Norwegian progressive extreme metallers ENSLAVED have set "RIITIIR" as the title of their twelfth studio album, due in Europe on September 28 and in North America on October 2 via Nuclear Blast Records.
From the woods in Sweden, ENSLAVED guitarist/songwriter/founding member Ivar Bjørnson shares the following: "The album is, as mentioned, entitled 'RIITIIR' — a self-made 'Norse-ified' version of the words 'Rites' / 'Rituals.' RIITIIR = 'The Rites of Man,' to put it in a formulaic and easy way.
"There is no story with a timeline; again we've built structures that lay above the independent lyrics that we feel more comfortable with letting the reader explore, interpret, or simply discard themselves. It is entirely up to them. Meanwhile, we are extremely excited to see what visual artist Truls Espedal has come up with this time. The collaboration between him, myself, and Grutle [Kjellson, vocalist and bassist] was closer, more understanding and powerful this time than ever before in our more than decade-long cooperation. The album concept and our feelings connected to it hit home instantly with Truls, in the same way that his initial ideas resonated intensely with us from the second he shared them with us.
"We will, of course, discuss some key concepts and potential interpretations in deeper song-by-song analysis — but let's cross that rainbow when we get there.”
Longtime friend and collaborator Truls Espedal shares the following about his creative process for "RIITIIR"'s album artwork, his seventh cover for ENSLAVED: "This process has become a tradition; a tradition that works very well for me, with a lot of artistic freedom. First, an e-mail or text from the band asking if I'm ready, and then a phone conversation with Grutle and Ivar a week prior to us having a meeting. On the phone they give me an album title, some insight into the theme and their ideas, then a brief talk about different visual symbols/elements, which will be incorporated. A week later, I'm on a plane to meet them. We spend a day where we discuss the visual ideas I've come up with, eat good food, drink and listen to some of the new music. Before I leave, we have agreed about the sketches made during the day. Back home, now with a deadline, I get to work and don't talk to them before the artwork is finished.
"ENSLAVED's music is constantly evolving and expanding, and we early on decided that the artwork should reflect this. From my first collaboration with the band on [2001's] 'Monumension' and forward, we have slowly merged different aspects into the work; what we wanted to do now was to further expand and change things up a bit, without losing the connection to earlier work. It still has a strong sense of symbolism, symmetrical compositions and references to Norse art. But there is an even bigger emphasis on realism on 'RIITIIR', which hopefully adds atmosphere to the finished work.
"This was the first time I had the whole album to listen to from the get-go. So for more or less 90 percent of all the hours spent in my studio, 'RIITIIR' was on constant repeat on the stereo and I truly believe that had a major impact on both the process and the finished result. The music influenced both the whole dynamics in the studio as well as choices made in color palette and atmosphere; it more or less dictated the mood of the paintings.
"Another difference this time was that I switched from acrylic paint to oil painting. So the front and back cover will be my first official ones in oils. This change gave me a challenge when it came to the deadline because of the drying rate and so on, but it felt right for the visual ideas we had decided on.
"The collaboration with Ivar and Grutle feels even more organic and natural than ever. Even though it is something that is a few years in-between, it always seems like we are on the same page. There are a lot of the thoughts and ideas in their work that I feel can be found in my own private paintings."
ENSLAVED's last two CDs — "Vertebrae" (2008) and "Axioma Ethica Odini" (2010) — were released via Indie Recordings in Europe and Nuclear Blast in North America.
ENSLAVED last year released "The Sleeping Gods" via Scion A/V as a free downloadable five-song EP. Following up on 2010's near-universally praised "Axioma Ethica Odini", the EP found the quintet once again expanding the boundaries of what metal can be, deftly incorporating influences from across the musical spectrum. Mainly recorded in Solslottet Studio in Bergen, and partly in the band's own home studio, the effort finds the group sounding leaner and more confident than ever, part and parcel of maintaining a presence at the foreground of the international metal movement for 20 years.