Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Enslaved - RIITIIR (2012)

Some time ago, Italian black metal artist Ogen commented that he was a big fan of Enslaved, because he loved their take on modern black metal. It wasn't until we fully digested the catalog of this five piece that we truly understood what he meant. Over the course of twenty years, Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson have taken the tenets of the true Norwegian style, and added in strong doses of melody, resulting in something that few, if any, could duplicate. In the two years since 2010's "Aximoa Ethica Odini," it seemed as though the evolution of the sound may have slowed. But with the release of their new album, the eight track "RIITIIR," they prove that evolution stops for no man, and deliver yet another seminal album.

The aptly titled "Thoughts Like Hammers" opens the album, with a complete battery of noise. As things calm down and fall into line, the sound that has become synonymous with Enslaved emerges, with harsh gurgling vocals are flanked by sometimes beautiful clean ones. The band has evolved again, musically, going further down the road of progressive elements, something hat can be heard in the flowing chord changes and melodic passages. What sets this apart from some of their contemporaries is the way the drums are played, both in speed and tone. Rapid double kick segments tie together both sides of the coin; the clean and the filthy. Even in the ominously whispered and echoed speech just past the midway point, there is a wealth of memorable material. And somehow a track that towers over the nine minute mark ebbs and flows like on half the length. And rather than stop that momentum only to reignite it seconds later, it merges flawlessly with the next song, "Death In The Eyes Of Dawn." The combined bass and guitar riff is as catchy as you can imagine, but without losing any of the driving force. In every vocal harmony, every slide up the neck of the bass, Enslaved remind you how versatile they can be. Rather than resting on the black metal go-to tricks, they substitute their own take on all things metal, adding in a healthy dose of dazzling guitar work. The switch back and forth between pitch perfect clean vocals and the more frightening screech and growls is incredible, and the ease with which is works is even moreso.

And while the opening notes of "Veilburner" are sure to please, it is only as the track starts to change and evolve that you get the real feel for what is going on around you. A tremendous wealth of rolls, fills and crushing cymbals smashes drive the track forward. But somewhere amongst all that chaos is a perfect fusion and black and progressive metal. Abrasive vocals lines in the verse give way to a awe inspiring clean passage. But even more than the vocal prowess is the combination of musical styles that lies underneath. There is nothing smooth or reserved about the way each note is delivered, with guitar delivering distorted chord after distorted chord. They manage to remain hard edged without compromising weight for richness. And when the transition comes from the previous track to "Roots Of The Mountain," they spare no one. If there was a huge blast of pure blackened metal to be had on the album, it would be here and now. Machine gun snares and rapid fire guitar chords move you from one to the next, before giving way to a stunningly delicate voice. Just when you thought things were destined to settle down, a bone chilling death metal chunk reveals itself, only to be followed by a groove laden one. It's this constant changing of styles and tempos that sets things apart time and again, keeping you looking ahead to what comes next. It is impossible to predict what will come next, something that makes the track that much more enjoyable.

By the time you reach the title track, "RIITIIR," you are already more than thirty minutes deep in the album. Clocking in at a measly five and a half minutes, you have at hand a track that is a live hit waiting to happen. From the stomping kick drum beat to the chanting vocal style, it would be easy to see a crowd of thousands, fists up, growling along. While it may also play out as one of the most simplistic tracks on the album, it is not short on powerful riffs and percussion. The explosion comes in the outro portion, blasting away with fury and rage. Please, for the love of all things metal, don't mistake the opening drum beat of "Materal" for an 80's hair metal track. Layered vocals and ringing guitar chords will step in to remind you what you are hearing. There is a tendency here to lean towards more traditional structures, cutting back and forth from clean to distorted, airy to vile. This is not to say Enslaved abandon all that makes them unique, but they adopt a more clear path, if only for one track. Throw in the use of a blistering guitar solo, followed by a strong, thumping bridge section and what you have at the end of eight minutes is one of the more well rounded tracks on the album. By the time you reach the last two minutes, you have been treated to anything and everything, in perfect balance and weight.

It may seem to be a daunting task to digest two songs at the end of an album that span over twenty combined minutes. There is a unique sound in "Storm Of Memories," something that may take a while to identify at first listen. But the seemingly endless layers of sound can be pulled apart and reassembled minute by passing minute. Between the darting guitar, rolling bass, and assault of percussion, you would already have a mix that is full to bursting. But add in the soft background whispers and chanting, and you have, through your speakers, the storm brought to life. The thunder booms through with the subsequent black metal attack, complete with double kicks that shake you to your core. While there are more tender moments, this track is, by far, the most grating you will find. And while the storm may have ended, the thunder continues, literally, into the piano opening of "Forsaken." And while it is not wholly rare for the finale to be the most composed track on the album, things are taken to an entirely new level with this eleven minute monster. The first half takes the more heavy handed approach, blasting through with roll after roll of the drum kit, pounding you into the ground with reckless abandon. But around the half way mark, things change. A soft strum of a guitar and a solemn voice take over, and now you are transported into an entirely new direction.

A mere two years ago, Enslaved delivered what we thought would be their seminal album. But somewhere along the road, they managed to not only improve their sound, but continue their evolution into one of, if not THE most prolific progressive metal band in the world today. Because, unlike their contemporaries, they manage to change without changing, evolve without abandoning the past. And while that seems to be a daunting, if not impossible, task, "RIITIIR" proves that it can be done, to an incredible degree. On these eight tracks, which span more than an hour of music, you get a taste of everything that progressive metal has professed to be... until, of course, the new Enslaved album shows that it has only just begun to change.


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