Enslaved may not be the first band that comes to mind when you think of Black Metal, but they’re one of those groups that you almost have to know. For most bands, having 15 studio albums and EPs would force them to either drastically change direction or inevitably become repetitive, but Enslaved is able to continue writing interesting music without creating a large divide between “new Enslaved” and “old Enslaved” fans. They’ve come a long way since their first demo in 1991, gradually turning from high tempo Black Metal to slower paced Viking/Black Metal and forming into the world renowned band they are today.
Founding members Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson began their musical career in the death metal band Phobia, but were dissatisfied and left to set out to make more extreme music. In their journey to change styles, Enslaved was born in the summer of 1991 in Sveio, Norway. The name of the band was inspired by Immortal’s “Enslaved In Rot”, which of course was named when the music they made was still predominantly Black Metal. Onward from their creation, Enslaved’s music remained relatively constant up until their album Eld (1997), which is considered by many as the beginning of the band’s change in sound. Between the years 2001-2003, there was a clear progression of sound and a change in the language in which their lyrics were written. With their 2004 and 2006 albums, Isa and Ruun, they began to introduce clean vocals which have since become a large part of their music, especially in RIITIIR.
Today, Ivar and Grutle remain the only original members, but even with the few changes in the line-up, they have never stopped producing the impressive music they are known for. As of now, they have produced so many albums, EPs, splits and demos that it seems like they’re in a running contest with KISS. Despite the line-up changes, they’ve retained a solid arsenal of Ice Dale, Cato, Grutle, Ivar and Herbrand since 2004 and it is, in my opinion, their best one yet. In a recent interview, Grutle mentions that one of their future plans include a United States tour.
The first thing that hits you in Thoughts Like Hammers, is that it sounds different than anything Enslaved has ever done. Although many parts are the same, the song structure is noticeably different. The song balances between heavy guitar riffs with Black Metal vocals and upbeat rhythms that correlate with the softer vocals. Both parts alternate back and forth for 9:30 to create an obscure, yet nonetheless beautifully constructed piece. In the past, Herbrand’s “clean” vocals have taken a backseat to Grutle’s more traditional Black Metal vocals, but in RIITIIR both styles share prominence. Death in the Eyes of Dawn introduces yet another style of singing, sounding deeper and more aggressive than any other voice in the album thus far. The band has credited the song for being inspired by “viking-era” Bathory and The Beatles, which shows through without sounding like a blatant rip off. In Veilburner, the song follows the same format as the first, but it also features a duet of the two voices, with both of them over laying on top of each other. The song demands your attention with the almost “mystic” sound, so you can fully enjoy both the vocals, and the contribution each has to the song. The layers of tracks on Roots of the Mountain entwine, and truly captivate the listener. The clean and coarse vocals are beautifully balanced, more-so in this song than any others, making this one of my favorite tracks off of the album. It surprises you with different twists and turns throughout the 9:17, devoid of sounding like random parts of were cheaply cropped together.
Like the rest of the album so far, the self titled track RIITIIR features no extraneous effects other than the abyssal echo of the guitars and Herbrand’s clean vocals. Every track in the mix sounds spot on, but not as if it may as well have been completely constructed in Pro Tools. Taking a leave from the style portrayed up to this point in RIITIIR, Materal takes a different approach to opening the song. Since everything on the album thus far was filled with a very high-pitched and outgoing guitar sound, the mood is generated by the rhythmic, but rather slow drumming that catches you off-guard. Storm of Memories starts out somewhat like RIITIIR, featuring a clean guitar sound before easing into a much darker piece. The entire song seems to be wrapped around the transition, and takes nearly half of the nine minute song for the main vocals to truly kick in. More than any other on the album, Storm of Memories uses generated sounds and foreboding background vocals to gain the desired feeling. In a similar but not replicated sound, the intro to Forsaken begins with a keyboard that reminds you of something you’d hear in a horror film. The song is slower than the rest up to this point, which is the greatest asset that it utilizes to generate the unsettling feeling that lives for the full duration of the song. The last portion half of Forsaken winds down the album, slowing it down even further, to draw the epic to a close.
To no one’s surprise, RIITIIR is shrouded in 5+ minute long songs. After all, no Enslaved album is truly complete without them. As a whole, the music continues in the direction they’ve been heading towards since Eld, turning from raw, coarse sounding instruments and vocals to a slower paced progressive sound. Since the band is hardly genre defined and has many layers of music, it makes RIITIIR the kind of album that needs to be listened to in order for each person to make their own personal judgement. It may seem to be a bit of a gamble to go out and spend money an album based on a description, but with RIITIIR, it really isn’t a gamble at all.
All in all, it’s pretty hard to have any complaints about the album. Every song correlates with the type of music that Enslaved is known for, while producing something you haven’t listened to a thousand times before. Everything from the musicianship to the production is amazing, making each song flow while keeping the listener to be unable to find a dull moment. All of the elements of the album work to create something that can gain the approval from not just die hard fans, but also from the people who aren’t familiar with them. What separates this album from the rest is that the music of RIITIIR doesn’t seem like anything anyone could compose if they didn’t have a passion for what they were creating. RIITIIR will most definitely be regarded as one of the band’s best works and be able to give them more of the attention they deserve.
It’s hard to write a review on something that has so many different dimensions to it, which makes this review longer than normal to compensate. If you’re too lazy to read it all, here’s the bottom line.
Buy that shit.
1. Thoughts Like Hammers
2. Death In The Eyes Of Dawn
4. Roots Of The Mountain
7. Storm Of Memories