like you are out in the cold winter in Norway with the vikings. Musically, it has the power and also melody that we’ve come to expect from Enslaved. “The River’s Mouth” is the second track and second song released from “E.” It’s a “punch in the mouth” type track like “Building With Fire” was on “In Times.” This one rocks and should sound amazing live.
“Sacred Horse” starts with a brief acoustic moment (and nice vocal line from Vinje) before attacking you. Kjellson’s gutteral vocals have never sounded better. He varies his approach which I suppose people who don’t like death vocals won’t notice (or care), but those of us who love it will notice. The song appropriately gallops along and features cool guitar solos intermixed with the verses. Vinje showcases his talents with a sick organ solo. THIS is what he can do!! Plus he can do the Floydian vocal style that Larsen used to do.
The next track “Axis of the Worlds” has a bluesy Deep Purple vibe to it when it starts. Musically I mean! More organ from Vinje does add that sort of vibe. But like any Enslaved track, it has a few different riffs and hooks that it varies from. It’s very proggy. I think that’s the main take away from “E” as a whole. It’s more progressive than any album they have done while still being true to their metallic roots. “Feathers Of Eolh” reminds me of “Storm of Memories” from “RIITIIR” when it starts. The difference being that unlike that track, “Feathers Of Eolh” kicks in sooner. It’s great mix of avant garde and full throttle prog metal.
I was given the standard edition to review so “Hiindsiight” (not a spelling error) is the last track on this edition. I have the deluxe digipak on order so I cannot wait to hear the other 2 songs!! As for “Hiindsiight,” it’s my favorite song on the album. Enslaved always do that to me; the closing track being one of my favorite tracks on the album. “Daylight” was my favorite “In Times.” “Hiindsiight” has a beautiful opening riff, just amazing. For those that doubt the band’s prog cred, check this one out. If the mellotron doesn’t grab you, I don’t know what will. Add in a gorgeous sax solo from Kjetil Møster that takes this track to a whole other level entirely.
If there’s one band that I know I can always count on to deliver a great album, it is Enslaved. It’s hard to say that “E” is better than everything else that the band has done because each album has been amazing in its own way. The band progress each time out but not so much that they lose who they are. The songs are always great, the performances are always top notch. The addition of Håkon Vinje may be the difference however. With all due respect to his predecessor, Vinje just makes the entire band better. “E” is exactly what I was hoping for from the new Enslaved lineup. It’s yet another masterpiece but perhaps their greatest masterpiece to date.
1. Storm Son (10:54)
2. The River’s Mouth (5:12)
3. Sacred Horse (8:12)
4. Axis Of The Worlds (7:49)
5. Feathers Of Eolh (8:06)
6. Hiindsiight (9:32)
7. Djupet (7:39)
8. What Else Is There? (Röyksopp cover) (4:44)