Stop what you’re doing.
I’d like you to stop what you’re doing right now and pay attention.
For here is the most impressive and important heavy metal album thus far in 2015. This is the record that is going to inhabit the upper echelons of those end of year lists and we are only in the year’s early months. This is the record that you’re going to smile knowingly about and, when all the hipsters come out of the woodwork to declare their love for it, you’re going to feel smug in the knowledge that you were there when Frost (Osmose) came out and when Axioma Ethica Odini (Indie/Nuclear Blast) changed your world view of what was possible with progressive metal. In Times (Nuclear Blast), the thirteenth album from Norwegian progressives Enslaved, is a record of staggering, jaw-dropping brilliance.
In Times distils the essence of Enslaved in brilliant, grandiose fashion but, like all great albums, suggests new, as yet uncharted opportunities. To use sporting parlance, suggesting that the band are at the top of their game is to truly misunderstand what’s going on here. Enslaved are not just at the top of their game; they are in the process of trying to change the game being played. In Times delivers six extended, expansive aural essays as opposed to songs. They are all brilliant, all have their own internal narratives, nuances and highlights and yet, knitted together, manifest themselves as the most coherent and immersive album of this band’s career.
‘Thurisaz Dreaming’ kicks things off in spectacular yet familiar fashion. We are thrown back into the brutal and ferocious territory that is reminiscent of the black metal hinterland of the band’s early period. This works on a number of levels- as a visceral introduction and a statement of intent for the new record, it is all welcome and vibrant strum und drang. As a reminder of how far the band have come without compromising their aesthetic or values it is a glorious throwing down of the gauntlet. About three minutes in, we move elegantly into the more progressive melodic territory of the band’s more recent past. It’s akin to pulling a handbrake turn. In lesser hands, this juxtaposition of styles would be clunky and knowing. With Enslaved, such is their talent for aural narrative, this seems like the most natural thing in the world. It is a technicolour, vibrant and furious opening.
It then gets even better. ‘Building with Fire’ is one of the best and most compelling manifestations of the band’s melding of clean, open singing and harsher brutalism that I have ever heard. It has a hypnotic 4/4 beat that acts as a simple yet effective architecture for the dual vocal talents of Herbrand Larsen and Grutle Kjellson. It’s brilliantly effective, and catchy as hell.
And then it gets better still. On ‘1000 Years of Rain’ we have one of the most intricate, eloquent and astonishingly creative songs the band have created. It is a rich and richly nuanced epic, covering an extraordinary range of styles, stitched together like a medieval tapestry. This is what the soundtrack to Game of Thrones sounds like in my head. We are treated to folk, hymnal chanting, riffing bigger than tectonic plates and a brilliant attention to detail that brings the listener back time and again to discover new gems as well as simply wallow in the gloriousness of it all.
Exemplary is the most apposite word that I can conjure for the majesty of ‘Nauthir Bleeding’. It stretches to almost breaking point the band’s capacity for bringing together the dream-like melody with gnarly bombast but it’s a stretching that never breaks, largely because this is a band that knows exactly what they are doing and do it with aplomb; being taken to the edge has rarely felt as thrilling.
The simplicity of what Enslaved do – the light and shade, the ambient and terrifying is simple enough to explain, much harder to deliver. On the ten minutes plus dynamism of the title track you really understand just how accomplished they are. This is the most obviously progressive track here with long ethereal passages that reflect the album’s otherworldly nature whilst continuing to blend in the relentless riffage that they are equally renowned for.
The album coda, ‘Daylight’, is well, magnificent, driving through fantastic melodies and power to the inevitable conclusion that leaves you shaking your head at how good it all is.
In Times is a reflection and a look forward; it is the most complete encapsulation of what Enslaved are about and what Enslaved are capable of. Again and again, In Times shifts your expectations about what “good” looks and sounds like. This is the most daring, ambitious, otherworldly and evocative album of an already deeply impressive career. It is the record where any scintilla of doubt of their genius can be banished from your mind, consigned to the dustbin and given a right royal telling off. With In Times, Enslaved have created an album where every ounce of their creative nous has been distilled into an album that is simply and utterly spellbinding.