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After a strong album in 2010 with 'Axioma Ethica Odini', Enslaved comes hot on that album's heels with a free EP. Giving fans their latest fix with a batch of five songs, 'The Sleeping Gods' does not feel like anything particularly significant in the band's catalogue, instead feeling like the band just wanting to get some more music out there for people to listen to and enjoy. For what this short album lacks in longevity and depth however, it is certainly enjoyable while it lasts, with each track taking its own very distinct path. Being arguably the most diverse thing that Enslaved has ever released in their career, 'The Sleeping Gods' is a good, interesting EP from the band, even if it may be little more than merely that.
The first song 'Heimvegen' is arguably the most typical Enslaved track that we have become used to hearing from albums like 'Vertebrae', and the latest. It is arguably the best thing that 'The Sleeping Gods' has to offer, and manages to pack some black metal, gradual build ups, as well as an epic chorus section to climax things. 'Alu Misyrki' isn't quite a s memorable, but it is certainly more energetic, taking the tempo up a few notches and diving deeper into black metal territory. Reaching the middle of the EP comes a big surprise from Enslaved, a six minute ambient soundscape piece called 'Synthesis'. Although it is certainly atmospheric, it does tend to get fairly boring and overdrawn, plodding on through muffled whispers and electronic ambiance. Although it is refreshing and to the EP's benefit to switch things up like this halfway through, 'Synthesis' could have likely had more of an impact were it somewhat shorter, as opposed to being the longest piece on the album.
If 'Synthesis' was surprise enough, then 'Nordlys' tops it. Enslaved has always been adventurous with what they do, but taking their sound into what feels more like post-punk than anything else was certainly an unexpected twist. 'Nordlys' is an instrumental track that begins off on a fairly upbeat note, sounding almost as if Enslaved were covering a track by The Cure, believe it or not. The track eventually barrels down to some heavier viking metal riffs, but the initial excitement makes it a very cool track. And lastly is a track that feels much more familiar to the Enslaved fan than the previous two; the title track. 'The Sleeping Gods' is a song that seeks out Enslaved's pagan folk roots; something that was explored as far back as the band's earliest albums. Led on by deep vocals from Grutle Kjellson and booming drums, the song has a presence to it, but it is a little derivative and feels like the band did this sound quite a bit better with early pagan songs like 'Yggdrasil', off 1994's 'Frost' record. In any case, it caps off 'The Sleeping Gods' in a somewhat triumphant mood, even if it may not be the best track here.
Although Enslaved has not created something I believe will hold much weight by the time the next album rolls around, there are few EPs or albums out there I can think of where each song is distinctive from one another. 'The Sleeping Gods' is a strong interim release from this band, and has made me excited to hear the next full-length from these giants of black metal.
This is a little treat for the Enslaved fans like me! Coming out of nowhere, this was a really pleasant surprise. I was a bit bothered though, because it seems that a physical format of this release is not available. That annoys me a bit. I would love to spend some bucks to have this in my collection! Never mind, it seems like this is a free gift for the fans.
The music is really good, although my guess is that these are the leftovers form "Axioma Ethica Odini". The synth/keyboard work stands out and the music is given a nice melancholic touch by the mellotron. The vocal combination works well on this release; the contrast between clean and harsh is nice and thankfully doesn't sound like copy-pasted random parts put together. The songs all have a structure. They do not get overly long or boring; this EP had my full attention for the whole time. The drumming is solid as always, and I think an exotic flavor is incorporated in Cattos' style. The bass is only heard sometimes. The guitars are really noteworthy; they are probably the best aspect of Enslaved, alongside the vocals.
I like the opening melodic riff of "Heimvegen". The vocals sound a bit whiny at the beginning though. The song becomes better when the harsh vocals come in and the clean ones compliment the harsh from the background. I don't know what the fuck these people are growling/singing about, but I don't care either! I fucking like it anyway! "Alu Misyrki" begins with a riff that sounds a bit thrashy to me, and I like it! This song is really good when the clean vocals sound like they're coming from far away. There is a nice solo in this song. "Synthesis" is basically an atmospheric ambient track. It's nice, I guess. I don't really know a lot about ambient but this sounds really nice. "Nordlys" starts off with a nice prog rock melody of clean guitars and it continues building up. It's a nice instrumental. "The Sleeping Gods" has outstanding vocal melodies. And nice, audible bass lines! The keyboards also sound great behind the vocals. The EP ends with some eerie keyboard work.
The production and mixing are great and the musicianship is rock solid as always. This is a really nice blend of progressive rock and black metal, as we have come to expect from Enslaved. A worthy addition to any digital collection. I only hope this is released physically in the future.
Highlights: "Nordlys" and "The Sleeping Gods".
The exact background story of why they released this EP for free is mysterious and you could maliciously say that it is just some kind of making use of leftovers. However, The Sleeping Gods offers nearly thirty minutes of free music and that is the reason why we are going into detail.
The Sleeping Gods is really influenced a lot by their latest release Axioma Ethica Odini, but the new songs can not really hold the level of quality. Heimvegn starts in mid-tempo with melodic riffs, decent synthesizer sounds, and those beloved clean vocals. This structure does not hold very long as it gets transformed into a harsher one. The clean vocals are replaced with growls and the guitars are playing more furious. The whole song seems very spherical without unnecessary gimmickry.
Alu Misyrki starts with a melody that is clearly influenced by prog-rock, which suits their new style quite well. This melody is soon accompanied by some growls and rhythm that recolors the song into something colder. The song is really thrilling and kept in high-tempo, setting a clear contrast according to the opener. Sadly, there are some weaker songs on the EP as well, one of which is the "instrumental" Synthesis. This song features six minutes of synthesizer sounds with some vocal samples, but nothing really cool.
As the EP is so varied, I have to describe the other two songs as well. Nordlys is another instrumental and it starts nearly as progressive rock-like as Alu Misyrki, but a lot slower. The song develops as time flies by and gets harsher and frisky every minute. The title track is the bouncer of the EP and it is really slow and straight-lined, yet still mysterious. Again it offers something totally different than every other song has done. The production is as good as expected with only the cymbals sounding a bit awkward sometimes.
As The Sleeping Gods is available for free, it clearly has exceeded my expectations in terms of quality, yet it has to be compared with their latest output, and while that might be an unfair comparison, I have to state that it is a lot weaker in terms of complexity and feeling. Those flaws are a bit attenuated as I heard the record several times. The only thing left to ask is: Why aren't you downloading already?!
nilgoun / http://threnodies.com
So, what could surpass a disc of unexpected new material from one of your favorite bands in the world? A disc of FREE new material from one of your favorite bands in the world. Surely, Enslaved fits that bill for me, a ceaseless evolutionary blade of brilliance that has grown nothing but sharper, the deeper into their years. Their progression and mutation might not suit everyone equally, but there are few acts whose new output I so anticipate in the 21st century. The Sleeping Gods is a half hour, impressive download which continues to stride in similar dynamic streams to their latest masterpiece, Axioma Ethica Odini, if even wider in scope. Interestingly, it's been released online in partnership with Scion A/V, a creative media sub-division of the car company...
Yes, yes, I can hear it now, an Enslaved background track for some sleek, fanciful automobile commercial, and the cries of outrage and 'selling out' by the cavern dwellers who have likely already hated the band since they released Frost. Don't waste your time with such. The Sleeping Gods is every bit as wonderful and worthy of enormous replay value as the band's past two full-lengths, and the onus that it costs nothing should not dissuade you from checking it out. The five tracks show a vast array of variation that might damn well attract listeners from the band's various 'phases' of progression. "Heimvegen" is a tranquil, melodic romp endowed with a blissful synthetic, orchestral backdrop and cleaner vocal tone; placid until the wonderful eruption of percussion in the bridge above which the hoarse snarling ensues in the desperate, trailing guitar melody.
"Alu Misyrki' might be the biggest surprise, a storming old school black punk injection slathered in raunchy vocals, pretty close to what Darkthrone were writing for The Cult is Alive or Dark Thrones and Black Flags, only cleaner and swerving into tidier, progressive pastures (I LOVE the backing guitar melody around 1:10). Then, the Norwegians make a complete 180-degree arc into ambient territory with "Synthesis". Gentle guitar strings fluctuate across deeper keyboards and whispered, sparse vocals, eventually escalating into a near-industrial electro throb. The aim of instrumental "Nordlys" is perhaps a more creepy alternative to the viral Vertebrae material, a flood of raging immersion as massive chords crash into a subtext of barely perceptive melody, then a straight on wind-wash of melancholic, melodic indie rock with a psychedelic underpinning. Lastly, there is another surprise in "The Sleeping Gods", a rousing Viking folk piece dowsed in resonant percussion, acoustic musings, serious vocals; something Godspeed! You Black Emperor might write if they desired to pay tribute to the Norse mythos and somehow developed ice in their testicles and veins.
Really, it's just another superbly tuned experience for those willing to join Enslaved as their expanding signals create circular ripples into the bloodstream of a broader aesthetic spectrum. Simultaneously, it does not abandon the band's black metal roots, and wisely confines some of the more experimental material that might have wound up on a future full-length. This is a band who, first and foremost, are concerned in writing music. Enduring, compelling music. I have not found myself disappointed with anything they've released since they started to appreciably expand their borders (Mardraum in 2000), and this EP is far from an exception. "Heimvegen" takes a minute or so to truly develop; "Synthesis" might have lost me for a few seconds; but otherwise there's just nothing here I'd ever want to change.
Enslaved surprises us all by releasing a new EP almost half a year after the great Axioma Ethica Odini, one of my personal favourites albums of the last year, which made it into a lot of 2010's Top Ten lists and brought a lot of righteous succes around the world to the two decade old band. Axioma Ethica Odini was, in my opinion, the band most friendly sounding album, featuring a lot of clean singing and melodies mixed with Progressive/Psychedellic Rock and, of course, the old good black metal elements.
The band's evolution though their career it's a pretty curious one, leading with each release more and more into this Progressive/Psychedelic/Melodic territory, with a more straight forward 'verse/chorus' song structure. I would say Enslaved's modern sound trully started with Below the Lights, another one of their masterpieces, still not fully showcasing the modern sound of the band; some kind of a bridge between their old viking/black metal sound and their new approach (though Monumension hinted somehow the direction they were going to take). This EP called The Sleeping Gods it's like a step back into the Below the Lights era, with the aforementioned album atmosphere but adding some modern elements that make this release unique, thought not flawless.
The EP starts calmly with Heimvegen; the band trademark riffs enter, the keyboards build the proper feeling and Larsen's beautiful vocals (although lately I'm getting bored of their overuse) kick in. The first thing you are going to notice is that the lyrics are in Norwegian! Suddenly, after a small bridge, Grutle's growls enter, sounding surprisingly lower, more akin to the band first albums. The song keeps building up and Larsen brings great backing vocals, creating a nice mix of the two contrasting aspects of the band, the raw and the melodic, ending abruptly with some creepy whispers samples, and then jumping on to the next track.
Alu Misyrki instantly makes the thing more aggressive and faster: an almost black/thrash number, with Grutle growling savagely. Larsen vocals then enter, making it sound more like a traditional metal piece. After changing the pace into a mid tempo fierce black metal (akin to Ruun slower pieces), packed with Bjørnson's growls, the song repeats the same structure, followed by a beautifully crafted melodic solo and ending with crushing riffs.
Next song is an instrumental one, very reminiscent of last album's Axioma: Synthesis. The track is clearly influenced by Pink Floyd's On the Run, mixing ambient, psychedelia and some electronics, with some haunting voices added to the mix in the background. Although I consider it a great interlude, it gets very long and repetitive after a while, being exagerately the album longest song.
Another instrumental follows, Nordlys. It would not look out of place in a Joy Division album: the bassline and the eerie textures the guitar and keys create are very post-punk influenced. In the middle of the song, some heavy riffing enters and the song keeps building up until the lead guitar fades out slowly.
The last track is the one that gives it's name to the EP, The Sleeping Gods. It's a very -for the sake of the word- viking song, with chanted vocals similar to those found in the band's classic Havenless, acoustic guitars, Norse-sounding drums and a flute-like synth that truly evokes images of Norway during the Viking Age. The song reminds at a constant pace and ends the EP oddly, leaving you wanting for more and asking yourself 'is this it? Is it already over?'; and there is when the main problems that I sense in this release appear.
While the songs are very good and the production and perfomances are top notch as the band got us used to lately, it has some flaws. As I said before, Synthesis could have been shorter, giving place to another song or expanding the tracks a little more. I also expected a more epic and bombastic ending song; The Sleeping Gods is a great track, but I think it makes the experience end in a strange way, like it was rushed or incomplete. I can feel the cohesion between the songs, and the album flows greatly, but it seems to me unfinished, ending very abruptly. I know it's not a studio album, but it could have been a more complete experience.
The Sleeping Gods it's a great addition to the band discography, made of couple of good songs with very varied styles mixed on to them and a lot of good ideas, which I wish the band could work with in the next albums. Enslaved seems to grow with each release, getting better and more varied. It's somehow a return to earlier works, and it does not feel neither forced nor more of the same: it's fresh, creative and flows greatly, and the best thing of it all is that it can be downloaded for free!