Album review: Enslaved – Heimdal

Unpredictable Norwegian black metal geniuses Enslaved continue to walk with the gods on stunning 16th album…

Album review: Enslaved – Heimdal
Nick Ruskell

In Norse mythology, the figure of Heimdal is an enigmatic one. The guardian between the nine realms, after Ragnarök, he's said to be the one set to replace Odin, representing a new dawn. There's also debate on who he actually is, with some suggesting that he's really Odin himself.

Such a character is ripe for a look at through the Enslaved microscope. Indeed, singer/guitarist Ivar Bjørnson describes the band's look at him on their 16th album as "going down a rabbit hole", something that doesn't so easily fit into a normal conceptual framework. This itself is instructive of Enslaved themselves. Thirty-one years since Heimdal first made his appearance on the then-youthful Bergen black metal outfit's Yggdrasill demo, they remain a similarly hard to guess proposition.

There is, of course, a known quantity to them, a foundation of black metal at its most vast and Pink Floyd at their most spacious, but to presume their next move is a fool's errand. So the case proves on Heimdal, to stunning effect.

It opens with the sound of lapping water, and a horn (courtesy of Wardruna's Eilif Gundersen), before Behind The Mirror rolls out, firmly in the mellower end of the Enslaved spectrum. Almost immediately, though, the album marks its territory as the heaviest thing to which Enslaved have put their name in a long time. Congelia is an explosive thrust of black metal, even during its peculiar mid section, while Forest Dweller's prog moments are broken up by stabs of red-blooded, muscular extremity, including a (very aggressive) Deep Purple-ish organ freak out. Kingdom, meanwhile, with its jazzy rhythms and strange riffs, brings to mind Mastodon if they were from the cold white North rather than sticky hot Atlanta, as does the enormous proggy groove of the riff in the closing title-track.

Always, though, there is that unfathomable, disappearing horizon, as if looking over the edge of the world. It's what makes Enslaved such a creatively fecund band, even so long in. Ivar describes the album's intro as, "the sound of leaving the land, approaching that dawn that lies behind a bank of fog, and you hear the horn of Heimdal. And you row into that, into the new day where you don’t know what’s behind there.”

Three decades in, Enslaved continue to do just this. Brave, curious, and with a rare talent for using what they find on their explorations to their fullest extents, here they remain a truly exceptional band with no real peer. Sixteen albums in, that they continue to surprise and create as much as they do is to be celebrated on its own. That it represents their best work in a decade is the triumph of a genuinely magnificent band.

Verdict: 4/5

For fans of: Bathory, Pink Floyd, Mastodon

Heimdal is released on March 3 via Nuclear Blast

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