Finally, the Norwegian Progressive Black Metal band Enslaved created something that has drawn my attention and gotten my brain to start churning. To be frank, I feel I could write entire posts about entire songs from a good number of bands to which I listen and this is the first time that Enslaved has done this for me. Though I enjoyed and still sometimes listen to Vertebrae and Axioma Ethica Odini, these pale in comparison to RIITIIR as an album. Further, I find Enslaved before Vertebrae nigh unlistenable, though always intelligent and forward thinking in their sounds and music. This owes to Grutle Kjellson’s vocal style for me, while I find the hollow, deep sounding rasps interesting, they have always served as a great barrier as they sound almost stereotypically cookie monster-esque at times.
Beginning with the elementary aspects of the album, RIITIIR’s art is clean, organic, and symbolic (see image above). The outstretched hands conjoined at the forearm, reaching for the light above, with the overlay of black lines that appear as the limbs of a tree. Though expressly, I have not read the reasons for this artistic direction, it appears that the art is striving to simulate the world tree mythos of the band’s homeland. The production quality of the album is amazing, giving each instrument its due in the recording, which seems to reflect the clean aspect of the cover’s art. In other words, by Thor’s hammer, you can hear the bass line the majority of times.
“Thoughts like Hammers” opens with a wail of an introduction, melting metal, growls, clean vocals, bass, and drums into a dissonant wall of sound before emerging into a stomping riff section over which Kjellson growls. The song smartly transitions into different movements, evoking a variety of different soundscapes over its well-used nine minute run time. Specifically however, it is the first instance to me in which Kjellson’s growl to clean singing contrast do not create a good cop/bad cop feel.
“Death in the Eyes of Dawn” is my favorite track off the record, using an earthy guitar section throughout the entire song and its progressions. Rotating between growled, whispered and nearly soaring clean singing sections, the song feels strongly rooted in the band’s heritage and lumbers forward their sound. Specifically using what has come to be termed “Stoner Rock” elements in grungy, organic sounding guitars, this song provides strong composition.
As the album progresses, transitions between the individuals songs are sensible and set the stage for each impending song (the acoustic end of Death in the Eyes of Dawn to Veilburners is a great example). “Veilburners” begins the heaviest truly “black metal” section on the album (using a nearly power metal chorus surprisingly enough) that persists into “Roots of the Mountain,” a song whose riffs and blast beats any headbanger could love though the bounding bass section that leads into the choral section in the middle of the piece is the highest point of the song for me (with the second being the acoustic black metal at the six minute mark of the song that brings it into its outro). “RIITIIR” continues the the trend “Veilburners” started; however, it meanders a bit at times, nearly causing the band to lose its focus at points and threaten becoming too akin to good cop/bad cop style sounds.
Its abrupt ending starts the final third of the album, giving rise to monolithic, hammering drums and trance like clean singing in “Materal,” a song that feels very much like its attempting to provide a trance/mediative experience on the entropy of flame (summarize a specific lyric). An experience that burns into the very 1970s progressive rock sounding introduction to “Storm of Memories” (parts of Genesis and Yes come to mind when hearing it), creating a feeling very akin to a storm of memories and thoughts, right down to the use of black metal riffing to create an atmosphere of confusion. Yet, it remains wholly progressive in its sound though at times it meanders like “RIITIIR,” causing the song to feel as if its focus is lost, creating a disconnect from the music at times. “Forsaken” ends the album well, regaining any of the focus lost on “Storm of Memories” and highlighting the aims of the band’s sounds on the album from stern assaults of metal to fragile keyboard/guitar arraignments that fade the album away.
Generally, this album has been well received, earning notice from NPR and causing Sammy O’Hagar to exclaim “ENSLAVED’S RIITIIR IS ENTIRELY TOO GOOD FOR WORDS!” However, the comments section on MetalSucks and Angry Metal Guy’s review state that the album is boring and bloated. I disagree with this opinion, finding as stated previously, that this album’s complexity and experimentation are exceptional. Yes, it meanders at times. Yes, it is highly produced (leading some people to ask “Where’s the Heavy??”). However, I feel it is a deserving effort and a wholly inspiring one at that whose rewards are tangible after listening to the album for the tenth time since its release. I’m left wanting a bit more focus from the band at times, but ultimately find that I feel as if I have been taken to a new place by the end of its run time.
“Thoughts Like Hammers” by Enslaved: