Enslaved - E
Nuclear Blast
Progressive Metal
6 songs (49:45)
Release year: 2017
Enslaved, Nuclear Blast
Reviewed by Goat
Archive review

Following an album as good as In Times would cause trouble for any band, let alone these true kings of Norway. The replacement of Herbrand Larsen with Håkon Vinje on keyboards and clean vocals also wasn't a particularly positive sign, given how integral Larsen was to the band's softer side over the many albums since 2004's Isa. Accordingly the simply-titled but very experimental E felt like something of a step down in quality from Grutle and co on first listens, and threatening outright boredom at moments. It's a slow-building, atmospheric, moody album, as much a collection of musical pieces rather than actual songs, starting with a downright difficult ten-minuter in Storm Son with plenty of proggy meandering, beginning with oddly avant-garde sounds including horns and a neighing horse. The first three minutes have practically zero hooks, and indeed could have been removed altogether without harming the song or album, as once Vinje's clean vocals come in atop a typically Enslaved-groovy riff pattern and keyboard melody it could be a different piece entirely.

What saves Storm Son, and the album, is how solid that essential core of the band are and how good Enslaved have become at their unique mixture of prog, Viking, and blackened metals, the latter coming into its own towards the end of the track as the band ramp up the aggression and Grutle takes over almost entirely on vocals at moments, a very abstract-seeming group chorus boosting the band's always important Viking side. It's far from the band's best material, being a bit too long and drawn out, but even Enslaved on an off day are still a very strong act. That helps E, which in other ways is much like a continuation of the direction taken on In Times, if simplified and ironed flat to remove a lot of its variety and personality - yet that album's steps back towards black metal are kept, alongside a more upfront proggy feel if not outright space rock, one instance being the backing synths and strums of The River's Mouth. And new guy Vinje more than proves himself, whether it's the excellent, often out-and-out lovely clean singing or keyboard playing, which ranges from more typically textural work to a solo full of 70s prog flamboyance on Sacred Horse.

Despite barely reaching fifty minutes' length, E can feel like a hefty, wearying listen, and is a little backloaded as far as quality goes with Axis of the World being one of the better pieces with its more straightforward attack and metallic structure beneath the proggy fripperies as well as having an infectious chorus. For all their prog indulgences, Enslaved are still very much a band that make songs, and are at their best when doing so; Feathers of Eolh, accordingly, is a weaker piece thanks to being more of a soundscape for much of its eight minutes, aside from some clean verses mostly distorted chanting atop a complex synth backing. The following Hiindsiight, in comparison, is constructed more like a proggy song, alternating between slow, almost doomy sections led by Grutle and dreamier instrumental sections that go above and beyond the expected by including a saxophone, which works wonderfully as a string in their bow and could stand to be explored further!

E is perhaps fated to be more of a fan favourite than a true gem in their discography, sure to please fans but those new really should search elsewhere to hear the Norwegians at their best. Depending on the version of this you find, there are up to three bonus tracks available, all of which are good enough to make you wonder why the band chose to relegate them! Djupet is a slightly more pagan metal-feeling take on the Enslaved formula as portrayed elsewhere on the album, slowing down and exploring a doomier, more atmospheric pace towards the end with deep spoken vocals. Then we have two odd but enjoyable cover versions: countrymen Röyksopp's What Else is There, which sounds like a particularly upbeat modern Katatonia song in Enslaved's hands until Grutle begins snarling at least! And Faith No More's Jizzlobber, which apparently has been a prior live choice for the band, is reproduced fairly accurately, ending things in a more fun way than the rest of the album has suggested. They can't all be classics, but Enslaved remain an interesting and consistently listenable post-black act.

Killing Songs :
The River's Mouth, Axis of the Worlds, Hiindsiight
Goat quoted 75 / 100
Other albums by Enslaved that we have reviewed:
Enslaved - Heimdal reviewed by Goat and quoted 80 / 100
Enslaved - Caravans to the Outer Worlds (EP) reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Enslaved - Utgard reviewed by Goat and quoted 82 / 100
Enslaved - In Times reviewed by Goat and quoted 93 / 100
Enslaved - RIITIIR reviewed by Thomas and quoted 92 / 100
To see all 15 reviews click here
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