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If one were to consider the progression of Enslaved as the change of seasons, RIITIIR would most definitely represent the summer. We braved the long, cold winter of Frost, the depressing autumn of Isa, the rejuvenating spring of Axioma, and now a warm sense of hope from this 2012 release. Yeah, I know my seasons are out of order, fuck you too. Regardless, RIITIIR is an album that changes the game yet again.
In addition to their usual bag of tricks, Enslaved successfully incorporates elements from more recent atmospheric black metal acts. One example is the absolutely stunning “Roots of the Mountain.” This epic track is backed by a haunting, echoey tremolo similar to those found with Drudkh and Wolves in the Throne Room. The production in general gives off a vibe similar to the Portland scene. This may sound like a drawback, but Enslaved make it work by having 20 years of songwriting development under their belt.
It’s hard to quantify, but I would guess that this record has the highest clean to harsh vocal ratio to date at a good 70/30. As far as metal goes, I tend to lean much more heavily on growls and screeches than singing, but there are exceptions. RIITIIR wins me over in this respect. Where Axioma impressed me with the screams, this album gets me with the cleans. In a way, it is surprising as I have never felt particularly fond of Grutle’s modern approach, but I think he finally masters what he has been trying to achieve over the past few albums. There are oodles of catchy hooks to sing along to.
The lead guitar continues with the usual mixture of simple hooks, minor chords, and rolling tremolo. But there are variations. One of my other favorite tracks, “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” has some excellent effects-laden picking straight out of Lateralus in addition to some harsher moments that are reminiscent of the group’s early works. There are even a few acoustic segments scattered throughout the album that transition flawlessly and never feel tacked on.
But RIITIIR is far from perfect, having its share of bland moments. The title track comes and goes without leaving much of an impression. Riffs in the second half can range from uninspired to irritating at times with the drumming losing steam. Some tracks have great ideas and catchy hooks, but overstay their welcome by a few minutes. At 67 minutes across only 8 tracks, this is their longest record to date and ripe for problems in this area. Other times arrangements feel like recycled ideas from Isa and other albums. The worst offender is a middle section of “Veilburner” that I swear is exactly the same as another song they have done already.
All said and done, RIITIIR is a solid album. I wouldn’t say it is as consistently strong as its predecessor, but its appeal grows with each listen. Furthermore, its unique sound helps to encourage repeat listens rather than becoming interchangeable with the arguably better albums in the discography. If I were to recommend a starting point to someone who is not into black or extreme metal, this would be it. There is enough alternative aesthetic at play to satisfy even the staunchest of nay-sayers, while also providing some tasty bait to dig a bit deeper.
Enslaved has not dramatically changed its style in all its years of existence; yes, they are largely removed from the black metal trappings of their demos and Vikingligr Veldi, but the prog-inflected viking/black metal they took up not long after has been carried like holy scripture and executed with tact, creativity and precision ever since. Arguably they've only released fantastic albums since 2003's Below The Lights, and that spectacular run is continued with this epic. Also worth noting is the first ten-minute song the band has produced since Neogenesis off of 2004's Isa, showing that even as the band grows older, their ambitiousness in composition has not declined an iota.
But RIITIIR is not just another album in Enslaved's quite stellar discography. It sticks out because it indicates that the band, without deviating from its roots, is capable of shifting focus to different variables in its winning formula. Clean vocals are decidedly more present. The overall sound is less harsh than preceding records. In my opinion, it's all the better for it. Don't worry, it's still very much extreme metal, but it feels like Enslaved has spread its sound out the most since Frost here - work that will pay back in coming albums. The change can be seen readily from the track list; every song stretches on considerably longer than on any album since Eld, packed with dense transitions and tempo changes.
The guitarwork glistens on RIITIIR, and while it is a step down in heaviness from Axioma, it makes up for it with more varied textures and a richer atmosphere. Tremolo picked riffs are used regularly, but Ivar Bjornson also readily doles out crushing power chords when needed. Enslaved, while having never been a particularly shreddy band, does tend to have a guitar solo roughly every other song, and that's continued here- and possibly at their absolute best. Ice Dale's solo in Materal is definitely a highlight moment on the album, taking the surging buildup of the song to an emotional climax. Acoustic flourishes, as they often do, join the electric riffs when called for. Everything is cohered by Ivar's cavernous riffing, coloring the textural backdrop behind the vocal interplay and keyboard flourishes well.
Hebrand Larsen's clean vocal contribution on this record so far has proven to be my favorite he has ever done. The chorus to opener Thoughts Like Hammers is absolutely dazzling - sucking you into the mystical world described in their meditative lyrics. Sounding both dark and soaring, he adds more diversity to his portion of vocal duties than ever previously. Grutle's harsh vocals aren't the wretched screams of old, but who could expect them to be? He continues to provide gritty rasping with all the venom, if not the power, of his younger delivery. His basswork also sticks out in places, filling the depth under Enslaved's complicated soundscapes, though it's never especially distinctive. Some spoken passages appear every now and again.
The production itself is magnificent, and quite possibly the best Enslaved has ever had. The richness of sound that the five-piece churns out is captured in perfect fidelity and delivered directly to your ears unmitigated by muddiness or inadequate mixing. The thick layering rewards multiple listens, adding more to each song every time. The songs themselves, without being excessively technical, are quite complex in their own right and all feel very unique. I can't say myself that there was a moment of filler or a point of waste after a couple full listens. Compositionally, the band have outdone themselves.
RIITIIR has received fairly split sentiments, and not for no reason - it considerably alters the dynamic for Enslaved and those craving more brutality from the vaunted outfit are likely disappointed. But a record like RIITIIR is meant to be taken for what it is, not what it is not; and it is a declaration that as a progressive metal group, Enslaved will not sit still. There is no "good enough" to them, and with their endless voyages into the vast, unexplored borders of extreme metal, they will surely discover more in the years to come. We'll see where Enslaved heads from here, with a new album due possibly in late 2014.
Highlights: Thoughts Like Hammers, Veilburner, Roots of the Mountain, Materal
In the context of black metal in the early 90′s, Enslaved were in their own right ‘progressive’ by definition and ahead of their time. Aesthetically their re-telling of ancient Nordic myths gave a more overt sense of romanticism to a style of music where the thematic orthodoxy had a more macabre and occult basis.
Taking lyrical and peotic inspiration from Bathory and the Eddas, they combined the savage, complex rhythmic structures of death metal with the epic tonalities of black metal, making subtle hints to Berlin School electronica (as did Burzum, more overtly) and the traditional ethnic music of their native Norway. Best illustrated on ‘Vikinglr Veldi’ and ‘Frost’ this exhibited a band at the height of their powers, putting out work that was not only wondrous in its sense of expression, but also in its knack of stimulating the imagination of the listener.
On ‘RIITTIIR’ we get a modern re-packaged take on the British progressive rock of the 1970′s. Behind the layer of thick, crunchy guitars there are psychedelic keyboard runs not out of line with Pink Floyd and Genesis, and brief, dissonant jazzy noodlings reminiscent of King Crimson, with aesthetic nods to modern progressive metal such as Dream Theater and Opeth, being rather apparent in the use of lead vocals.
The manner in which they pay homage to these older sources almost parallels how Darkthrone have taken to worshiping punk rock and 80′s underground metal obscurities in recent years. To some this is ‘moving forward’, to some it’s the sign of a band ‘enjoying themselves’, to some purists it’s ‘selling out’. Personally, I find for all its effort, that it’s just rather dull.
Being somewhat familiar with some of the more recent work of these Norse veterans, yet skeptical, I was nonetheless expecting something quite special here. This album comes as a disappointment. I will not doubt for a moment that their musicianship and ability to compose is highly skilled, and that they even possess a strong sense of conviction in what they craft, but what is fundamentally lacking is the youthful enthusiasm that defines what made their earlier work so great.
There are times and moments on ‘RIITTIIR’ where a particular moment, be it a riff, a sequence or break, grabs your attention and has the potential to sustain excellence, but sadly gives way to the next part of the composition, rendering the work as a whole unmemorable and unfulfilled.
I think I should start this off by saying that I have very little background experience with Enslaved. One day while in a music store I saw a copy of Axioma Ethica Odini being sold for a low price, and I presumed that between the numerous discussions about it online and the perceivably massive expansion of the oceans caused by the endless jizz fountains devoted to the album, it would be worth checking out. So I bought it, and hey, what do you know, it's one of my favorite albums of all time now! So that's pretty cool. Then The Sleeping Gods rolled around and I got my hands on that, it turned out to also be a cool release and furthered my relationship with the band despite my comparatively small amount of experience with them. So when this album was announced I whipped out my dick and cheerfully integrated myself into the circlejerk, secretly hoping that whenever RIITIIR came out, the jizzlake I had created would be big enough to accommodate a vessel as massive and seaworthy as the previous full-length. I eagerly awaited Enslaved's new Titanic for the better half of 2012... and then the release date came around, whereupon the members proudly strutted up to my cumgulf and bestowed upon it not a battleship, or a frigate, but a tiny little paper boat which dampened and sunk within minutes.
Perhaps that's just a teensy bit of an exaggeration, but I can't really think of anything that could have been more disappointing than RIITIIR was. It's not really what I could call horrible, but in a way that just makes the end result even worse because the core elements of the previous album are still here. This is like something that should have logically been created before Axioma Ethica Odini was, considering that everything here is like a more boring and less refined version of the stuff on that album.
From what I understand via word-of-mouth, Enslaved started as a relatively normal viking-tinged black metal band and have been mixing that with increasingly prevalent prog-rock influences for a little over a decade now. RIITIIR definitely sees such a progression from the previous album, and it's quite the drastic one. All the pure black metal has been totally excised from this point (even I can tell something's missing with only Axioma Ethica Odini as a reference point), with the only remnants being atmospheric washes of tremolo and jangly, partially dissonant chords. At this point, the band seem more focused on being chilled and "atmospheric" than melodically or musically energetic. The drumming performance is toned down and basically gets along by being as rocking as possible - there's maybe two or three blast beats on the whole album, and aside from the occasional fill the beats in general are starkly basic and underwhelming. Enslaved made use of a few absolutely stellar singing sections on the previous album, and they're about ten times as prevalent this time around; a lot of the songs even have legitimate sing-songy refrains that are drawn upon over and over throughout the songs' length.
There are quite a few problems with Enslaved's current formula that should be pretty obvious at this point in the review. First off: holy shit, does this album love to drag itself around. The first three songs alone are over 24 minutes long - 24 minutes - and all the songs hit their maximum potential maybe two minutes in, then feel content to sit around and strike up hackneyed conversation like that one in-law everybody in your family only pretends to tolerate. It doesn't help that the band have apparently decided that fast sections are EW METAL GROSS, because the band's rocking beats are mostly absolute snoozefests and limp around in circles like a crippled grandma. The songs are simply too fucking full of themselves for their own good; at this point it's like Enslaved seem convinced that the riffs they're playing are the greatest thing mankind has ever achieved and each deserve to be hammered into your brain 192 times when they're usually just boring, clunky chords that get a little jerky sometimes because that's what prog-rock bands are supposed to do. There are still little moments that are pretty cool, like the soaring, densely atmospheric instrumentation around the chorus of "Roots of the Mountain", that one flying riff which makes an appearance a couple times in "Materal", and the mechanical, contorting bridge of the title track, but all-in-all the guitarists here mostly feel like they're playing phoned-in caricatures of the sort of riffs that made Axioma Ethica Odini so amazing.
The focus on clean vocals is also a turn for the worse. Granted, the harsh cawing rasps are starting to sound really tired and worn-out, so perhaps the band are beefing up on singing so the vocalist doesn't have to shriek as often. But it's like Enslaved have just sort of forgotten how to make cool vocal melodies - the singer's timbre is still effeminate as hell and I love it, but the actual melodies don't really soar as much as I'd like them to. "Roots of the Mountain" and "Thoughts Like Hammers" deliver here, but the rest of the vocals are mostly just flopping around the riffs without much thought put into it. It doesn't help that the album is usually so goddamn slow that the fluid quality of the vocals sounds really unnatural over the retarded stop-start chords, it'd be like trying to carry a bucket full of water during an earthquake without spilling it. Splish splash sploosh.
In conclusion, RIITIIR shows Enslaved trying to push their music even further out of black metal territory and further into prog-rock, but apparently forgetting along the way that that doesn't mean you're obligated to play ridiculously drawn-out songs, boring pseudo-technical riffage and abrupt shifts into "atmospheric" riffs with no rhyme or reason. RIITIIR definitely isn't horrible - I mean, the band are still using most of the elements that made them so great in the past, it's just that they're using them in all the wrong ways - but on the scale of disappointment this is right up there next to "finding out Santa isn't real". Those three dudes high-fiving on the album cover are probably people who just got done throwing their copies of this album into the garbage.
The latest effort of Norwegian metal gods Enslaved has proved itself to be a killer in the hearts of their die-hard fans. Compared to their previous release Axioma Ethica Odini, RIITIIR could pan out to be overwhelming for an Enslaved virgin. The songs found here are a little less exciting and seem as if there was a little too much though put into some parts. I would suggest their previous album if you take newly found interest in this band, as RIITIIR's only flaws seem to be its lyrical complexity and its massive interpretive value, or its occasional repetitive, forced transitions (similar to that of Into Eternity). Nonetheless, this album has an immense amount of pros that outweigh the cons.
Enslaved has crammed this with many different vocal styles ranging from near-humming chanting to nasally and snarly growls, sometimes even overlapping each other. Consisting of three alternating vocalists, they all do a great job of sounding like they are truly singing from their heart, filled with hope and pride yet knowing only distress and misery. This gives a very sorrow filled album overall, while the slow segments are overly soothing to the ears and the quicker segments give you the urge to blast it while speeding down the highway.
The instrumental value is absolutely over the top; here you can find the odd jazzy transition in every couple songs with beautiful mini solo’s laden over top. The drumming is amazing and sounds the best when they are switching between all the many transitions. There is something for everyone on RIITIIR, from chaotic guitar and drum passages, loopy and wild scaling guitars and heart pounding drum intros and outros.
If you need convincing on whether or not to pick up RIITIIR, be sure to check out “Forsaken” as it is by far the strongest piece. It is an extremely exciting song and is the only song to feature any piano, and they incorporate it in a very Opeth-esque way. The title track and “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” are also great examples of everything worthwhile there is too find on this album. Some of the vocal styles over softer segments remind me of Devin Townsend’s more recent work. The heavier, doomier parts sound like samples from a Swallow the Sun album.
With another epic release under their belt, Enslaved are still ever moving away from their old self and trying new things. It’s not like they are failing at it either, time and time again its still absolutely breathtaking.
Unlike seemingly everybody else who listens to black metal, I waited until now to check out Enslaved, purchasing both this new album as well as the previous, Axioma Ethica Odini. I'd seen nothing but praise for Enslaved over the years, but for some reason never got around to them. As one can probably expect, I'm so glad that the time has finally come. I've discovered what could easily be one of my favorite bands.
As for RIITIIR, without the constraints of previous band knowledge that other reviewers are able to provide, I'd easily place this as my #1 album of 2012. It's not even a contest and I've acquired close to fifty new releases this year for my collection. What makes it so good? Where the hell do I even begin with an album so full of dynamic range, from majestic atmospheric passages to percussive black metal covered in permafrost. There are layers upon layers of different things happening at any given time in some of these songs, leading me to draw comparisons not only to the atypical rhythmic progressions and flirtation with somber melodies given to bands like Opeth and Tool, but also to obvious peers in extremity like Borknagar, Ulver, Ihsahn, etc. Any fan of progressive black metal is going to find something to love in this album, but it has a wider appeal thanks to the tempered nature of the more harsh elements usually apparent in the subgenre. I would have no problem recommending this to fans of much tamer mainstream metal acts like Amorphis or Katatonia. While this more accessible sound seems to be a letdown for older fans of the band, I can't think of a better way to open up the doors for a whole new family of fans like me. Going backwards through their albums from RIITIIR has been a total pleasure and it's going to be how I get more new people into this band. That's a great thing.
The production here is some of the best you could ask for in this style of music. The foundation of the drums and bass guitar are firmly placed at a middle volume with guitars taking a prominent position and vocals above all else. Every little aspect of these songs is audible and mixed in such a way as to build toward a perfect sound rather than throwing it all right into your face. Atmospheric touches and further layers of guitars are ever-present, filling the body of the mix to its maximum. The drumming here can easily be compared to the polyrhythmic style known from the already mentioned Tool, but also obviously hit upon the usual black metal beats when necessary. They hold the album together wonderfully, never falling behind the variation and mastery of the guitars. Tender moments like the acoustic tremolo section near the end of "Roots Of The Mountain" have a ton of nuance and hard-hitting black metal riffing like the intro of the same song relentlessly punch you in the face. I must also mention the bassist, who brings an entirely different dimension of his own to the music by not entirely sticking to the guitar riffs, but doing his own thing and producing some cool sounds at times thanks to a slightly overdriven tone. This can be easily heard in the intro section of "Storm Of Memories." The grab bag of different playing styles on the album is enough to make a fan of pretty much any guitarist, in my opinion, but the true shining moments are all due to the vocals for me. Not only is there a healthy variation in the harsh tones of the throaty black metal screaming and beautiful enunciation in those segments, but there are also a ton of great clean vocal passages and choruses which evoke incredible feeling and passion for the music and lyrical content. The overall composition of both harsh and clean vocals is magnificent. Far too many bands find themselves leaning too far on one side or the other for me in this style. Enslaved have managed to strike that perfect balance, focusing on everything necessary to make both vocal styles shine. Lyrically, this album touches on areas which seem to be the usual fare for this band from what I've heard/read so far into their back catalog. There is an emphasis on occult and ancient nordic belief systems, but also philosophy and a general contempt for the human condition which is typical of black metal.
Overall, I can only say that this is a must-own release from a band who are already legends in their genre. It's a great starting place for those unfamiliar with Enslaved and most certainly will appeal to fans of the band despite its toned down nature at times. Whether this album grows on you or hits you like a ton of bricks and tapers off over time, in the end it's still going to be one of the most enjoyable listens you'll experience this year if this review sounds like something you want to check out. Go buy this album. Trust me.
If you've encountered any of my shameless gushing over Enslaved in the past, then it goes without saying that the Norwegians' latest full-length RIITIIR was one of my most anticipated recordings of 2012. By this point Vertebrae (2008) and its successor Axioma Ethica Odini (2010) have received hundreds of plays between them and remain, at least for me, flawless and relevant evolutions of the group's Viking/black metal roots into a wider spectrum of progressive and psychedelic rock; flirting with accessibility without jumping lanes onto Mainstream Avenue. Last year's EPs also proved an eclectic, varied amusement, and my first few previews and inevitable post-purchase spins through this latest full-length yielded a pleasurable listen, perhaps their 'smoothest' and friendliest to date in terms of its stylistic songwriting dichotomy and production values.
And then a funny thing happened: I listened to it more, and more, not for the sheer magnetism of the music, but because I kept second guessing myself over the lack of lasting impact RIITIIR has had upon me. For all intensive purposes, Enslaved is a band which thrives on this plateau of adventurous genre-blending in which memorable licks and melodies are intertwined with the blackened, Mythic bombardment of their roots. The records they write tend to hit me not only with a strong, instant attraction but then by pouring on layers of depth, nuance and meaning that I find engaging and, frankly, eternal. RIITIIR champions all the strengths of its predecessor Axioma Ethica Odini, and has no gaping flaws of note through the substantial 67 minutes of content. There are hundreds of techniques happening through its length. Stark, wintry grooves. Atmospheric, hostile barrages of tremolo picked notes and uproarious Grutle growls. Proggy, spatial electronics and soft, shining organs serving as backdrops for the meatier riffs. No shortage of thought was placed into any given measure. No two tracks feel quite the same, even if the album has a more internal consistency than many in their lexicon. To deny the fulfillment factor of RIITIIR as a work of art would seem dishonest, and yet there is some nigh invisible barrier which prevents me from lavishing it with the utmost praise...
Perhaps it stems from the fact that this album, for all its range, does tend to play it rather safe when one examines the content of their last decade of work (beginning with Below the Lights). The clean vocals are even more unwrinkled and prevalent than the earliest attempts to incorporate them, and a lot of the plodding, slow to mid-paced guitars feel in places banal. There are a number of jazzy, warm floes of chords infused into the black metal sequences which hearken back to the divisive Vertebrae, but I found RIITIIR to lack that same balance of cloudy escapism and unwashed grittiness. The music here isn't exactly settling any new territory, but it's merely refining the rough stone cairn that its forebears once built to mark their passage. Not to say that such an effort is incapable of achieving perfection with the proper songwriting, but Enslaved have consigned this material to the mere realm of 'greatness', one that they have so often transcended. To that end, I would have to state that RIITIIR is a disappointment, in only the mildest sort where I'll fully immerse myself throughout the experience as its happening, but rarely crave it elsewhere.
On technical parameters, the band excels through the eight tracks. Rarely are groups so cohesive on a level of both creativity and competence, and there's really no shining star among the quintet. Herbrand Larsen and the inestimable Ivar let the synthesized elements speak for themselves when needed (generally in brief intro passages), but otherwise the keys dote the landscape of the metal riffing as distant copses of woodland on a grassland hike. The riffing melodies, and in particular Arve's leads simply ooze class, favoring emotion over indulgence and brightness above darkness. Grutle's barks and grunts are quite well rounded here, by this time lacking all awkwardness they might have created in the late 90s/early 'oughts. Cato Bekkevold is yet again perfectly content with the rock foundation that best complements much of the music, but he's always filling in the gaps with intensified reminders that he's very much a metal drummer capable of opening up the field, which of course happens numerous times through pounders like "Roots of the Mountain" or "Thoughts Like Hammers". The bass lines are also pumping pistons where necessary, though the more spacious segues of airier guitars might have been better served by some more interesting note choices in the grooves.
One area in which RIITIIR largely excels is in the poignant, poetic resonance of its English lyrics. A few tunes like "Roots of the Mountain" have a pretty stripped, metaphysical composition, but others rarely fail to echo all manner of imagery through me. 'Static is the common language', 'motion is the mothertongue', I devour that shit, and in particular I'd point out "Thoughts Like Hammers", "Storm of Memories" and the title track itself as my favorites. As pretentious as it sounds, Enslaved remain a very literary, 'thinking person's' metal band, as if William Faulker performed some stoic transliteration of the Poetic Eddas into a novel. This isn't mosh fueled misogynist carnage or cheesy Viking hymnals gouging on imagery that was probably lifted off a Manowar album cover. The band translate their cultural roots into something meaningful that can be applied to a world or a life far removed from the ways of old, and to say this places them in rare company would be an understatement.
Let me be clear: I realize the tone of my reaction to this record paints it as somewhat of a letdown, but that's only because I (like an asshole) place such major personal expectations on a small handful bands (like this one) which would be impossible to fill out year after year ad infinitum. RIITIIR is still a praiseworthy album, and better than most other music you'll hear this year. It's well worth its weight in any currency you could name, and I recommend that all progressive black metal afficionados, or anyone into intelligent and well scripted aural explorations with rock instrumentation and an undercurrent of extremity pick this up. It's snug enough next to its older siblings, or the works of peers Arcturus, Borknagar, Ulver, Solefald and the like. Ultimately though, despite a solid case for greatness, Enslaved didn't quite hit their legendary stride here, instead stopping to dust off the fossils and footsteps of previous outings and display them in a new museum.
In almost every article about this band I've read recently, there's a repeated emphasis on how remarkably consistent Enslaved are when it comes to releasing new material. In truth, I'd tend to agree with this statement. Although I don't enjoy their Viking-styled material nearly as much as the more traditional black metal or later progressive incarnations, these guys have managed to develop and evolve with each new album, With that being said, it's no surprise that "RIITIIR" continues to embellish the band's progressive sensibilities. While previous albums "Vertebrae" and "Axioma Ethica Odini" both showcased a rich progressive black metal sound, "RIITIIR" sees them pushing their ambitious nature to new heights. In short, it's arguably the best album of their career, although I imagine most of us weren't expecting any less from them.
The musical evolution from "Axioma..." to "RIITIIR" is reserved, but noticeable. For one, these are some of the longest song structures the band has ever contended with. With most of the tracks resting around the nine minute mark, there is the strong impression that Enslaved have decided to loosen the restraints on some of their songwriting, allowing the compositions more time to develop textures and ideas. Although there remain traces of the original black metal sound, the current Enslaved shares very little in common with its older incarnations. Although some of the riffs recall the band's heritage as part of the Norwegian Second Wave, there's just as much of a drawn influence from 1970's space and psychedelic rock. If Enslaved had not already crossed this point already, it seems unfitting to label them as a black metal band now, when there's so much about them that turns its nose at the genre.
"Thoughts Like Hammers" is the opening track and pre-released 'sneak preview' fans had of "RIITIIR" before the album was released. At nine and a half minutes long, it is filled with meaty riffs and familiar atmosphere, boosted by a unconventional song structure and several mood changes. Although Enslaved have done this sort of thing before, it feels most natural with "RIITIIR". The powerful highlight "Death in the Eyes of Dawn" and majestic "Roots of the Mountain" both showcase an affinity with vocal melodies. Although the clean vocals have not always been a 'high point' with Enslaved, Herbrand Larsen's voice has never sounded better. Thanks to Iver Sandøy's suggestion to branch out into a 'live reocrding' style, Enslaved's production has never sounded warmer or better suited for their progressive sound. A somewhat mechanical sound of production was something I had long felt held back some of Enslaved's more recent material, but the issue is cured in full on "RIITIIR". There are details in the performance and arrangement that will reward attentive listeners.
Although "RIITIIR" does not disappoint on any level, there is the sense that the album's second half is not quite as engaging as the first. Up to and including "Roots of the Mountain", there is not a second of filler; particularly in the way "Thoughts Like Hammers" and "Death in the Eyes of Dawn" cope with structure, the ways the musical ideas are organized is close to perfection. The less ambitious title track and "Storm of Memories" are less concerned with this optimal usage of time however. The performance is kept up to an incredible par throughout the album, but certain musical ideas eel dragged out longer than they should have been, as if to keep up with the 'extended song structure' approach. Especially keeping in mind that much of the album manages to achieve that long-sought for perfection, it's disappointing that the album is given a somewhat anti-climactic end. Although "Forsaken" opens on one of the album's highest points, the final four minutes of the album are left for a quiet, repetitive guitar idea, akin to something Neurosis might do. I think it could have worked well as a denouement to an otherwise intense and complex listening experience, but it's drawn out past the limit where it would have worked best.
"RIITIIR" is certainly the best Enslaved have ever sounded, with a production and performance standard rivaled by virtually none in their style. The decision to further explore the progressive realm has worked very well, employing use of some of the vintage 70's sounds while sounding as musically relevant as ever. With that in mind, I'm still not sure if I prefer this over "Vertebrae" or "Axioma Ethica Odini". Although some aspects of the band have been finally boosted to perfection, there are times when a more concise approach would have worked better. Regardless, Enslaved have brought the spirit of the classic progressive rock album to extreme metal, and done it in such a way that it will be surprising if people aren't still talking about it years from now. If Opeth's attempt to crossover fully into the prog realm with "Heritage" was only an ambivalent success, Enslaved have achieved a 'vintage' sound without losing any bit of what made them excellent in the first place.
Epitomising all that is great with metal, a new Enslaved release marks an opportunity to hear one of the genre's greatest ever practioners at work as they travel further into deep uncharted territories of progressive extreme metal. At this stage in their career, after 12 albums of unceasing progression and upmost artistic integrity I am of the mind that there is not one other metal band with such a prolonged and consistent discography. Take Sabbath, Priest, Maiden, Metallica, Slayer, Bathory or any other genre god you care to mention: despite numerous classics in their arsenal, each over long careers have borne releases considerably more worthless than anything under the Enslaved name. Put into that context one begins to wonder why they aren't the band headlining festivals and receiving more mainstream recognition for their works.
The simple reason for that is that despite the all-round brilliance of the Norwegians their music remains too unconventional and challenging for much of even metal's fanbase, an audience who despite appearances are naturally hesitant in accepting such wildly unique music. On "RIITIIR" we catch the band hard at work in pushing keyboardist Herbrand Larsen's delightful clean vocals into the very heart of "Thoughts Like Hammers", "Death in the Eyes of Dawn" and "Roots of the Mountain". Larsen's positivity and uplifting tones act as a counterpoint to Grutle Kjelson's archetype blackened croaks which now find themselves taking a background role in the huge, wonderfully catchy choruses of those aforementioned songs. Instrumentally too Larsen's sweeping keys backing adds a richer texture than I can remember on any previous Enslaved release. Given plenty of time to shine in the lengthy tracks that fill this album, they contrast with the post-metal tinged riffing to provide an air of drama, which can go missing in the roaring sections of the title track and "Roots of the Mountain". That song in particular comes across akin to a track from 2006's "Ruun" and revels resplendently in how it bridges from verse to chorus and back - this is a track I think we can expect to hear in the upcoming tour to promote "RIITIIR".
Playing an understated role behind the dual vocals and keyboard effects is the role of guitarists Ivar Bjørnson and Ice Dale, who contribute a metric ton of sweeping melodies of their own; not so much focussed on outright aggression for the most part, they provide "Materal" and "Veilburner" with grand vistas in rhythm and some mighty solos in lead. The final two tracks, "Storm of Memories" and "Forsaken" both feature long sections of keyboard-led atmosphere - in "Storm..." this transcends into classic tremolo BM riffing and a spirit-raising chorus, while "Forsaken" blends the "Isa"/"Ruun" feel early on before morphing into the musical equivalent of a slow running stream in it's concluding half, a period reminding me strongly of the wonderful Solstafir.
As you can tell, there is rarely little wrong with an Enslaved album - the band mix progressive and extreme templates to create eight songs which leave lasting sections in the mind and so many riffs to bite hold of you won't be hungry for days. The two or three listens I required to totally immerse myself in "RIITIIR" were merely a consequence of an album so rich in depth and atmosphere I'm left wondering, again, where they can head from here. By way of comparison, I judge "Ruun" to be a classic of our times; "RIITIIR" is barely one step behind.
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net
Since the creation of Enslaved in the early nineties the guys have never failed to release a new album within one or two years – and what is even more important: they have never disappointed their fans although the sound of the Norwegians never stagnated throughout the years. Dead sure, this has not changed with RIITIIR, the latest opus by Grutle, Ivar and co. The beautiful cover artwork was again done by long time co-operator Truls Espedal, who has done every cover since 2001′s “Monumension”.
As pretty much every other album by Enslaved, RIITIIR (which approximately translates to “the rites of mankind”) is by no means easy listening. This time the overall length of the songs has even increased, most of the songs are eight to ten minutes long. That gets already obvious when listening to the colossal opener “Thoughts like Hammers”. A short, disturbing introduction soon gives way to a very doom-like riff with Grutle’s vocals as evil as imaginable, alternating with a very melodic part featuring some of the best clean vocals ever heard in Enslaved. Speaking about the vocals, that is truly one of the best features of the whole album: in my opinion, the clean vocals have never been better, which includes both Grutles performance as well as the composition of the vocal lines.
“Death in the Eyes of Dawn”, another 8-minute epic, comes up with a very catchy and melodic theme in the beginning (later to be repeated as chorus, again with superb clean vocals). The rest of the song contains many interesting riffs and variations that manage to create this special mood the whole album displays. Enslaved find just the right balance of progressive and experimental parts and conventional song structures. Each and every song has these progressive parts, but just before it gets out of hand (as it is often the case with “progressive bands” – at least in my opinion) they return to a catchy chorus or riff that has been established before. To me, that is actually a very good approach to interesting songwriting.
My personal favorite on the album is track number four, “Roots of the Mountain”. The brutal and old school intro riff fluently goes over to an atmospheric and melodic part. That again is one of the great advantages of this band: They are able to combine seeming differences into their songs without making it sound alien whatsoever.
RIITIIR contains no bad songs, yet I couldn’t really make heads or tails out of “Storm of Memories”, even after listening to it so many times. The last track on the album, “Forsaken” is not only the longest song, but also one of the best. After a very harsh beginning, a very interesting slow part rises the tension until it bursts in a climax of a melodic doom riff. Then, RIITIIR ends with an atmospheric four-minute part of clean guitar, clan vocals and piano. Atmospheric and open-minded songwriting doesn’t get much better that this.
When I first listened to the songs, I had difficulties finding into the music. As pretty much the whole album is very progressive, it is not easy to get along with all the song structures (especially as the total running time is about 67 minutes). Yet, I dare say, after listening to RIITIIR about three times the songs will be stuck in your ears, leaving you no chance but to listen to it again and again. RIITIIR is so much more that the average metal release nowadays; it challenges the listener with lots of different moods, riffs and progressive parts, but it also rewards those who are patient with an album that grows every time you listen to it. RIITIIR has become a heartfelt piece of art that will guarantee many hours of honest feelings. Of course it is no party soundtrack or elevator music: only if you concentrate on the album, you will find that it holds much beauty and has quite a lot to say.
Originally written for www.northwind-promotion.org
It is never easy to comment a legendary black metal band’s new release. Reviewer judgment is inevitably blurred by a set of historical and stylistic shenanigans that have often nothing to do with the product we are finally listening. Enslaved, a founding member of the Norwegian second wave constitutes an excellent example of this. Each of their new albums offer more progressive compositions, polishing the edges of music once rougher. However, obtained quality confuses the skeptics and shut down nostalgic old timers regretting first demos and Frost era.
Two years after releasing the magnificent Axioma Odini Ethica, while also changing label, Ivar Bjørnson, Grutle Kjellson and friends come back with RIITIIR an album that confirms their stylistic orientations and takes them away again a little further from their black metal roots. But this finding does not preclude me to deliver my opinion about Enslaved twelfth release.
I’ll be honest: numerous listenings were needed before enjoying this record I first found banal. Nuclear Blast vast promo campaign prior to its release perplexed me, even made me suspicious. Available extracts evoked the band’s usual style, but lacked this unique and innovative touch that makes it so special. Once purchased, I listened this album more than twenty times in all conceivable circumstances, to understand my discomfort’s origin.
It probably comes from a sense of déjà vu (or « déjà heard » in this case). Similarities with previous albums are so frequent that I cannot help but perceive a form of self-plagiarism. Band seems to have developed a certain recipe, alternating abrupt metal sequences, accompanied by Grutle Kjellson’s very guttural singing, and epic moments, made with keyboards and Herbrand Larsen’s beautiful clean voice. All songs are built with this contrast, a style dialogue one can observe since Isa album. I’m probably too harsh, but from a major band like Enslaved, I always expect more than a mere replication, however good it may be.
This does not mean that RIITIIR is bad. Even average, according to the band self-established standards, this album is still superior to most equivalent releases I’ve heard recently. Several songs, such as Veilburner and Materal, have brilliant progressive passages that recall their authors’ exceptional talent. But I remain puzzled about the band’s future. Will it evolve again, or will it stick to a formula that gives it success and recognition? The grade I give may seem harsh, but it is rather a mark of vigilance. I would find it extremely unfortunate that Enslaved, for which I have immense respect, becomes a band paying tribute to… Enslaved. 7/10
Originally written for Métal Obscur.