You cannot assess Enslaved’s history in pure discographic terms. This year, our ears had the privilege of hearing the band’s sixteenth album; but “sixteen” is just a number. What matters most, is their evolution and stance through the ages. Enslaved are among the few bands who dared to break the once non-negotiable boundaries of black metal. From “Below the Lights” onwards, their progressiveness and ingenuity galop unrestrictedly, in a philosophical journey where their primordial roots, attitude towards cosmos and nature, spirituality and mysticism, emerge to find their reflection in a modern tech world where true art (of any kind) is usually treated with contempt and scorn.
Such a creativity and inspiration make each album unique and our attempts to foretell their next “station” rather pointless. In that sense, when we heard the news about the upcoming release, we could make only vague assumptions about the characteristics of “Heimdal”. Of course, “Caravans to the Outer Worlds” from the homonymous EP two years ago provided an initial suggestion; but that was only a suggestion.
Indeed, when I listened to “Heimdal” for first time, I had a simple thought: it would take some time before the album reveals itself in full splendor, as its structure and essence require “maturation” through dedication and introspection (that’s the reason I purposefully delayed writing this review). You see, “Heimdal” proved to be unpredictably peculiar and “difficult”, even for Enslaved’s standards.
Named after the familiar deity of Norse Mythology, “Heimdal” differs from its predecessor, despite having common foundations (which are black metal and progressive rock). “Utgard” was dark and occasionally gave you a feeling that it concerned the soil. On the other hand, “Heimdal” is rather foggy and cloudy (the album’s cover is a perfectly conceived “mirror” of the content), blunting the sharpness of “Utgard”, although darkness remains. Yet, familiar elements found plentifully in the Norwegians’ long-lasting career are here, allowing the band’s core to resurface triumphantly. Enslaved have all the necessary “tools” at their disposal: Bjørnson’s and Kjellson’s ingenuity, a vast palette of influences and each band member’s talent.
Essentially, “Heimdal” is a time-capsule that takes you on a psychic journey, as the band search for their ancestral past (or for themselves?)... The gentle sound of the waves that caress a shore… the blowing of Eilif Gunderrsen’s horn (known from his collaborations with Wardruna)… and soon, you find yourself amidst complex structures that, contrary to their temperament, aren’t tiring at all; “Heimdal” might be challenging, but not tiring. Now, more than ever, the orientation to progressive rock is pivotal; experimentations with analog synthesizer sounds, referring even to the German krautrock, give an organic, kaleidoscopic touch to the album, oozing the band’s endoscopic nature, and as such, Vinje’s patterns and clean vocals are instrumental.
“Heimdal” is an astonishing methexis of different worlds, a generous offering of numerous musical ideas. The whimsical syncretism of black metal extremities and prog rock themes via elaborate orchestrations, the peculiar structures, the cold Scandinavian riffing, the folk and atmospheric elements, the synthwave strokes, are bound splendidly to form an impressive mosaic of art and memory. However, “Heimdal” isn’t the music only; it’s the creators’ quest for transcendence that makes this offspring so astonishingly astute and brilliant.
The stunning “Behind the Mirror” and “Congelia”, the swirling -and so much different- “Kingdom”, the folk aura of “Forest Dweller”, the immensity of “The Eternal Sea”, the levitation of “Caravans to the Outer Worlds” and the doomy temperament of the conclusive “Heimdal”, which culminates in a majestic closing sequence, are unimaginable. The adjectives and nouns I used in the last sentence are just words; you should search through the songs to find their true, hidden meaning, and experience the musical instillations of influences into darkness.
Bow! “Heimdal” is flawless. In terms of composition, performance and production, it achieves perfection, but as I already mentioned, it requires the listener’s time. Enslaved, after 30+ years of activity, reach another inconceivable peak, where they stand haughtily, away from marketing purposes and orders of the masses, directing at anyone willing to embark on their spiritual travels. However, despite the grandeur of this creation, I doubt if it could be labeled as the band’s “capstone”. Today, we’re lucky to come across this beacon of Norse psyche. As for the future, I have the impression that even Enslaved aren’t aware of what their next chapter will be; let’s only hope that there are many more to come from them.
PS: Get the vinyl version! It’s a beauty!