Nordic legends Enslaved engulf with fresh approach to rousing style on blood-pulsing ‘Heimdal’

Each morning is a chance for a new beginning, a fresh start that while informed by the past does not necessarily have to travel in that same direction. We’re always held up by our history and what led us to where we are when our eyes first open each day when we wake up. But from that point, the destination is our own, and we don’t have to trap ourselves in the old ways.

With the arrival of “Heimdal,” the 16th full-length album from Norse black metal gods Enslaved, we are greeted with something that feels like where this band has sailed before, but it very much impacts like a sojourn breathing fresh air, pumping newly generated blood. The album’s title refers to the old Norse god whose lineage comes directly from Odin, though the band jumped into more open-ended mythologies and possibilities they felt bold enough to explore. The band—vocalist Grutle Kjellson, guitarists Ivar Bjørnson and Arve ‘Ice Dale’ Isdal, keyboardist/clean vocalist Håkon Vinje, drummer Iver Sandøy—plays with some different sounds, and while the music instantly is recognizable as Enslaved, the chances they take here and new passages opened are enthralling. A run-of-the-mill record from this legendary band would have disappointed no one, but they clearly didn’t care to rest on what was expected. There’s a daring nature, an excitement to these songs that keeps Enslaved vibrant, mandatory, and endlessly creative. It’s a really fun listen.

“Behind the Mirror” slips in ominously and quietly, waters lapping, horns sounding in the distance and moving closer (Heimdal’s call?), and then burly riffs open, not a very typical sound on most Enslaved songs. It’s fucking ripping. Clean singing joins with Kjellson’s unmistakable howl along with burning prog fires, breezy warmth, and everything crumbling off into the sea. “Congelia” lets drums rush in, the riffs darken skies, and Kjellson wails, “I’m leaving this body behind.” Synth zaps like lasers across the sky—and by the way, Vinje pulls out different wrinkles on the keys on this record, which is really refreshing—and then the elements all begin to bubble. Clean singing wafts as the guitars melt rock into rivers of lava, the pace rustles, and everything fades into mystery. “Forest Dweller” is glorious as deep singing and beaming synth are major presences, the power ramping up underneath it. Shrieks mar as the singing gets grittier, the power jolts, and then a sudden calms takes over, Vinje’s soulful vocals settling nerves.

“Kingdom” delivers active guitars that slowly dawn, the howls and zapping synth becoming an emerging power. Daring and fiery, the tempo warbles and drives, trudging playing spiraling as the growls nip at your flesh, and echoed howls swallow everything whole. “The Eternal Sea” opens with synth dancing, the fog collecting, and hearty singing making your heart respond with force. Guitars jab and jolt as the atmosphere increases, and then the shrieks maul bones, the power forges, and the keys send a wave of electronic pulses. “Caravans to the Outer Worlds” brings whipping winds, the bass trampling, and a fiery flow getting your juices rushing. Speedy playing erupts as Vinje’s singing leads the way, vicious clobbering wrapping around the energy. Gazey winds gasp as the singing gets breezier, landing ashore with a palpitating end. The closing title track starts with alluring sci-fi keys, and then the pounding tempo digs in its claws, buzzing overhead as the growls corrode. The guitars explore as dreamy sequences unfurl, eventually rousing you into full consciousness, aggressively treading waters. Group vocals surge, synth takes over, and the ship unexpectedly lands on alien shores.

Enslaved’s legend continues to grow with “Heimdal,” a record that will feel familiar to longtime fans but also has some exciting new waves woven into the mix. These seven tracks are exciting, active, and audacious, creating a collection that expands the band’s standing and proves they’re as hungry as they’ve ever been. Any new Enslaved record is a treat, but one like this that reveals new pathways ramps up that enthusiasm a little more than usual.

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