Pandemic and containment measures have only one positive aspect: many prolific bands dedicate more time to their art. Hence, we have the opportunity to hear new, good music from them. Enslaved took the chance to release a new EP, titled “Caravans to the Outer Worlds”, just a year after the overwhelmingly dark and pagan “Utgard” captured our hearing sense. Admittedly, I was surprised by the Norwegians’ decision, given that intermediary releases aren’t included in their habits (ten years have passed since the duo of “The Sleeping Gods” and “Thorn”).

Before listening a single note, my first thought was that the title predisposes for more daring psychological/philosophical experimentations by a band who have offered timeless travels in space-time continuum. Indeed, the content justifies the initial perception, sending you to an astral plane. The majestic homonymous opener might be considered “Enslaved-ish” in both the original and psychedelic/prog sense; both facts co-exist harmonically and unpretentiously. The whispers of winds and the bass signify another arcane experience, but the band’s raw, black metal side emerges abruptly, catching you unaware, grasping you firmly. Guitars catch fire, tempo is storming, unbounded, Enslaved become what they used to be. However, before the submersion in rawness becomes unmitigated, the caravans occur to greet you willfully. The “Esoteric navigation through the astral storms…” commences, revealing how Enslaved attire their inner essence in their later existentialism. The “marriage” between old and new happens now, enwrapping you in a delicate entanglement.

In “Ruun II - The Epitaph” spirituality prevails completely. In this alternative sequel to “Ruun”, Enslaved make orgies with acoustic, ritualistic sounds, away from electrifying torrents. A pagan rite, emerging from archaic times, embraces you, revealing hidden, apocryphal meanings. You float above unknown primitive coastlines, guided by Kjellson’s clean, caressing vocals and folk/pagan vibe. Without body, you get in touch with an ancient, but not entirely forgotten, past.  

The two framing instrumentals act as connections, featuring a more “down-to-earth” sound. The huge riffage of “Intermezzo I - Lönnlig. Gudlig.” amidst the ambience fulfills its purpose, despite its short duration. In “Intermezzo II - The Navigator” you come across a familiar, reassuring riff, emerging directly from “Isa” era. The journey has ended; you were baptized in obscurity and now you return, revitalized, to the terrestrial plane.

If you are aware of how things worked in “Utgard”, you should feel promptly accustomed to the EP’s more expansive concept. It’s still dark and pagan, yet more exhilarating and redeeming. Enslaved in only 18 minutes bind harmonically elements from several parts of their history, forming a captivating, obscure soundscape. The roots were already evident in previous albums, but now they rise above the surface in their entire grandeur. If there is an “experimentation climax”, it has no meaning in Enslaved’s case. The band abolish space and time, without fear of experimenting. On the contrary, if there is someone who should be afraid, that should be “experimentation” itself. In a sense, I feel we are lucky: Enslaved’s cosmic travels seem to have many unrevealed chapters for testing and uplifting of soul.

♦ 9/10

Alex Nikolaidis