Because of the blunt extremity of their music, ENSLAVED may not always get the widespread attention of IRON MAIDEN or MASTODON, who have both conjured more than one masterpiece in their esteemed careers. Most ENSLAVED fans would have no qualms in saying "Below the Lights" and "Isa" are inarguable masterpieces, like OPETH (for all intents and purposes, ENSLAVED's prolific contemporaries) fans would with "Blackwater Park", "Damnation" and "Ghost Reveries". The remainder of ENSLAVED's exceptional catalog remains subjective to individual tastes, but cases can be made for "Eld", "Frost" or "Blodhemn" and more recently, "Ruun", "Vertebrae" and "Axioma Ethica Odini". After all, this is a band hefting a ton of Norwegian Grammy-equivalent hardware with all honors deserved. With their new album, "In Times", subjectivity is irrelevant. This is one for ENSLAVED to stand upon as a definitive body of work.
Last go-round, ENSLAVED pushed their own envelope with the methodic and slower prog overtures of "Riitiir". "In Times" successfully marries ENSLAVED's old-school violent black metal blasts with their increasingly progressive actions, marking it the most perfect effort they've conceived since "Isa". Six songs, none of them lesser than eight minutes a pop, and not a single tick wasted.
For longtime ENSLAVED followers, fans will rejoice at the emphasis of Grutle Kjellson's harder vocals spread throughout "In Times". Within the grinding launch of the opening number, "Thurisaz Dreaming", Kjellson's outraged bellowing will have veteran fans knocking their knees giddily, even as the song slips into a marching ebb where Kjellson weaves through robust clean rolls before uglying things back up in tandem with a haunting pool of background vocals behind him. When he hits a soaring clean interlude on the climax of "Thurisaz Dreaming", it's chilling in a wonderful way, knowing the song is going to pick up its black metal thrusts again with cascading guitars ushering the track to a nearly-unexpected melodious finale.
Kjellson's keen balance between his extreme growls and gentle cleans on "In Times" add to its emotive impact. After hearing successions of tormented rasping, frequently his diversions to clean send shivers. Likewise, the return of the funereal Norse chants lingering over "Below the Lights" can be found here on "Thurisaz Dreaming", "One Thousand Years of Rain", "Daylight" and the title track.
What ENSLAVED has managed to achieve with far more superiority than most of their peers is to sieve toe-tapping rock drives into their unquestioningly brutal material. "Building with Fire" rolls like a conventional rock tune with Grutle Kjellson crooning along pleasantly for a while until dropping his bitter swills in response to the song's increasing agitation. Yet no matter how hard "Building with Fire" grows, Herbrand Larsen's floating keys keep the track from getting downright nasty. In response, the band smartly embraces the song's inherent effervescence and takes a breezy ride through floating progressions en route toward spiking double hammer and fierce yelling prior to the cleanly played outro. Then the plugging two chord harmony opening the first couple minutes (and reprised in spots) of the 10:44 title track asserts a continuous groove, no matter how heavy or serene the song gets in spots. When "In Times" surges into a miasma of thrash, the guitar lines are so orgasmic you almost fail to give an ear to Grutle Kjellson's roaring.
As brilliant performers as ENSLAVED are, their epic benchmark set on "Isa" with "Neogenesis" hadn't been wholly matched toe-to-toe. Until now. That distinction goes to the phenomenal "One Thousand Years of Rain". The 8:14 track couldn't be better plotted with Cato Bekkevold's whirling thrashes and dropped-back stamps guiding the always sky-high guitar, bass and key lines. All of this plows to the midpoint of the song, where slower progressions and Grutle Kjellson's lulling cleans are gobbled by his own ralphing and a robust Norse hymn. Expect the song to snap back into speed zone with each member of ENSLAVED hitting their fullest capacities toward a breathtaking finish.
"Nauthir Bleeding" couldn't be a trickier little devil as it gives a calming premise then explodes with euphoric hostility. Herbrand Larsen might be the bigger beneficiary than even Grutle Kjellson, but the song is stunning and gorgeous the longer it winds on and drips trails of venom along its enthralling, always-shifting course. Equally enchanting is the way "Daylight" works its way from its mincing black metal paces into a sonic-splooged reverie, PINK FLOYD-style.
"In Times" is a beautifully savage masterpiece, composed by metal artisans who historically settle for nothing less than excellence. This one cements ENSLAVED's legacy as one of metal's greatest acts ever. Now if the American Grammy panel would get on board with Norway's…