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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.