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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.