It’s closing in on the final days of September. That means there’s about 3 months left in the year. One quarter.
If someone’s going to put out an album to knock Enslaved’s RIITIIR out of its “album of the year” spot, they’d better hurry the hell up. Time’s a-wastin’.
First things first: if you’ve been despairing about the progressive elements that have become more and more part of Enslaved’s sound since…well, hell, since their second freaking album, 1994’s Frost (but especially since that album’s followup, 1997’s Eld), you might as well stay home. But if, at this point some 18 years down the line, you expected them to remake Vikingligr Veldi…well, there’s no hope for you at this point. The thing is, though, that as much as Enslaved have changed sonically over the years, they have remained, at their core, Enslaved. Every album they’ve released sounds like an Enslaved album, yet none have repeated the tricks of the previous one. They constantly journey, yet remain themselves.
The key to this, I think, is that for all their incorporation of progressive influences, they’ve never abandoned black metal as a genre. Rather, it remains the vital centerpiece of their sound; the engine that drives the machine. The harsh rasps of Grutle Kjellson providing the wild fury that causes the melodic clean vocals of Herbrand Larsen to stand out in contrast. The tension between the pummeling and the contemplative creating the buildup and release of energy representative of the rites and rituals that inspired the album title itself.
And while RIITIIR is no concept album, the notion of rites and rituals stretches across the album, unifying it as a whole. Whereas their previous album, Axioma Ethica Odini, was clearly an album of halves (sequenced almost like a vinyl LP, reinforced by the band’s touring decision to play the first half in its entirety on one leg of the tour, and the second on the second leg), RIITIIR is clearly of one piece. From the squeal of feedback that opens the album in “Thoughts Like Hammers” to the spare and echoing piano that closes the album in “Forsaken,” Enslaved have created a cohesive work that perhaps best exemplifies those elements of what the band is, and has always been, about. It progresses like a well-staged opera. The heaviest moments arrive at just the right time, anchoring the album to solid ground, which allows the “lighter” elements to soar that much higher without fear of floating off into nothingness.
There’s so much to enjoy here. The guitar and bass mirroring interplay between Ice Dale and Grutle at about 3:45 into “Roots of the Mountain.” The way the staccato riffing 1:35 into “Thoughts Like Hammers” unexpectedly turns into Lamb Lies Down on Broadway-era Genesis evocation. The balance of beauty and brutality of “Materal.” The mellotron lines that Herbrand utilizes to subtly conjure up the same epic feel that John Paul Jones deployed in Zeppelin’s best work. The building intensity of the Pink Floyd-esque first half of “Storm of Memories” that finally erupts at the three-minute mark. But it’s pointless to sit and analyze moments like these. The album is meant to be enjoyed as a whole—a rarity these days, when the iTunes “buy only the songs you like”/playlist mentality has made full album listening almost a quaint interlude in popular music’s history.
For the love of Odin, I could go on for pages and pages more about this album, so let me just stop here and say GET IT. If you never heed any other thing I ever say or have said, just trust me on this. You will not be sorry.