Review Summary: Towards a new dawn
It is to the sound of Heimdal's horn that our journey through Enslaved's sixteenth chapter begins. Prominent figure in Norse mythology, Heimdal is known as the watchman of the gods and guardian of Bifrost, the rainbow bridge that connects Asgard, the realm of the gods, to Midgard, the realm of humans. His role as a link between worlds, as well as his ability to navigate the complex relationships between them, make him a fascinating and complex deity in Norse mythology. Enslaved's narrative mainly focuses on the existing theory that Heimdal, also known as Heimdallr, will become the new main god after Odin following the events of Ragnarok, the apocalyptic battle between gods and giants that will lead to the end of days. In this new world, a new generation of gods will rise to power and take the place of the old ones who fell in the war. Heimdal is also regarded as the god of dawn and is believed to announce it with his horn, Gjallarhorn, which is the sound we hear at the beginning of the opener, 'Behind The Mirror'. By this point, we've left the land behind and are heading into a new dawn hidden behind the fog; towards the unknown.
Anyone familiar with the band's sui generis approach to the genre has grown accustomed to expecting the unexpected, so it is with anticipation and excitement that we sail through the mist to the sound of Gjallarhorn, blown by fellow countryman Eilif Gundersen from Wardruna. Although glimpses of the journey (some more obvious than others) have already been unveiled on the 2021 EP, Caravans to the Outer Worlds
, namely its title track, it’s unclear if it mirrors Heimdal's
core personality; and even if it does, Enslaved's unpredictable nature always ensures an exciting and mysterious ride. The opener's Sabbath-like syncopated kickoff and contrast with the subsequent more progressive section set the tone for what's to come, exposing both the band's primal roots and their more experimental side. Heimdal
has a more organic feel than its most recent predecessors, a less polished approach that gives it a rawer edge while remaining complex and adventurous. This more unrefined blackened aesthetic, though present throughout the album, is magnificently explored in 'Congelia', which delivers a constant and overwhelming flow, much like rapids moving swiftly towards the waterfall. Despite the instrumental and vocal layers, it has a somewhat minimalist vibe that captures the essence of the genre, making it a personal highlight. 'Caravans To The Outer Worlds' is yet another song that showcases this more straightforward persona, either through its early outburst and electrifying verse section or via its haunting howl at halfway point, which makes me want to invade a country and pillage a village. It is at the crossroads between old, dangerous tracks and more open, experimental roads that Heimdal
stands. Its psychedelic flavor also plays a big part in its personality, as evidenced in 'Kingdom’s' Orransi Pazuzu-esque segment. Although the Krautrock approach is not exactly new to Enslaved, it takes on special prominence here, if only for the subtle contrast it creates with the band's more recent releases. Nevertheless, it's the Meshuggah-ish polyrhythmic moment that emerges in the first part of the title track that provides the biggest surprise of the journey, once again highlighting the collective's adventurous spirit. Divided into three parts, 'Heimdal' also has the particularity of recapturing 'Intermezzo II', the closing track of their previous EP, notably its Priest-esque riff and synth line, thereby linking both releases; a sense of connection strengthened by a cohesive and focused collective that remained unchanged. And while I miss Herbrand Larsen's clean vocals, the quintet's synergy is palpable in every second of the ride.
Now that we've left the fog behind and reached new shores, it feels like we haven't really come to the end of our journey but rather to a new beginning; the start of a new cycle that seems to evoke a sense of nostalgia while celebrating the promise of the future; and that sure sounds good, doesn't it? It is with the sound of Gjallarhorn still echoing that I close this chapter, certain that as long as the lads keep sailing through such unpredictable and creative waters, I will remain on board, heading towards the next new dawn.