Written by Mass
Enslaved – Utgard
Progressive Black Metal from Norway
Released October 2nd, 2020
Via Nuclear Blast
When Houses Fall
Among all the albums I was looking forward to, Enslaved’s new release was one of the very top. I have profusely enjoyed their works, old and new alike, well mostly the older ones and maybe E excluded, but Utgard, in short, was far from satisfactory and way below my expectations bar. Don’t get me wrong. Utgard IS Enslaved, but it is not the Enslaved we, the old fans, want. They have kept an overall tinge of their true Norwegian Progressive Black Metal nature, but this new sound is so distorted and contorted that makes you question the band’s current trajectory.
Let’s begin with the mediocre Fires in The Dark. On the plus side, I enjoyed the somewhat atmospheric mood in some parts of the track and the Grutle Kjellson’s unmistakable growls. But unfortunately, it did not have more to offer. Everything takes a down turn beginning with Jettegryta. Despite its fabulous old school black metal opening riff, which enthralled me for almost half of the track, they took a nosedive with the sudden halt mid-way, shifting to a progressive sound and nadiring with the unforgivable, abominable solo. It could have been my favorite on this album, but darn! it had to be shat over! Despite the fact that many might like Sequence and its heavy metal-ish riff, when the pace drops after the acoustic break, it veers into New Age domain, and had it not been for the distant harsh guitar echoes, one might have easily mistaken this piece for a Yanni’s or Kitaro’s and somewhere towards the end of the track, it gets Christmassy with chiming bells and other similar oddities!
With Homebound, the previously released single track, things begin to look up again, chiefly owing to its crushing riff, enticing melody, clever bass and captivating solo. This is where even the clean vocals get growly and rusty, which is certainly to my liking. All seems promising until you hear the galling dark ambient Utgard. I am totally fine with spoken-word style of songs, but here, as it is the eponymous track, I believe it is supposed to capture and reflect the very essence of the album; however, it looks more like a filler, an interlude rather than a fully-flourished track; it is merely some recitation about darkness of human life and nothing more. As if it were not enough, the electronic, synth-y, industrial rock-ish Urjotun picks up where its precursor left off and drags the listener through about 1 minute and 45 long seconds of such music before it really begins. The only redeeming feature of this disproportionately electronic piece is the hefty bass guitar of none other than Kjellson himself.
Back to the origins with Flight of Thought and Memory before it turns into a medley of disjointed, jarring pieces with a few moments of gruesome solos, only to worsen later, falling into pits of a standstill with a voice reciting lines in Norwegian over stranded drumming. What follows is Storms of Utgard, a fairly redeeming track as it is where the song structure gradually builds up and the progression makes sense and also, it is on this track that the most sensible solo on the album can be heard. It is not, however, without its defect. The unsuitable sound of tambourine, though innovative, feels anomalous. After all this clatter and turmoil, the smooth singularity that Distant Seasons is can be considered my choice of album highlight. I liked the overall mood of this piece; I can say it was the one track on which we witnessed consistency and harmony of elements; in particular, the acoustic guitar ending was to my liking. Besides, it had the finest lyrics among all these 9 tracks.
Utgard, in summary, was not what I had hoped it would be. I am generally into the subject matters Enslaved touched upon, the Nordic myths, but I am not pleased by their craftsmanship and approach to these subjects, as the lyrics are mostly vague and unclear; you know, they are overly generic and not telling and compelling enough. What bothered me most was the fact that we see lack consistency and coherence throughout the album and songs are mostly incongruous within themselves as mentioned above. It could have been colossal – hey, it’s Enslaved we are talking about – but it just failed to be so.