posted on 2/2005 By:
It’s hard to believe that a band can be around as long as Enslaved has without not only managing not to lose their edge, but actually picking up speed. To thrive without just recycling ideas, but actually turning new corners, flirting with accessibility while not shedding one iota of credibility. If few bands can do it, it’s no great surprise that Enslaved are among the names on that shortlist. They’ve been playing black metal on their own terms for fourteen years. Having reigned among the champions of Viking metal for a good part of the 90’s, the band then began a metamorphosis that saw them branch out into something much more dynamic. Although some purists may prefer the band’s early work, few fans can dispute the quality of their more recent efforts. Isa picks up where the terrific Below the Lights left off, and provides further evidence that Enslaved’s progression hasn’t ended, rather they continue to build on their successes while also pushing into new territories.
What makes Isa (meaning “ice”) work so well is that the album is a complex series of contrasts of style and mood that have no business as intertwined as Enslaved has skillfully woven them. The interplay of black and progressive metal is certainly not new for the band, but Isa finds them hitting their stride and blending genres more seamlessly. The band sounds amazingly focused and the songs are carefully crafted. The riff work mixes more traditional black metal playing with a mid tempo black and roll style that gives the material a heftiness and depth, and the vocals are varied and tremendously effective, as main man Grutle Kjellson enlists the help of an army of guest musicians. Nocturno Culto (Darkthrone) lends his throat to the title track and “Bounded By Allegiance”, Ofu Kahn (Red Harvest) guests on “Ascension”, Abbath (Immortal) sings on “Lunar Force”, and most interestingly, Norwegian country artist Stig Sandbakk sings on “Ascension” and “Return to Yggdrasill”. The band also uses El-Regn’s Dennis Reksten on keys, which are used frequently but in an effectively minimalist style.
The texture and layering of the music is masterful and creates an uncommonly dynamic range, as the band effortlessly shifts between soundscapes of narrow icy corridors and resplendent scenic aerials. “Return to Yggdrasill” serves as a perfect example of this, as its frosty oppressiveness gives way to soaring acoustics and stunning clean vocals, before delivering a hammer blow of aggression and yielding seamlessly into more clean acoustics. Some of these interludes sound as if they are borrowed from a King Crimson or Pink Floyd album. Impressively, Enslaved even contrasts the contrasts, by balancing their stylistic vacillations with linear build ups that culminate in massive crescendos on tracks like “Bounded By Allegiance” and “Violet Dawning”. The album climaxes with the twelve minute “Neogenesis”, a track that opens with a lengthy almost popish section (and the only vocals that don’t really work for me) before unleashing a volley of heavy staccato riffing, which gives way to fantastic open, bluesy soloing. The band tears loose once more, before closing the epic song with a lengthy Pink Floyd-ish outro. The songs are consistently strong throughout the fifty one minutes, and more than once I’ve pressed play again, following the dying notes of the outro track.
Enslaved continue to deliver top class metal and have unleashed an album that is well conceptualized and executed and is entirely cohesive. Regardless of your views on black metal, some albums transcend genres and should be heard by all metal fans. Isa is for all of us.
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The Sleeping Gods
Axioma Ethica Odini
Return to Yggdrasill - Live in Bergen
Below the Lights