Review: Enslaved’s Heimdal is a Nordic Triumph Worthy of Valhalla
On their 16th studio album, Enslaved compound on their past groundbreaking releases and successes to create Heimdal. Having pioneered Viking metal and won five Spellemann Awards / “Norwegian Grammys,” among other achievements, the ambitious and formidable Heimdal shines on as a lodestar for the band today and as they look to the future.
The opening track, “Behind the Mirror,” begins with the sound of running water and the sound of a horn blown by Wardruna’s Eilif Gundersen. The song then asks you to make a mental effort: “In every hallway there’s a hidden door. You will it into existence — you think it open.”
As you think about the record’s themes, you’ll remember that “Heimdallr” was one of Enslaved’s first songs. “Heimdallr” initially appeared on the demo Yggdrasill (1992) and soon reappeared on Vikingligr Veldi (1994). Heimdal both references Enslaved’s past and ventures into new territory. In many respects, it is a continuation of the path the band started forging with Utgard (2020).
Heimdal is a profoundly meaningful exploration of Nordic mythology. In the song “Caravans to the Outer Worlds,” which was previously included on a 2021 EP by the same name, the lyrics perfectly summarize what Heimdal is all about: “Esoteric [key word] navigation through the astral storms.”
Enslaved has always been a band with deep roots aimed at helping listeners connect with their own heritage. Heimdal’s words are extremely pertinent to today’s age. The beautifully crafted, often oracular, lyrics are fascinating poems in themselves.
Ultimately, the enigmatic Heimdal raises more questions than it answers. Thus, it feels a bit like falling into the abyss, with its myriad layers that add a dizzying level of depth to the music. But that’s a good thing because it is an intensely rewarding piece of art. Proceed with caution and without preconceptions.
Spontaneous and loaded with surprises, Heimdal is at times hallucinatory yet sobering, raw yet polished, massive yet intimate. That said, one of Heimdal’s most remarkable assets is how it perfectly balances the beautiful and the brutal. We hear harsh and clean, sometimes chant-like, vocals delivered by different members. This actually lends a bit of a theatrical charm, almost as if the words could be delivered in an amphitheater. The music is even unexpectedly catchy at times.
Of course, Heimdal features Ivar Bjørnson‘s songwriting, which draws from a wide variety of influences, including Darkthrone and Led Zeppelin. To this day, Bjørnson states that the biggest inspiration behind his guitar work is his late friend, Mayhem’s Euronymous, who acted as a mentor of sorts to him and Grutle Kjellson.
The sense of chemistry on Heimdal is exceptional, since this is only the band’s second release with their current lineup. The combination of different types of talents has definitely been an advantage. Each member shines through with a distinctive voice. As a whole, the team meshes seamlessly.
Metalheads should already know that Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson are the two members who have remained consistent from the Phobia / pre-Enslaved days. Virtuoso guitarist Arve “Icedal” Isdal, who has been with Enslaved for 21 years, provides a magical touch with his unreal solos. Keyboardist Håkon Vinje is quite a bit younger than his bandmates and provides a bit of fresh blood, while drummer Iver Sandøy brings a unique perspective to the band.
Awe-inspiring, spellbinding, and imaginative, Heimdal reflects total authenticity combined with artistic brilliance. If this sublime offering isn’t a modern masterpiece, I’m not sure what is.
Enslaved’s Heimdal drops on March 3 via Nuclear Blast. Pre-order the record here, and check out a couple of the tracks below.