28 September 2012
by Tom Dare
The perpetual evolution of Enslaved has established themselves as arguably the most accomplished band still going from that Norwegian rush of the early 90s. The sonic foci have changed over time but the quality has been hugely consistent, with the last four albums have seen them depart their black metal routes even further, and also enjoy their best run of creativity in their history. So they’re not going to screw things up with album twelve, are they?
Stylistically, RIITIIR shouldn’t come as a particular surprise to anyone who has been following their career from Isa onwards. The central sounds are the post-rock weight of Vertebrae and the spacey prog textures that made the second half of Axioma Ethica Odini so emotive, all delivered with the latter’s warm, watery sunlight feel. Herbrand Larsen’s soothing clean vocals are once more given plenty of room to float around but there’s still enough of Grutle’s primal rasp to give it some substance.
The textures, riffage and melodic strength that have characterised Enslaved’s career are all still present in spades, and at times are genuinely sumptuous. So it’s a little surprising how easily the attention begins to wander. Perhaps it’s the full fifteen minutes you have to wait for the first Ice Dale solo (which is, predictably, one of the highlights of the album), but RIITIIR begins to drag rather early on. The two opening tracks are both approaching ten minutes in length and are rather on the slow side, which lends a lack of momentum to the early stages. But it’s a feeling that doesn’t fade when the pace does pick up later on with ‘Roots Of The Mountains‘.
This is not helped by the absolute age of mankind that each idea takes to be delivered. Sometimes it’s overuse; ‘Thoughts Like Hammers‘ could have cut down on the riff and refrain repetition, been three minutes shorter and improved by the discipline. In other cases, it’s that the ideas themselves are – while very impressive – simply rather lengthy on their own.
Watch the lyric-video to ‘Thoughts Like Hammers’ by Enslaved:
When I had my awe-struck gush over Axioma Ethica Odini two years ago, I mentioned how the characteristic Enslaved ebb-and-flow was at the heart of why that record was such a brilliant piece of work. And it’s this exact same aspect that RIITIIR falls down on. There’s lots of ebb, and it’s largely beautiful, but the flow is conspicuous by its absence. Too much of it takes place in floaty pools rather than being carried forth in driving current.
The net result is that RIITIIR is arguably the most proggy exercise Enslaved have undertaken, but ironically lacks a sense of progression within the opus itself. It wafts around prettily in an extremely graceful, attractive fashion, making damn sure you notice how clever it all is, but doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s the longest record of their career by a clear ten minutes, but it’s an expansion caused by taking longer to get the ideas across, not by more great riffs per song.
Enslaved seem to be going off in another direction again, but haven’t quite managed to make the transition a smooth one yet. RIITIIR is not way a bad album, but it won’t hold your attention when you really sit down and listen to it, or – and this is where the weight of expectation the very best bands come with can be a hindrance – keep you coming back in the way its recent predecessors did.
Sounds like: Bathory, Pink Floyd, Neurosis.
Stand-out tracks: Roots Of The Mountains, Materal.