Enslaved - Heimdal
Nuclear Blast
Progressive Metal, Post-Black
7 songs (48:17)
Release year: 2023
Enslaved, Nuclear Blast
Reviewed by Goat

Another joyful return is Norway's blackened prog institution Enslaved, back for a remarkable sixteenth full-length. Following on from a more than solid EP release in 2021 with Caravans to the Outer World, the title track of which also appears here, the band have built on that to make an album that will please if not surprise fans, with a slight step back from the space rock oddities of Utgard towards something, well, Beneath the Lights-lite - at moments! There's a genuine variety at play in the songwriting, for example with the eight-minute Congelia, which is the band's most straightforward piece in a while now, building through groovy churning riffs into a psychedelic and atmospheric piece that could have come straight from the earlier, highly-regarded album.

It's placed directly after opener Behind the Mirror which conversely begins with watery sounds and horn blasts (courtesy of Wardruna's Eilif Gundersen) before the band's usual mid-paced prog metal begins its build, plenty of clean vocals and prog flourishes along the way with keyboards aplenty balanced with Grutle's unmistakable snarl and crushing guitar grooves from Kjellson and Isdal. As much as Enslaved sticking to the formula has made for great results in the past, the moments here where the band try something different have the highest rewards, and this is especially true for the psychedelic factor that has always been more or less present but feels particularly built upon here. Forest Dweller mixes in plenty of acoustic guitars and fuzzy keyboards behind the clean singing, for instance, sounding particularly 70s even with the ensuing maelstrom of swirling riffs and harsh vocals, a jaunty keyboard solo especially wrongfooting the listener.

Quite different from their sub-fluorescent past, the newer clean vocalists in Håkon Vinje and Iver Sandøy being enough to mark it out even without all the prog indulgences, but it does feel spiritually like a successor thanks to a similar unnervingly experimental air that just works. The way that Kingdom shifts from pretty near-pastoral lushness to space-black-metal-rocking with those spidery keyboards is masterful, and the later chaotic morass of muttered vocals and snarls is something of a return to the Mardraum era. And then, the downright danceable keyboard line that opens The Eternal Sea before the bass lumbers in behind, a very experimental opening section taking up nearly two minutes of the seven minute piece that focuses on clean-sung psychedelic prog, kicking into a blackened storm by the end. Hard to criticise even for detractors of the band, although the final two tracks here will fuel their hatred! Caravans to the Outer Worlds is a great piece, thrashy and energetic, with enough dramatic keyboard plonks and yearningly beautiful clean vocal lines to bring a tear to the eye of fans of the band's earliest and latest works respectively - yet it has already been on an EP from two years ago, and having it reproduced here unchanged feels slightly strange.

And sadly the closing eight minute title track is a miss, feeling like two sub-par songs stuck together; a groovy but forgettable psychedelic space rocker in the first half and a meandering prog-viking chugger in the second. There are some fun moments (the percussion around the mid-point especially) but equally some very questionable decisions (the strange spoken vocal section that goes on for far too long just before that) and ultimately it's as skippable as the other lengthy track here, Congelia, is gripping. Remarkably, Heimdal the album can take such criticisms on the chin; there are real highs and strengths that bears repeated listens well. It will be a treasured gem to as many, if not more, who find it disappointing. Even those disappointed would agree that Enslaved have more than enough talent beneath it all to make each and every release more than solid; at least nine out of their last ten albums could easily have a case made for it as an entry point for a newcomer, and Heimdal is strong enough to avoid the bottom place still occupied by 2017's E. Both interesting and enjoyable to listen to even if you compare it unfavourably to previous albums, Heimdal is ultimately yet another winner from this ever-consistent group of legends.

Killing Songs :
Behind the Mirror, Congelia, Forest Dweller, Kingdom, and of course Caravans to the Outer Worlds
Goat quoted 80 / 100
Other albums by Enslaved that we have reviewed:
Enslaved - Caravans to the Outer Worlds (EP) reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
Enslaved - Utgard reviewed by Goat and quoted 82 / 100
Enslaved - E reviewed by Goat and quoted 75 / 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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