Near on thirty years into their career sees Enslaved release Utgard, their fifteenth full-length album. With the core of the band having been solidified since 2002, Enslaved gradually metamorphosed from a relatively straightforward black metal band to one that incorporated many progressive touches throughout their musical journey. Just where on this journey will Utgard see them go?
Fires in the Dark uses chanted vocals and acoustic instruments as a motif upon which to overlay some progressive heaviness. It’s a winding labyrinth of a track featuring both clean and harsh vocals amid some fierce riffs and stellar drumming. The interplay between vocalists really make this opening track a memorable one.
Jettegryta features a healthy amount of black metal influence, complete with powerful vocals from bassist Grutle Kjellson soon accompanied by equally memorable choral singing from drummer Iver Sandøy. It’s really something how Enslaved have mastered their black/progressive fusion. The ominous passages give way to black metal-tinged progressive breaks yet there’s no disjointed feeling in approaching them. Sequence has much more of an anthemic, epic quality to it than the preceding duo of tracks; it’s a richly layered excursion into technicality and calm, almost relaxing atmospherics. The juxtaposition between disparate musical temperaments really works to great effect here.
As Homebound is one of the singles from Utgard it could easily have been one of the tracks most representative of Enslaved’s ‘typical’ sound on offer here; it manages to combine aspects of what listeners will know and love about Enslaved, yet it is anything but typical. The second half of the song features blistering instrumentation set against majestic clean vocals, and it works all the better for that contrast.
With ominous blasts of synthesiser and other sound effects, the spoken interlude Utgardr weave together the two halves of Utgard. Urjotun almost picks up where Utgardr left off, featuring a sequencer and bass driven motif throughout. It features a memorable guitar rhythm that repeats for a few bars to great effect, introducing some bellowed vocals before returning to the motif from the first movement to great effect.
Flight of Thought and Memory takes no prisoners from the outset, seeing proceedings on Utgard make a return to the black metal aesthetics that drove Jettegryta; this time those aesthetics and tremolo picked sections are used effectively to an almost-venomous effect before shifting to a progressive, almost space rock-like closing half.
Storms Of Utgard is composed like a tempest; it rages and calms and waxes and wanes between fierce black metal and challenging progressive metal before fading out altogether briefly, just as a storm may. It could have worked as a longer track but as it is it makes for a fine penultimate track.
Distant Seasons serves as the perfect way to wrap the album out; completing proceedings in an epic manner that lets Enslaved stretch out musically while indulging their calmer side. After the theoretical tumult throughout many of the prior tracks, it’s almost fitting to cap things off with something more mellow.
With Utgard Enslaved have added yet another distinctive chapter to their canon. They’ve arguably ‘found’ their sound over several of their albums. In saying that, it’d be easy to dismiss them as playing it safe if their sense of experimentation is not always at the forefront. Mainstays Ivar Bjornson, Grutle Kjellson, and Arve Isdal have been well-served and even energised by newer recruits Håkon Vinje and Iver Sandøy. With this lineup, it’s clear that Enslaved aren’t resting on their laurels. Long-time fans will greatly enjoy it and it would be a good place for those curious about Enslaved.