Returning for their fifteenth album, Enslaved have changed their approach of progressive black metal with a bit more of a leaning toward the progressive side.
Utgard might be their least extreme album, but if you are a fan of their most recent work, that’s not why you’re here. A major lineup change is in play since longtime drummer Cat Bekkevold (who had been in the band since 2004’s Isa) has been replaced by Iver Sandøy. Otherwise, this is the same unit who recorded 2017’s E. What do Grutle Kjellson, Ivar Bjørnson and crew have up their sleeve this time?
Opening with chants on “Fires In The Dark,” the listener gets taken on driving riffs that feel as though you are careening through a snowy Norwegian landscape and eventually into space, a style befitting the band’s sound from Isa and on. The progressive song structure carries this song as it is loosely a metal track with the melodic singing being omnipresent.
The heaviness returns on “Jettegryta” with a clear emphasis on tremolo riffs and black metal as opposed to the former track. The latter half of the song features an excellent keyboard section adding some an element of ‘70s progressive to a song that covers both elements of Enslaved very well.
The band continues to straddle the line between extreme and progressive on “Sequence” and “Homebound.” Though they lean more towards the progressive element on Utgard, this isn’t a total paradigm shift like their fellow Scandinavian brethren in Opeth. This feels like a combination of Enslaved and Katatonia with a little more oomph. This is a delicate balance overall and one that Enslaved should be applauded for being able to find. Maybe this is the sound of the band finding their footing after a few recent missteps on In Times and E.
Enslaved continue to be one of the best bands from Norway, a band that has reinvented itself time and again to enthrall the listener. Utgard may be the future sound of Enslaved as a whole; fans of past and present would be hard pressed to find a better balance of styles on an album in 2020. This is the sound of a well-oiled machine continuing to do what they do best.
(released October 2, 2020 on Nuclear Blast)
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Watch Enslaved – “Homebound” Video