Enslaved – “E” (Nuclear Blast)
Some 26 years after their beginnings, Enslaved are definitive of their ‘extreme’ category – be it not for their force but rather an open minded, boundary breaking philosophy towards their music and which in some cases, are truly feats of extreme musical engineering! Mindblowingly blending black metal with prog and their own Norse culture, the enlightened ones return with this 14th album, whose title inspiration is possibly even more mind boggling than the music here – and that’s really saying something. Continuing the individualistic theme, the immediately noticeable aspect about the 6 songs on “E” is how uplifting and positive they are compared to previous releases that dwelled on issues like isolation. That said, don’t be expecting anything airy or remotely superficial here, but instead deep and cerebral (not to mention spiritual) compositions that over the course of many listens, invoke the highest degrees of aural pleasure and are nothing short of moving musical experiences. With a new keyboardist in Håkon Vinje also handling clean vocals, I have to say the effect compared to his longtime predecessor is hardly noticeable – as you’d expect from a choice made by founders Ivar and Grutle – and his quality is immediately noticeable on the hard driving prog opener of ‘Storm Son’, while on ‘The River’s Mouth’ it couldn’t be in greater contrast to Grutle’s own sick black drawls and clanging Norse melodies – all the while with ambient prog and soulful harmonies injecting themselves unexpectedly yet tastefully around the piece. Easily the album’s most aggressive track, ‘Sacred Horse’ is Norse black metal in all its blast beating furor but skillfully measured using slick time changes as monotone riffing and trollish vocals add a truly pagan and foreboding dimension to the track – that is, until a complete shift in the form of tantric guitar leads to a trippy piece with shamanic chanting before the black sacrifice returns to end this epic. Shifting wildly yet again with some truly funkastic guitar, ‘Axis Of The Worlds’ actually becomes a very catchy Norse heavy metal piece with Jon Lord mellotrons and some classic rock guitar solos before warping into a prog black hole sucking in monster psychedelic choirs and moog sounds buzzing strangely around my mind that leaving me drooling unexpectedly ha ha. ‘Feathers Of Eolh’ takes us back into mainstream prog before heading into guitar driven Rush rock clearly showing another of the band’s great inspirations, along with shamanic trance vocals that border on throat singing – before the inevitable contrast in Vinje’s own uplifting and powerful shoegaze strumming leads seamlessly onto another drawn out interlude finally ending as per the opening. Slowing things down to massive crushing levels of heaviness on the final track ‘Hiindsiight’ with Grutle’s vocals taking on guttural dimensions contrasted by lighter prog pieces, Enslaved pull a saxophone(!) out’ve their musical bag as the song moves into neo jazz before being hit by a wall of black shoegaze strumming, evolving together in what can only be described as a climax of cinematic soundscape proportions. Utterly exhausting and yet also simultaneously fulfilling, “E” is what you put on in lieu of a disappointing night, along with the pleasure of that long awaited cigarette afterwards…..