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Enslaved - RIITIIR - 90%

ThrashManiacAYD, October 20th, 2012

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