ENSLAVED’S RIITIIR IS ENTIRELY TOO GOOD FOR WORDS
The big problem with Enslaved is that they’re such a pain in the fucking ass to write about. I mean, don’t get me wrong — I love Enslaved and gladly listen to them intently on any occasion and at any time of year. It’s just that, as a band, they’ve progressed so steadily and gracefully that each of their albums is a unique beast, ultimately sounding like something the band would release while also sounding like nothing like anything they’ve put out before. So while there’s plenty to love about RIITIIR, it sounds just like Enslaved, but doesn’t remotely resemble the ‘70s-prog-meets-00’s black metal of Below the Lights or the shadow-obscured RUUN or frost giant stag party that was ISA. It’s its own thing. Their maturity has made it hard to box them into a narrative. And that’s great for a doughy 30-year-old who listens to way too much black metal but awful for a writer. I have to start from scratch, and if there’s one thing writers aren’t known for, it’s having the will and discipline to start from scratch, especially with the regularity in which a new Enslaved album comes out.
Though all this being said, I think I can say that this is Enslaved’s most ambitious album to date.
For a band that went from a gnarly black metal band writing songs about Vikings to a band writing black metal songs about Vikings but really digging shoegaze and prog, they’re stretching out even more than usual. It’s probably their proggiest album in addition to being their least-metal in spots. Then again, it’s got some uncharacteristically raw viciousness for brief stretches of time. RIITIIR segues so efficiently from snarling and personal to ethereal and all-encompassing that the record’s scope seems full and endless. There are few bands that sound as fully in control of everything that exists than Enslaved, and how in the fuck am I supposed to sum up Everything?
Take the album’s best song: “Roots of the Mountain,” which starts in quasi-familiar Enslaved territory, then shifts into the clouds with one of the catchiest choruses the band have written. Then the second time they hit the chorus, djenty drums kick in, perhaps a sly hat tip to Periphery or Animals as Leaders. Then comes one of Ivar Bjørnson’s most evocative solos to date (and by to date, I mean up to that point in the album, too). Just as the song reaches its logical conclusion, some off-time accents bridge the song to its muted coda then guide it to one more jaunt through the chorus (much like King Crimson’s “Court of the Crimson King”). It’s an epic unto itself and a contributing member of the album. As the best song on the band’s best album so far, it may be Enslaved’s finest hour.
Except that’s not the best song on RIITIIR: “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” weaves the band’s tours with Opeth into their studio time, then extends into bliss with some ‘80s dream-pop synths, somehow topping the album’s terrific opener, “Thoughts Like Hammers.” Then again, there’s a moment in “Materal” where the Bjornson lays down a tunneling black metal riff over some polyrhthmic drums, like if Neil Peart played on one of the first Ulver albums. Except it’s not that obvious a graft: both parts interact with eachother, starting a conversation of their own that’s still in the language of Enslaved. RIITIIR’s ultimate flaw is that it causes people to write sentences as hacky as the one prior to this.
The fact is, every song on the album is great. No, really, EVERY SONG. They all stretch over 5 minutes, with only two of them being under seven. RIITIIR works both in chunks and as a whole, as the album is an epic journey made up of epic journeys. It even closes with the final minutes of “Forsaken” pretty shamelessly ripping off Neurosis, which could be another winking reference to the state of metal today: either ripping off Meshuggah or Neurosis. RIITIIR works both as the best Enslaved album (until the next one) and as a comment on the broader genre in which it exists. How in the hell do you write about that without being dwarfed by the enormity of the record’s poise? Nuts to this. I’m gonna go drink beer and watch Fringe in my underwear.
(4 ½ out of 5 horns)