Enslaved, Utgard review (Nuclear Blast 2020)

The incredible 15th album from the Bergen, Norway metal band Enslaved is Utgard, another impressive achievement in their long career.

The most recent previous studio album was E in 2017, and the songs on that album were generally long (most around eight minutes or longer), which is the usual way Enslaved creates music. On Utgard, the band’s compositions are tighter and yet every bit as creative as earlier releases. The band is now made up of long-time members Grutle Kjellson (vocals and bass), Ivar Bjørnson (guitars and effects), and Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal (guitars), along with newer recruits Håkon Vinje (keyboards and vocals) and Iver Sandøy (drums). The confluence of these musical elements is an alchemy all its own.

“Fires In The Dark” opens with an acapella treatment (in Norwegian), followed by an acoustic guitar moment, sudden heavy riffs, wispy atmospheric sounds, then a narrative element. Sort of a heavy version of Andrew Lloyd Weber in that it is a big production and a complex construction. The melodies in the guitars have a very magic carpet, djinn feel to them in the second half – a mystical desert vibe. The integration of diverse elements is the mainstay throughout. “Jettegryta,” the next song, does this too, in a very different way. It is not simply the variation of coarse and clean vocals but also shifts in musical cadence and style, sometimes perpendicularly, that throw you off cliff after cliff then lift you up on hurricane winds. We hear Epic Metal then Prog then a classic metal riff, here and there and all around.

On side two, “Urjotun” is a peppy straight-up prog rock song that is taken over by darkness as it progresses. “Flight of Thought and Memory” wells up feelings of sorrow and regret, while “Storms of Utgard” is more confrontational with amazing lead guitar work. The closing song is “Distant Seasons.” You can feel the curtain falling when it begins in its quiet and gentle way, but the power wells up soon enough. The relatively brief nature of the songs is a departure in a way for the band, but all the elements we have come to expect from Enslaved are nevertheless here in full force. Recommended.

Out now from Nuclear Blast, you can get Utgard on CD and vinyl and of course as a download – Bandcamp is best place for the digital.

Links.

Band: http://enslaved.no/

Band Bandcamp: https://enslaved.bandcamp.com/album/utgard

Band Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/enslaved

Nuclear Blast Shop: https://shop.nuclearblast.com/en/products/sound/vinyl/lp/enslaved-utgard-black-vinyl-.html

Enslaved, Utgard review (Nuclear Blast 2020)

Ensiferum, Thalassic review (Metal Blade Records 2020)

Ensiferum celebrates 25 years of music with a new album, Thalassic – a Folk Metal epic tale told in heavy sea shanties.

I read that “Ensiferum” is Latin for something like “sword-bearing,” and that “Thalassic” is Greek for “relating to the seas,” so I do now definitely understand why the band’s music has often been called Viking Metal. Still, the broader Folk Metal label usually gets applied to them, placing the band among the storied list of famous acts like Korpiklaani, Finntroll, Amon Amarth, and stands with recent releases like this year’s Falconer album. It is a big tent, and this manner of metal music has legions of fans. Ensiferum brings out the heavy from every angle in Thalassic, the band’s first actual themed album.

The Helsinki band has been making music for two and a half decades, and has gone through many line-up changes and rearrangements throughout their journey. The current band is Sami Hinkka (bass and vocals), Markus Toivonen (guitar and vocals), Petri Lindroos (guitar and vocals), and Janne Parviainen (drums), with Pekka Montin (clean vocals and keyboards) contributing to the studio recording.

The maritime musical gets started with a sweeping orchestral opener, then dives straight into seafaring metal. “Rum, Women, Victory” is an anthem style radio song that alternates between gruff and clean vocals that ride along the waves of roiling guitars and peppering drums. The pace is fast and urgent, and, you can tell from the title, light hearted. This one is going to be a singalong at live shows for sure. The Greek mythology themes start to emerge with “Andromeda,” which takes a more serious and somber tone, opening the way for the full tale to be told. The production is front stage in this album, with a big full sound, a generous use of keyboards, and many moments of relief that keep the music and story moving along. It is designed to be theatrical and they pull it off well. The concept is fully realized and fans of the band and fantasy metal music are going to love this album.

Thalassic is available now from Metal Bade Records in many forms and functionalities. If you are looking for a big sound and a maritime mythology story to go along with it, Ensiferum has your number.

Links.

http://www.facebook.com/Ensiferum

http://www.ensiferum.com

http://www.metalblade.com/ensiferum

Ensiferum, Thalassic review (Metal Blade Records 2020)