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What does a band do once they've created a masterpiece like 'Below the Lights'? Do they try and find other ways of scaling the awesome mountain or do they plateau out for a couple of albums and hope people eat 'em right up? Enslaved chose the third option; cock it all RIGHT UP. 'Isa' was produced with no real direction in mind it seems, it is a progressive and fun little journey but it just doesn't do anything and when contrasted with their previous album it's shite. Enslaved begun to shed even more of their black metal imagery and style with this release and as a result the songs have become a bit shorter and now have gapping spaces where real fucking riffs should be. 'Ascension' was produced from this idea of simply filling the gaps with keyboards and clean passages, now this would work in juxtaposition with harsh sections or more conventional structures but for the most part it's alternating simply between harsh and clean vocals with either prevalent guitars, which do nothing but strum out insipid chords, or keyboards that wouldn't sound out of place in a laser light show back in the 80's.
Unfortunately a lot of the album is just that. I can respect bands that want to move away from their beginnings or try to expand their horizons by introducing new elements into their music but there's a limit to how much you can achieve before everything comes crashing down, and for Enslaved it was as though they had built their lumbering, but awesome juggernaut with a skeletal structure made from soufflé. Their indulgence of keyboards and clean sections ruined what could have been a potentially epic album because progression seems to equate with songs that go nowhere and make no fucking sense. The final song "Reogenesis" is actually pretty awesome because of all the sections it progresses through; it's the seafood platter of progressive black metal I suppose. The song has a large enough momentum to keep going but mixes it up and keeps you guessing without being jarring, quite the achievement. Songs like "Isa" fall terribly short due to using fruity keyboards, simple song structure and shite riffs. The keyboards in this particular album are extremely awkward, even in the better parts of the album; their sound is very off-putting regardless of the music it is backing up or even fronting. It's hard to describe but the word sci-fi comes to mind despite not being a very good adjective for fucking music, but still it sounds rather extraterrestrial and out there rather than the dark and brooding keyboards of albums past. The keyboards are the equivalent to cancer for this album; they multiply with frightening speed and begin to poison all the good elements the band once poured into songs like "Convoys to Nothingness" and "Queen of Night".
It all boils down to the loss of atmosphere for Enslaved, they stop producing music with discernable emotion and weight to it; preferring to peddle progressive but penultimately pathetic songs that meander about thanks to the mediocre riffs they write backed by bizarre and distracting keyboards. This tradition would continue with 'Ruun', at the very least they had realised their error of neglecting the guitars and produced a few good riffs and a solo or two; "Fusion of Sense and Earth" comes to mind in particular. 'Isa' isn't a complete failure; other than the final song there are a few talented tracks that manage to combine black metal sensibilities with progressive elements, "Lunar Force", or are simply a few okay riffs and ideas strung together to fill the void between the longer songs, "Secrets of the Flesh" and "Violet Dawning". Of course people will say otherwise, "You just don't get this album" they'll recite ad infinitum, hoping that my ass will spontaneously combust by the combined power of their chanting. I will say that 'Isa' is an adventurous but greatly underwhelming progressive album, but the day I say it's a fucking brilliant album is the day I proceed to jam two benzene-coated whiteboard markers up my nose whilst breathing heavily from a paper bag full of asbestos fibres coated in anthrax.