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Enslaved RIITIIR Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

Norway’s progressive metal monoliths hit the big dozen.

Spencer Grady 2012

The self-appointed custodians of black metal’s unholy sacraments don’t take kindly to dissent, especially from their own infernal brood – just ask Burzum’s Varg Vikernes.

So expect rivers of tears to curdle the corpse paint when kvlt purists cast ears to RIITIIR, the twelfth album from Norway’s doyens of enlightened metal extremism, Enslaved.

RIITIIR sees co-vocalist/keyboardist Herbrand Larsen adopt a more pivotal position within the group – a development that’s been ongoing since he joined in 2004. His incremental rise to prominence within the band may well provide focus for the naysayers’ vitriol.

Possessing an impressive croon – imagine a hybrid of Brendan Perry and Layne Staley – Larsen dominates much of this set, imbuing its eight tracks with a sheen of accessibility that may test the tolerance of some.

Despite the frenzied chaos of its opening seconds, lead track Thoughts Like Hammers finds Larsen delivering cryptic refrains, sounding like Dave Grohl doggie-paddling through the deep end of the cosmos, matched by a melodic Foo Fighters-like mid-section and tight King Crimsonite syncopations.  

But like other morphs from the furthest outreaches of metal – Opeth, Ulver and Satyricon – Enslaved’s supposed move towards the middle ground camouflages their work’s intrinsically challenging nature. Like the Trojan nag of antiquity, at first glance the beast appears harmless, but its pregnant belly is ready to rumble.

RIITIIR is a complex, schizophrenic work, verging on the overly sensorial at points, leaving the listener feeling as if they’ve been repeatedly bashed over the head with a really clever hammer. It’s marked by sudden shifts in tempo and disposition, propelled by unhinged rhythms: check the title track’s arabesque, Melechesh-like pummel.

For every guttural growl from the throat of bassist Grutle Kjellson (approximating Satyr’s wretched snarl on both Veilburner and Materal), or guitar lick in homage to Emperor and Voivod, there’s also a Mellotron interlude (fast becoming an Enslaved staple) or a sea burial of quivering piano tone, such as those bookending Forsaken.

Building to its gracefully sullen climax, this closer could even pass as a creaking narrative from underrated post-Slint project The For Carnation. One can only speculate what the late Euronymous, whose Deathlike Silence imprint released Enslaved’s debut album in 1994, would have made of it all.

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