Review: Enslaved – Heimdal (2023)


It has been quite a journey thus far for Scandinavia’s favourite sons.  Born, or spawned if you wish, into existence in 1991 the road has been one of trial, tribulation and music that will stand for the ages.  From starting out, as many did back in the day, as a relatively straight forward, go-for-the-throat black metal band they have managed to take several routes on their way to destination unknown.  Over the years they have included significant elements of progressive rock and jazz along with other styles into their sound and yet still remained true and resolute in their identity.

Never a band to stay inside their comfort zone the band have again stepped outside to breath in some fresh musical air.  The black metal underpinning is still there and intact but that genre is very much the foundation on which Enslaved build.  On this new release the band’s increasing affection for progressive elements and ethereal landscapes once again comes to the fore.

Heimdal is a character from Norse mythology, the son of Odin no less,  who has frequently popped up in some of the band’s back catalogue.  The album is made up of six new tracks and one track, Caravans to the Outer Worlds, which appeared on their EP of the same name in 2021.

The opener “Behind the Mirror” which rewards the listener following a short build-up into a swirling maelstrom of grand ambition and epic proportions before roaring into a familiar blackened metal driving riff and then once again ascending and descending almost simultaneously into a black hole from which nothing escapes.  “Congelia” feels like a natural follow on with it’s razor-sharp riffage allowing something to build up below the surface that like a volcano eventually forces it’s way through into a traditional black metal verse.  It is far more straightforward, albeit it could be three tracks in one, than the majority of other tracks on the album but no less powerful or emotive for it.

The band’s mainstays Grutle Kjellson (vocals and bass) and Ivar Bjornson (guitars) are no doubt the band’s key driving force but this a collective effort as the skills of drummer Iver Sandoy, keyboardist Hakon Vinje and lead guitarist Arve Isdal are laid bare for all to hear.  Both Vinje and Sandoy joined around five years or so ago and it’s clear to hear their influence coming through.  Of course, Isdal could hardly be called a newbie as he celebrates twenty years with the band but some of his fresh guitar lines sound like he has just joined and is eager to impress!!

Back to the music however and “Kingdom” is a ferocious tour-de-force whilst “Forest Dweller” covers all the seasons in under six minutes.  Part of it, thanks to insane work on the keys from Vinje, sounds like Deep Purple falling into an abyss whilst the other parts could be Opeth engaging in some medieval ritual sacrifice.  “Caravans to the Outer Worlds” is the most perfect example of controlled chaos you are likely to find this side of Behemoth.

What Enslaved manage to do so well is incorporate their other musical leanings and identities into their bleeding black metal hearts and merge them seamlessly into a sound that can only really be described as ENSLAVED.

This is the kind of album that permanently cements a bands greatness.

Donnie’s Rating: 9.5/10 Album of the year contender. You need this album. 

Heimdal is out now on Nuclear Blast Records

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