ALMOST like the great serpent circling to eat itself, the journey to a new release by Enslaved brings us to the foot of the mountain again in full circle, hoping to see and hear some of the magic that brought us here many, many times before.
To say that there’s been great anticipation surrounding the forthcoming release from Enslaved, is putting it mildly. It’s been over three years since their last studio album simply entitled ‘E’, and to fans it’s been a tortuous wait.
This has almost been compounded then by the current economic situation we find ourselves in, but like the elder gods of old – granting boons to the faithful, the band has not left us without succour during this pandemic.
In fact they’ve been here alongside us putting on multiple shows over lockdown reminding us of their roots, and most importantly who they were and are today.
From Verftet Online Music Festival, Roadburn, and their most recent and spectacular full set of the album ‘Below the Lights’ not to mention guest appearances from Ivar Bjørnson, Håkon Vinje and Iver Sandøy alongside Wardruna’s Einar Selvik as part of the Bergen International Music festival, they have given without question or hesitancy.
Utgard is somewhat of a step again into the cosmic unknown, with the band themselves alluding to a musical concept of a place somewhere out of time and space they could visualise and place themselves within, while conjuring distorted images of Norwegian folklore.
With the three tracks – ‘Jettegryta’, ‘Homebound’ and ‘Urjotun’ having been released on the lead up to the album’s launch, we knew we were in for a grand mixture of styles and themes from them off the bat.
‘Urjotun’ Itself immediately strikes you with it’s rapid fire beats and catchy riffs away from anything that Enslaved has done before. While ‘Jettegryta’ and ‘Homebound’ struck chords with previous styles of play, it’s the ability for the band to take what has come before and feel comfortable playing with the sounds – a hammer striking an anvil within Jettegryta for instance is poignant and powerful, only to be shortly followed by a wandering keyboard solo from Håkon Vinje.
For the fans wondering what could the rest of the album provide with so much contained within three songs released already, what awaits you is an impressive and extensive journey through Utgard completing a picture started with the prior mentioned tracks.
Opening the album ‘Fires In the Dark’ welcomes you with familiar sounds, fans of albums such as ‘Eld’ or ‘Below the Lights’ will find familiarity here, all while melding fantastical concepts woven into lyrics such as – “Echoes of a Past not yet Written” and “The Ancient Gods Told Us Where To Go”.
Grooving tracks such as ‘Sequence’ mark a change in tempo and pace, blasting through Cosmic Ramblings all while Iver Sandøy melodically paces you through the song with rhythmic drumming and a voice that would melt ice.
It’s during songs like these and others such as ‘Flight of Thought and Memory’ and ‘Storms of Utgard’ that Grutle Kjellson barks and snarls at you, as if from another dimension to just keep you on your toes and on the path through this world that they’ve created.
Moments like these followed by intense epic guitar solos from Ice Dale, Bjørnson thundering through rhythms and Kjellsons bass that provides layer upon layer of a rich quality sound that is rarely this consistent and deep within metal.
To cap the album’s journey the melodic ‘Distant Seasons’ almost sounds as if they set it adrift in space circling Utgard to lament, while thunderous giants stalk the frozen tundras and winter forests below.
The ability of the band to take consistently bold steps, while taking lifelong fans gathered over their 30 plus year career along with them, while not alienating them would be impressive on it’s own. But for this – Their 15th studio album, it’s got to be said it’s an incredibly impressive feat especially within the genre.
The only disappointment is the length of the album (It clocks in at just over 42 minutes) with some of the bands shortest tracks to date, it’s perhaps a testament to the sheer strength of the album that listeners will want to hear more.
One thing is for sure, their mark on the metal world is sealed once again with this new step into the history books and an absolute Cosmic Jamboree of an album.
Utgard is released on Nuclear Blast on October 2nd.
Review by David Cardiff