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Norway’s progressive extreme metal masters of mythology Enslaved have been taking us on intense musical journeys into the various realms of Norse gods over the course of the last thirty years.
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Now, three years since the odinistic tones of E, Enslaved have reached even further back into the mists of time to explore Utgard, the turbulent land of the giants, in their fifteenth studio album. And a powerful journey it is.
Fires In The Dark opens Utgard with a profound, chant-like recital of the creation story from the Hávamál, setting the scene for the album’s journey through strange, chaotic spaces of Utgard. At the outset, and through the rollicking second track Jettegryta, it is apparent that Utgard has a heavier and more discordant, more textured presence than E, although still quite darkly ambient. This is brought to the fore in third track Sequence, a track which jumps around with all the tensions of a primordial storm. Oscillating between high energy mid-pace rocking riffs, dynamic vocal style interchanges, furious and chaotic crescendos, it then implodes into an unnervingly euphoric extended sparse passage with slow clean vocals. Following the centre-point spoken-word interlude Utgardtr, the chaotic musical push-and-pull between styles maximises with the synth-pumping upbeat track Urjotun. This curious stratospheric ode to the primal giants moves through several style-blends to culminate back in more familiar black metal sounds, a fitting sonic exploration of the fires of creation.
Enslaved have produced a complex and highly engaging album in Utgard, laden with mythological motifs and boldly successful musical experimentations.
The final three tracks of Utgard are spectacular Enslaved anthems, that round out the chaos and tension of the album’s concept perfectly. Flight Of Thought And Memory is a powerful track, opening with a more discordant riff and moving into more frenetic black metal with the characteristic atmospheric interludes and moving clean vocals. This style has become iconic Enslaved and thematically this track is a sophisticated embodiment of the album’s mission to explore the ancient forces underneath, shaping and challenging our present. Storms of Utgard is the pseudo-title track and its catchy, melodic black metal orientation has a welcome sense of resolution after the wild journey of the tracks preceding it.
With Distant Seasons, we feel a sense of strange harmony, as Utgard closes and the journey feels complete. Utgard is a deep and multilayered album, in Enslaved’s renowned style of creating conceptually-driven albums with strong form-to-content relationships, and one that reveals more detail at each listen. Enslaved have produced a complex and highly engaging album in Utgard, laden with mythological motifs and boldly successful musical experimentations. But Utgard isn’t just romanticising Norse mythology; it is a statement of how the primeval is abundantly present. Indeed, it is from darkness and chaos that creativity and life emerge.
STANDOUT TRACKS: Fires In The Dark, Flights of Thought and Memory, Storms of Utgard
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