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Expanding Isa. - 73%

ConorFynes, September 1st, 2016

Like Monumension, Ruun feels like a superior take on the album that came before it, that nonetheless suffers from its context. In the case of the former, Mardraum – Beyond the Within in 2000 set Enslaved on their path towards becoming a full-fledged progressive metal act. While they mastered that style on Below the Lights, it wasn’t until Isa where the “modern” Enslaved was born. Here was a band that had fought tooth and nail to complete their transition, and had finally done so with total confidence and polished execution. Be that as it may, I honestly found Isa way too restrained for its own good. The sharp songwriting and clever style-blending was there, but it wasn’t until Ruun where I started hearing them injecting some much-needed energy back into their music.

Here’s another case where Enslaved appear to have created a “sequel” album. The greater dynamic range and greater moments of intensity on Ruun make it a bigger hit for me than Isa, which always held me somewhat at bay on the grounds of its relative sleepiness. Even the artwork corroborates the impression that Ruun was intended to ride the coattails of their breakthrough album. Isa’s impeccable sense of flow and structure remains untouched, but in most other respects, Ruun is a more unpredictable, interesting, and ultimately enjoyable album to listen to. My personal preference between the two is clear, which is why I’m still surprised that Isa still manages to leave a more memorable impression. Whatever it was, Enslaved were trailblazing on Isa. Here, they’re simply consolidating what they did before.

Even if Ruun was a safer step for Enslaved to take, the album holds up just as well as Isa a decade on. The greater energy is apparent from the very start; the opener “Entroper” fast rose to become one of my favourite Enslaved tunes ever between its upbeat pace and organic arrangement. The title track “Ruun” always struck me as a bit of an oddball, but the exotic build was memorable from the first time I heard it. The rhythmic explorations of “Api-Vat” and relatively mellowed sound on “Essence” are other lesser-lauded gems of their discography. The single “Path to Vanir” would have you think Enslaved were content to stick to the mid-paced slump from Isa, but they spread their wings with this album. Nothing else on Ruun moves me quite like “Entroper”, but each of the tracks here has been given meticulous attention. Part of Enslaved’s greatness lies in the fact that they can back up hard-hitting riffs with warm vintage textures. If Isa’s production was perfect yet cold, Ruun graciously let some of the organic texture seep back into the execution.

At this point in their career, I don’t think I could have expected less than quality material from Enslaved. I think it’s absolutely to their credit that they made their breakthrough almost 15 years into being a band. Ruun was probably the first album of theirs that enjoyed Enslaved’s confidence of having already “made it.” Ruun is just Enslaved doing what they want to do, without so much of the stress of trying to expand their fanbase. Although they did technically improve their craft here, I guess part of the reason it doesn’t stand out to me as much some of their other albums is precisely the feeling they got a bit too comfortable here. While I’m sure many fans were all too eager to hear an Isa part two, Enslaved have always been best when they’re pushing themselves. That wasn’t really the case here, but they’re otherwise hard to fault when their material is this consistent.