Formed in Bergen, Norway, in 1991, Enslaved emerged from the nascent Norwegian black metal scene of the early ‘90s, with guitarist Ivar Bjørnson and vocalist/bassist Grutle Kjellson demonstrating a fervently idiosyncratic approach to making extreme music. By eschewing the wilful conservatism of their peers in favour of an outward-looking ethos, Enslaved’s reputation grew rapidly in the wake of albums like their primitive but insidious debut ‘Vikingligr Veldi’ and its strident follow-up ‘Frost’ (both 1994). By the late ‘90s, the band had morphed into a wildly progressive and adventurous beast, always retaining the core, aggressive tenets of their musical roots but increasingly in thrall to the limitless possibilities that music, in its entirety, truly presents.
When not recording they are on the road, and are now back with the “difficult” fourteenth studio album. With the arrival of new keyboard player, Håkon Vinje, who replaces the departing Herbrand Larsen, the band state that they feel they have a new lease of lifel, and this certainly comes through in the music. What I really like about Enslaved is the simple refusal to conform to what anyone feel they should do, so while they do still have black metal as their roots, they are also truly progressive as well as melodic at times. The album starts with the longest song, “Storm Son”, which is nearly eleven minutes in length, and has an incredibly atmospheric and eerie beginning. The calls and horns immediately make me think of orcs and middle earth, before a gently picked guitar gradually leads the way into the song itself. It is powerful, dynamic, and one heck of a way to start an album. there aren’t many bands who would say right from the outset “this is what we do, this is who we are, and if you don’t like it them that is fine with us”.
The album feels as if Enslaved have put themselves into a cocoon and have done exactly what they wanted, and while they are not the first to have morphed within genres, there are few who have been as successful as this.