Review Summary: With album 14, Enslaved prove they are still titans in the world of metal.
To call Enslaved a colossal force in the Norwegian metal scene would be an understatement. Pumping out outstandingly good albums such as 'Vertebrae' and 'Axioma', the band have some truly monumental works of art to showcase. As well as being able to boast those master crafted records, they also have the credibility of being remarkably consistent, only sporadically releasing an album which does not equate to their established quality. The previous two records released by the band follow this trend of consistency, but they signalled a shift into a more progressive style. So, it is only lucid that 'E' follows this stylistic change, but it does so in a much more cohesive manner than 'In Times'.
From the very beginning of this record, it is indisputably apparent that most of the songs take a considerably long time to detonate into their more hectic sections. This is due to drawn out intros, followed by riffs that often outstay their welcome. While this can become tedious, the songs do ignite into moments of incredible musicality, such as the saxophone solo on 'Hiindsight', and the various groovy riffs found throughout the records entirety.
Onto more positive aspects, a new addition to the band comes from Vinje, who adds a gloriously psychedelic synth performance and powerful backing vocals to the mix. These additions are crucial for this record, as it prevents it falling into the abyss of being just another Enslaved album. Whilst these don't sound like vast changes to the band's formula, they do grant the record recognisable qualities that can be distinguished from other Enslaved albums, giving it a sense of character. As well as this, it helps avoid the harrowing threat of the desired sound becoming stale. Whether this is through dizzying synth sections, or the backing vocals fusing with Kjellson's abrasive performance, Vinje proves to be essential in filling the void for some of the band's previous problems found on previous efforts.
As for the other instrumental performances, it is business as usual for Enslaved. The drums and bass offer a solid backbone for the guitars to soar into hypnotic barrages of magnificence, most notably on the intro to 'Axis of the Worlds'. Enslaved prove here that they can still make music saturated with expertly good qualities, keeping the listener entertained. Thankfully, there are also some purely black metal sections scattered throughout the flood of progressiveness, which may often be overwhelming for the listener. This is most likely to please fans of the older Enslaved, and offers a much needed dose of intensity to keep the record interesting. On top of this, the production found here is somewhat lacklustre, and hinders the quality of the record, but only to a certain extent. Fortunately, this does not render the songs becoming egregious.
As a whole, 'E' is rife with fantastic moments, but is not astray from poor ones as well. The sheer progressive qualities of this record may be enough to steer away less patient listeners, but will prove rewarding for those who dig deep into the songs. For the more seasoned fans of Enslaved and other progressive efforts akin to this, 'E' will prove to be a valuable addition to their collection. When compared to the strongest releases from the band, this does not fare too well, yet it still remains an excellent record, which is not likely to disappoint.