On a career arc as impressive as OPETH's, minus most of the record sales, Norway's psychedelic prog-metal Vikings continue their journey into accessible dissonance, soaring chords, desolate atmospheres and swirling, ambient aural journeys on this, their eight proper studio album. Moving ever further from their black metal roots, while retaining the timeless primal electricity of that style at its best, ENSLAVED manage to be grandiose with the simplest of tools, seeking progression through ambient minimalism and a simple, grave majesty.The chords in opener "Entroper" could just as easily propel, say, a STEREOLAB song (though the vocals remain blessedly black, for the most part). It's a strange, catchy song with a driving midtempo beat and an almost pop feel to it (though that bass line that comes in just after the chorus does add a nice sinister touch). What to make of this odd hybrid? I mean, it rocks, but its coldness is more KRAFTWERK than KHOLD — built on a skeletal framework of repetitive riffs that somehow remain compelling, with a feel that's still true to the black metal aesthetic, despite sonically being about 900 miles away from their forebears. Less is more in the ENSLAVED camp — the organ in "Path to Vanir" is just a couple notes, but it wonderfully accents the riffing. And when the song breaks down at around the 2:30 mark into a simply strummed acoustic part and trippy David Gilmour vocals, it sets a perfect atmosphere with very basic building blocks. Similarities in vibe (not sound) to OPETH can be argued, though ENSLAVED keep things much more simple and streamlined. The title track is a pretty varied affair, with arguably the most "black metal" parts on the album, but it also contains some multitracked clean vocals and plenty of space-rock wispiness to set off the heavier sections. And here and there, the vocals take on the dark, brooding gloom of KATATONIA, spiked with a trademark guitar sting that reminds the listener that ENSLAVED isn't giving up on their blackened heritage any time soon. "Ruun" is a deceptively simple album, one of those growers that is well more than the sum of its parts. It reveals itself upon multiple listens, a travelogue to lands not touched upon by most prog, or black metal, or extreme music in general. This is the kind of snowblind psychedelia best experienced from start to finish, in headphones, with full attention given. The metal world needs more bands this willing to throw out the rule book and go wherever their mad Muse takes them.
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