Review Summary: With a multitude of musically successful albums under their belt, 'Riitiir' does not appear that significant-Yet it is still a masterful work in its own right.
The evolution of Enslaved is strongly similar to that of the evolution of man (The scientific one, not the biblical one). Enslaved were formed on the basis of two very young yet very talented musicians in Ivar Bjornson and Grutle Kjellson, and over two decades later, every one of the band's albums could easily be inducted into their very own hall of fame. The legendary Viking-inspired Black Metal traditions of “Vikingligr Veldi” and “Frost”, the homages to warfare and folklore in “Eld” and “Blodhemn”, and the surprising yet gradual shift in sound on “Mardraum-Beyond the Within” all play a part in Enslaved's ongoing success as an extreme metal band. Ever since the more progressive-tinged likes of “Monumension” and “Below the Lights” opened up a completely new world to music purists and critics alike, the idea that not one of Enslaved's past seven albums sound like each other in the slightest way is a staggeringly successful achievement in itself.
We now find ourselves in 2012, a year that is thought by many (idiots, geniuses, call them what you will) to be the end of the world. Don't worry though, because even if this world does eventually crumble to dust, you can die happily, having listened to Enslaved's last album, “Riitiir”, an album that is gargantually epic, magnificently written and eerily yet much more progressive than ever before. Saying that this is one of the best or defining moments of Enslaved's career is perhaps too exaggerated a statement, but it is one statement that you will certainly question in your mind when listening to each every one of “Riitiir”'s eight tracks. Oh, did I mention that this album is the band's longest offering to date as well? I didn't? Well, those of you that haven't already listened to the album yet may as well brace yourselves with intense courage, as these next sixty-seven or so minutes need to be listened without any distractions of any sort.
As on Enslaved's past three or four albums, “Riitiir” is in touch with the philosophical and the mind-bending ideas that have haunted Norse folklore many a century ago. It's something that Enslaved excel at as a band, and although their complex ideas and concepts complement the nature of their music very well and somehow reflect each other, it is hard not to appreciate their intelligent input into their lyrical content and choice of song titles as well as the sound itself. A perfect example of this is the hypnotically charged and dream-like soundscapes of opening masterpiece 'Thoughts like Hammers', a song that doesn't just open your eyes with its cleverly written lyrics and Floydian influences, but rather prises them open violently with its epic atmospheres and grandiose compositions. As the clean and harsh vocals of both Kjellson and Larsen complement each other in as addictive a way as ABBA did in the seventies, their voices both contribute to the nature of the lyrics. “Celestial buried Mind resting/Resting without peace still/Don't know where I drowned” already gives off a slightly uncanny emotion as the harsh, distorted vocals spit them out, as if Kjellson himself was drowning at the same time. Then, with not a moment to waste, keyboardist Larsen arrives and harmonizes the entire song itself when beautifully singing “Assimililated logic/Drawn towards the ladders/Elucidated, burned, afraid”, and automatically you can tell that both vocalists have worked on their own vocal styles to produce something that is exactly as well performed as each of the other instruments. Mind you, this is only the first three minutes of the first song. And there's sixty-four more to go.
This idea is continued on the much more melodic yet similarly stunning 'Veilburner', a song that almost takes you on a journey as both Larsen and Kjellson pass the honour to each other in exchanging both dull, guttural and hypnotic, dream-like vocal styles. “Finding the truth doesn't mean there's an answer” could easily be spoken by any English-speaking human being, but Kjellson somehow manages to make it all the more convincing when his dull roar comes into play and terrorizes the life out of any listener who dares to come across “Riitiir”. This is followed by Larsen's harmonic vocal style, as he sings in a sorrowful way that “I found myself crawling, looking for an 'Out', and made the gap no closer anymore”. 'Veilburner' itself may well be this album's equivalent of 'Path to Vanir', a song that also manages to take the listener on a journey.
According to a previous interview with Metal Hammer magazine, Enslaved admit that they have experimented with structures and compositions more than ever before on “Riitiir”, and it certainly shows very clearly. The winding, spiralling introduction to 'Storm of Memories' is a little reminiscent of “Vertebrae”'s title track, but is nonetheless a very different song altogether. You are hypnotized by its repetitive keyboard and synthesiser effects, helped to be all the more consistent thanks to heavy yet concise guitar work that could easily give anyone a thumping headache, yet just as you are about to expect more of the same, Kjellson arrives with his horribly harsh vocals and sounds like a demon as he rips through the song, itself changing and meandering all the way to a point where you wonder if you're even on the same album. There are more upbeat, straight-to-the-point songs such as the more Black metal tendencies of 'Roots of the Mountain' and the short yet snappy title track, but even then there is just as much diversity going on as in the album's first few tracks, and it all proves to be something considerably grand.
So how much can actually be packed into sixty-seven minutes? Asking yourself that question in regards to an Enslaved album is like asking why we need all five of our major organs-It's pointless because the answer is obvious. The instrumentation itself here is something noteworthy to a considerable degree, because even if the atmospheric production and heavenly melody does slightly take away from the rumbling bass work and thundering drums, there is still room allowed for each particular instrument. The guitar work here is of considerable importance, simply because it seems to change on every single song. The more mid-paced likes of opener 'Thoughts like Hammers' and ode to nature that is 'Materal' provide a subtle yet precise focus on each particular instrument, as it is just as breathtaking as it is eye-opening to so much as hear natural sounds of wind and fire be complemented by Isdal's and Bjornson's well performed guitar work. The bass and drums generally act as a shadow of each other, yet the way in which they are presented in each song suggests that there is focus to be found on these instruments as well as the guitars and keyboards. In particular the dominating force of Kjellson's bass work provides 'Storm of Memories' with a doomy yet Rock 'n' Roll influenced sound to the overall song.
Every song on “Riitiir” is, in it's own significant way, a true highlight and progression of the band's sound, yet 'Death in the Eyes of Dawn' and truly astounding closer 'Forsaken' (not to be confused with the Dream Theater song of the same name) both compete for the best song of the album. Whereas the former invites the listener to be mezmerized by its swirling melodies and haunting, dream-like essence, the latter actually takes some influences from 70's Punk Rock (that admittedly isn't as clear as you think it should be) but still remains as a purely 'Enslaved' song. The idea that 'Death in the Eyes of Dawn' involves so much into its eight minutes is something that wouldn't surprise those who have heard the band's last few albums, yet by taking just one listen of the album's closing track 'Forsaken', you can be taken in very easily by its brief ambient interludes and stupendously well performed acoustic guitar interludes.
Say that I'm being too fanboyish, or that it's hugely overrated, or even that it's being reviewed too soon. “Riitiir” has reached my ears no less than four or five times, and it can still be said that once again, Enslaved have reached a pinnacle in their career, perhaps surprising those who thought they couldn't get any better than say, “Isa” or “Axioma Ethica Odini”. I end this review thusly: Listening to “Riitiir” is like unwrapping a present on Christmas Day-You get more and more excited fumbling through the wrapping paper, but only with true patience and careful focus will the final product or outcome be truly pleasing. Listen to this more than once, and you will surely understand its existence.