Review Summary: I'm typing a storm.
For a southerner like myself, listening to Enslaved feels like being slapped by a gale of Nordic snow, their riffs an avalanche, and Grutle Kjellson’s growls, the voice of a vengeful spirit warning me of my trespassing into the northern realm. With fifteen albums on their back, the Norwegian squad led by Kjellson and Ivar Bjørnson have no intention of slowing down their output, and far from becoming a stagnant version of their former selves, Enslaved is back in 2020 with yet another fantastic blend of all things metal.
(as in Útgarðar
and meaning literally “out-yards”) takes the band through a journey around the outer world connected to Yggdrasil, “the home of external cosmic forces” and “home of the Jotun”, which is what my very limited knowledge and research of Norse mythology allows me to elucidate. Enslaved couldn’t have found a more proper setting for unleashing an even more refined version of their space-prog-rock-meets-black-metal. When “Fires in the Dark” opens the album with prime evil chants, the track slowly unfolds into the band’s niche of terrifying gutturals, crushing guitars and a pummeling rhythm section while slowly giving way to Kjellson’s bewitching clean vocals and a whole array of percussion and acoustic instrumentation. It only takes a few minutes to hear that Enslaved, ladies and gentlemen, are back in tip-top shape.
The Norwegians switch styles with so much ease that is almost laughable. In theory, with almost 30 years into their career, fifteen full length releases and as many members coming in and out of the project as to form a philharmonic orchestra, Enslaved should be a worn-out, uninspired version of the band that once transformed the Norwegian black metal scene in the 90s, but this is not the case. Release after release, the band from Bergen always manage to preserve the essence of their sound, infuse with a little bit of something else, and produce new material that feels as consistent with their discography as fresh and exciting for new and old fans alike.
It’s the case of a song like “Urjotun”, which starts with a sinister synth line and soon evolves into the band’s take on (what!?) kraut rock, with Kjellson singing on a quavering low register, showing how gracefully his voice has aged, like damn fine wine. In the background, the band faithfully takes the shape of the Enslaved of the last ten years like time had stopped for them. “Homebound” is probably one of the most accessible tracks of Utgard
thanks to Bjørnson ‘s stellar riffs and a raging chorus courtesy of drummer Ivar Sandøy that lingers in the back of your head like an ice burn. “Flight of Thought and Memory” recalls that time the band broke out the mold of the genre with 2000’s Mardraum: Beyond the Within
, chaining furious blast beats with thunderous vocals. “Distant Seasons”, a bone-chilling, heart-melting mid-tempo, closes Utgard
with a dreamy feel that wouldn't feel out of place on a Motorpsycho record.
While it’s pointless to proclaim Enslaved’s latest release as their best, reason being the vast amount of content that conforms their catalogue and its extremely variated nature, it’s fair to say that Utgard
functions as well as a good entry point to their music as to the next logic step after 2017’s E
that fans of the band were probably expecting. Enslaved can’t do wrong at this point, and they have proved it once again.