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Enslaved - In Times - 80%

ThrashManiacAYD, April 5th, 2015

By now fully deserving of the ‘legendary’ tag, a new Enslaved album is always cause of celebration, for any band boasting a discography 13 albums strong yet devoid of a duff one amongst the lot ought to be bestowed honorary knighthoods. Consider the variation the Norwegian five piece continue to intertwine in their deeply layered and determined sound from album to album and the realisation is frankly startling, as "In Times" continues to deliver on the band’s extreme, progressive talents through six tracks that sound new and refreshed, obsessively constructed and uniquely crafted and always, always redolent of this one band only.

It is hardly surprising to state “In Times" did not instantly appeal for yours truly, with opinions distinctly lukewarm in my early listens but as with "RIITIIR" and the more recent records of the band’s discography the gradual emergence of hidden aspects within complex song structures makes for countless enjoyable playbacks. For the shedding of the band’s black metal roots they have rightly received no opprobrium as in place is a sumptuous delivery of unusual chord progressions - take the staggered opening to "Daylight" for example - the upbeat springtime optimism of "Building with Fire" or tempered anger of "One Thousand Years of Rain”. And of course there are the clean vocals of keyboardist Herbrand Larsen, that continue to assume an even greater share of the spoils against Grutle Kjellson's throaty howl. All too often clean vocals are incorporated into extreme metal templates with cynicism and mass appeal intentions but you'll notice Enslaved’s artistic intentions have never been questioned in this respect.

On the topic of vocals "One Thousand Years of Rain" also brings to the party group chants, something for the band never exactly been renowned for. The effect is a slight upping of the song’s epic qualities and my wish for the band to utilise this tactic a little more when conducted in this ‘hidden’ manner. Less obtuse is the overall ‘extreme progressive’ tag underpinning the entire 53 minutes of this album. "Nauthir Bleeding" starts like a freeform Rush track before slowly taking on more recognisable Enslaved qualities - infact Larsen's vocals which open the track could easily have led the entirety of the track with no loss of favour in my estimations, but his presence remains profound through the sweeping keyboard chords he offers behind Kjellson's bellowing in those most progressive of tracks. The lead work from Ivar Bjørnson and Arve Isdal in the closing half of the track is perhaps the most perfect demonstration of that. The musical element always least noticeable in the band’s work is Kjellson’s bass lines which have not often stood out from the quality musicianship all-around but his chance to shine comes in the title track’s opening. Despite boasting such a committed chorus headlined by Larsen’s fantastic vocal lines the fairly aimless opening and mid-song jazz piano interlude to the song continues to leave this one my least enjoyable of the six tracks on offer.

Whatever pretences one might wish to place upon Enslaved’s desires to foray further into uncharted ground, as evidenced by the album’s opening in "Thurisaz Dreaming" they are a band fully conscious of their heritage and the ever-lasting need to retain a strong pedigree of extremity in sound. Do not expect them to exit the metal arena, ala Opeth, any time soon. Personal preference only dictates how highly "In Times" rates amongst Enslaved’s staggering discography; for me the overall lack of impact of small periods dotted around the album and a preference for the harsher end of their sound hold it less favourably than 2012’s "RIITIIR" but that is not to escape the simple fact these Norwegian heroes cannot release a bad album. Twenty-five years going strong and never living off past glories.

Originally written for Rockfreaks.net