Monday, 7 March 2016

Alphabetical Discovery - Week E, Day Three: Enslaved

Enslaved - Photo

This is going to be completely biased and over-the-top because Enslaved are one of my favourite bands. Enslaved were formed by bassist and vocalist Grutle Kjellson and and guitarist Ivar Bjørnson  in 1991 - twenty-five years later they're still leading the way, spearheading the sound on thirteen full-lengths that morphed and developed with an unmatched proficiency and imaginative touch: from the conventional rawness of their split with Emperor to their viking-black approach in the 90's; from the dense and heavy Mardraum in 2000 to the cryptic and experimental Monumension in 2001; from then on - starting with 2003's Below The Lights - Enslaved began merging a rich and textured progressive sound with their intense black-metal roots. With the recruitment of vocalist, keyboardist and all-round shapeshifter Herbrand Larsen on 2004's Isa, Enslaved stretched their viking-limbs through untapped territories; the inclusion of Larsen's clean vocals and epic keyboard work lifted Enslaved into awe-inspiring musical realms that few bands come close to reaching. 

To make a bold statement: Enslaved are like an extreme-metal version of Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd's earlier folky-psyhedelic days made way for the timeless expansiveness of their 70's output; for Enslaved their folky-viking sound made way for the timeless expansiveness of the 2000's output. But with Enslaved the wheels haven't stuck - their engine is still buzzing with the same energy that thirteen-year old Grutle Kjellson had when he first formed the band in 1991. They still try to best the record that came before - a difficult yet capable quest for the band - and this has formed them into a band with a truly consistent and diverse discography. The band have had their fingers in all the extreme, and non-extreme, pies and the combination of tastes is delicious (that was awful, I'm so sorry.)

It will take an eternity to talk through the nuances of each album - that's a task for another day. I'll talk of some songs that I think demonstrate the grandeur of the band. 'Eld', from Eld, is a fiery inferno of ancient viking worship; initially the song burns with a straight-forward and riff-tastic black-metal sound before slowing to a heroic and heraldic mid-paced section stirring with keyboard ambiance and clean-vocals; the song takes a leap into the swirling frost-and-fire of Ragnarok to end blisteringly.

'Storre Enn Tid' from Mardraum is the bridge between the band's two sounds - sharp and dark, the song opens with a grinding death-metal swirl of chugs before falling in to a measured melodic section. At 4.00, following abrasive black-metal hammerings, the song quite literally warps and crackles before opening the gates to allow in  a glorious and epic moment of choir singing and shrieks straight from the realm of the gods.

'Vision: Sphere Of The Elements - A Monument Part II' from the eclectic and experimental Monumension is a thrashy-trip that soars and croaks with an intensity akin to the super-sonic speed of Absu. Lead guitars bleat like sirens as barked vocals like rabid dogs repeat over the chaos. When Enslaved want to they can be crushingly heavy. But the heaviness makes way for stoner-esque grooves that ends the song, psychedelically drifting away into the darkness of the Norwegian deserts.

'Neogenesis', from Isa, opens smoothly, a fireside reflection; the songs flows through from a dense aggressiveness to an expansive atmospheric glow of sweet guitar soloing - Gimour-esque - and echoing space-like ambiance: mystical, alluring and rich in its progressions this 11-minute journey demonstrates the external musical influences that run through Enslaved's sound.

The new album - 2015's In Times - is a dense album, slightly more intense and crushing than RIITIIR. 'One Thousand Years of Rain' is my personal favourite from an exceptional album - the section at 5.25 is mesmeric: an isolated guitar riff on top of gruesome snarled vocals, the entire thing writhing in horror. I could talk for a long time about Enslaved but time is not on my side. I'd recommend just jumping in anywhere and reveling in the vast scope of their discography.

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