Enslaved - Utgard review



Reviewer:
9.0

196 users:
8.26
Band: Enslaved
Album: Utgard
Release date: October 2020


01. Fires In The Dark
02. Jettegryta
03. Sequence
04. Homebound
05. Útgarđr
06. Urjotun
07. Flight Of Thought And Memory
08. Storms Of Utgard
09. Distant Seasons


Given how explorative their career had been from their beginning up until 2010's iconic Axioma Ethica Odini, Enslaved's last few albums were surprisingly similar stylistically. Utgard is here to change that.

Now, that first sentence isn't meant as a criticism in any way; as far as I'm concerned, Enslaved are the best thing to ever come from black metal, and all four of their 2010s records made my end-of-decade list. However, anyone who's checked out the singles from the album, particularly "Jettegryta" and "Urjotun", will have noticed a shift from the lengthy prog sounds of E and In Times, and the rest of the album follows suit, with only a single song from those two records combined running shorter than the longest song on Utgard, which is the band's shortest full-length since 1998's Blodhemn. Additionally, whilst the synth-rock sounds of "Urjotun" are confined to that track, the sense of adventure that led to the inclusion of those sounds can be found in many of the album's songs.

The first thing I want to touch on is the vocals; the people that have heard "Jettegryta" already will know that Grutle Kjellson, for much of the band's recent career confined to only doing harsh black metal shrieks, takes on lead clean vocal duties in the song's chorus, and that's not the only track for which this is the case. The clean singing responsibilities are far more evenly shared by Kjellson and keyboardist Håkon Vinje this time around, and on the subject of Vinje, either he's taken a really different approach or there's a third voice contributing at times this time around, because there are plenty of non-Grutle cleans here that are far more forceful than the gloomy, soft voice Vinje predominantly employed on E (just listen to first single "Homebound" for some examples). Add in some group Viking chants (on display right from the off on "Fires In The Dark"), and there's an exciting array of vocal approaches on display here.

"Fires In The Dark" starts as just mentioned with Viking chants, but then features a steady, ominous march for an extended period before we get our first Grutle cleans. The rest of this song is a moody, mid-tempo track drenched in atmosphere, and with the keyboards nicely prominent in the mix. I've sometimes found the keyboards to be rather restricted on past albums as to when they were allowed to come through clearly in the mix, but they feel more consistently audible on Utgard, and they generally work to the songs' favour. Whilst not quite as epic as "Storm Son" or "Thurisaz Dreaming" from albums past, "Fires In The Dark" is a really strong intro to Utgard, but better is yet to come. The first real bursts of anger on the black metal and blast beat front come on the next track, "Jettegryta", a song that I already liked when the video dropped but have come to love more as part of full album plays; the Grutle clean chorus sounds nice and evil, and the black metal riff that immediately follows it kicks all kinds of ass. Perhaps my favourite overall song on Utgard, however, is fellow single "Homebound", with its rousing, euphoric chorus, epic solos and aforementioned impassioned clean vocals in the bridge.

I mentioned before that the synth-rock sounds of "Urjotun" were a one-off, but the band's sense of experimentation is represented in other ways on other tracks. Probably the most initially shocking is the use of what is most likely just keyboard sounds, but which sound to me rather a lot like steel drums and/or ringing bells in the closing minutes of "Sequence", but I have to say they work perfectly in adding a majestic feel to what is an already stunning instrumental stretch leading to the end of the song. These moments during "Urjotun" and "Sequence" are probably the biggest wildcards here, but there's odd novelties scattered elsewhere on the album; perhaps the other standout track in terms of surprises is closer "Distant Seasons", which may be the most consistently soft song I can remember the band doing (I'm not sure they've done a full song without harsh vocals before), but which serves as a great conclusion to the record. Nevertheless, any experimentation is allowed to flourish by Enslaved doing the things they're known for to their usual exceptionally high standard; the black metal riffs rip, the solos shred and the transitions feel seamless, with "Flight Of Thought And Memory" serving as a fine example for all of these.

The album's not perfect, with the odd chorus ("Flight Of Thought And Memory") or solo ("Sequence") not fully working for me; however, any moments such as these are few and feel insignificant compared to all the great things going on here. This feels like the clearest shift in approach the band has taken since Axioma Ethica Odini, if not earlier, so there's the possibility that Utgard may not please everyone; however, I would be surprised if it ends up being a divisive record, as it's by no means a grand departure, and the quality really shines through to me. The promo for Utgard came to me during a bit of a low point, and listening to it on repeat this Sunday just gone pretty much single-handedly salvaged my mood, which may partially explain why I feel so positively towards it, but as far as I'm concerned, this is another fantastic record from a band that is pretty much synonymous with consistency, and further extends what must now surely be the longest active hot streak in all of metal.


Rating breakdown
Performance: 9
Songwriting: 9
Originality: 8
Production: 9


 



Written on 29.09.2020 by Hey chief let's talk why not


Comments

Comments: 23   Visited by: 277 users
29.09.2020 - 19:23
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Ok, now you got me excited
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Young Woman: That's an interesting problem. Yeah, I struggle with that.
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29.09.2020 - 19:33
musclassia
Written by RaduP on 29.09.2020 at 19:23

Ok, now you got me excited


I love it - I wrote this on Sunday, left it on the boiler and then gave the album 3 more back-to-backs this afternoon to make sure I felt the same, and yeah, it's just so very likeable. Homebound is shooting up my list of favourite Enslaved tracks
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29.09.2020 - 20:19
JayMo4
I applaud them for once again deciding to shift their style and try something new. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest reasons the band has continued to release quality material through the years. Looking forward to having more to say on Friday.
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29.09.2020 - 21:18
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
I dont Mind clean vox.
To me best was first 4 albums, but after Isa somehow this band and I parted ways, even i have listened after Isa albums more then once.
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Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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29.09.2020 - 22:10
The Entity
Sounds exacly like what I want this album to be! Can't wait to hear it!
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https://enigmaticalofficial.bandcamp.com/
Industrial / Cosmic Black Metal
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29.09.2020 - 23:02
BitterCOld
waltrsobchakheit
Intrigued by this, your writing has piqued my curiosity. AEO is still my fave by far, but shifts and changes are good. almost forgot this drops soon... hopefully I can buy a digital copy this time without having to create an account on Nuclear Blast Germany's website...
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get the fuck off my lawn.

Beer Bug Virus Spotify Playlist crafted by Nikarg and I. Feel free to tune in and add some pertinent metal tunes!
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30.09.2020 - 09:05
Ace Frawley
The Spaceman
I think there is a third voice contributing clean vocals - if you watch the video for the song "Homebound" it is the drummer Iver Sandøy who is singing the cleans.

p.s. nice review, has me excited to buy the record in a couple of days and start listening.
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The sun shines over The Fool...
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30.09.2020 - 10:11
musclassia
Written by Ace Frawley on 30.09.2020 at 09:05

I think there is a third voice contributing clean vocals - if you watch the video for the song "Homebound" it is the drummer Iver Sandøy who is singing the cleans.

p.s. nice review, has me excited to buy the record in a couple of days and start listening.


I had been thinking Iver might be contributing some of the cleans on the album (I know he's done vocals when I've seen him perform with Einar Selvik and Ivar Bjornson's live group), but I wasn't sure how much - I was basically listening to the non-Grutle cleans and trying to work out if they could sound like Hakon going hard or if they sound like they must be coming from a different person. The promo notes didn't really mention about whether Iver would be contributing vocally so I kinda had to guess
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30.09.2020 - 10:43
Daniell
_爱情_
I expect nothing less from Enslaved and I'm happy that your review confirms my hopes. Along with the new Anaal Nathrakh, this is my most anticipated album of the year.
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01.10.2020 - 17:33
Troy Killjoy
perfunctionist
Enslaved could throw drum sticks, loose guitar strings, and a low quality mic at a wall for 45 minutes and still come out with something brilliant.
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I have no memory of this place.
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01.10.2020 - 18:35
musclassia
Written by Troy Killjoy on 01.10.2020 at 17:33

Enslaved could throw drum sticks, loose guitar strings, and a low quality mic at a wall for 45 minutes and still come out with something brilliant.


It honestly feels that way at this point
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02.10.2020 - 00:03
musclassia
Watching the Utgard-based Enslaved live show, the cleans that I wasn't sure were Hakon's were typically Iver's on drums, which explains a lot
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04.10.2020 - 04:38
sgtrobo
Just got a chance to listen to it. Pretty impressive to start with, and I get the feeling it'll get better.
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04.10.2020 - 16:20
Apothecary
PsyCHEdelic
It's not a bad release by any means, but I would absolutely not give this a 9. Probably more of a 7, 7.5 if I'm being nice. I think the last truly amazing Enslaved album was AEO, personally. Ever since then, their subsequent albums have definitely been good, but seem to be missing a certain something, and this one feels as though it continues that trend. I can't quite put a finger on what that "something" is exactly... I want to say atmosphere and melody, but this album certainly has plenty of that. Maybe it's just the way those segments are written now. They seem to be less sustained and secondary to the more riff heavy, black metal-ish moments and, for me at least, Enslaved's more riffy approach is a lot more boring than their more epic, atmospheric moments.
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Check out Apothecary's Favorite Bands Playlist, brotendo. One track per band.
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04.10.2020 - 16:41
musclassia
Written by Apothecary on 04.10.2020 at 16:20

It's not a bad release by any means, but I would absolutely not give this a 9. Probably more of a 7, 7.5 if I'm being nice. I think the last truly amazing Enslaved album was AEO, personally. Ever since then, their subsequent albums have definitely been good, but seem to be missing a certain something, and this one feels as though it continues that trend. I can't quite put a finger on what that "something" is exactly... I want to say atmosphere and melody, but this album certainly has plenty of that. Maybe it's just the way those segments are written now. They seem to be less sustained and secondary to the more riff heavy, black metal-ish moments and, for me at least, Enslaved's more riffy approach is a lot more boring than their more epic, atmospheric moments.


I can see quite a few people feeling the same as you, but as I was mulling it over, I was asking myself whether there was any other release from this year that I had enjoyed to the same degree, and I was struggling to think of anything. I was pondering over 8.5-9, but I wouldn't feel inclined to go any lower than that, I found almost every song, and at the very least all 4 in the first half, had moments that really moved me, and I actually really enjoyed a lot of the black metal riffs. Having said that, it looks like I rate the albums between this one and AEO a lot more highly than you do, so it's probably not surprising that we don't entirely align on this one either.
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05.10.2020 - 13:06
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
Written by Troy Killjoy on 01.10.2020 at 17:33

Enslaved could throw drum sticks, loose guitar strings, and a low quality mic at a wall for 45 minutes and still come out with something brilliant.

You nailed it, well seems band is full whit haters (even me), but after few listens I somehow get into newer Enslaved album, same was whit E. I like this
----
Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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06.10.2020 - 06:24
tintinb
This is like a really light release from enslaved, more atmospheric and proggy, the heaviness is sorely missing. Also I don't like the cleans too much in this album. However the opening chants in "Fires in the Dark" is really really good.
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07.10.2020 - 19:13
Daniell
_爱情_
The first time I thought about it was when I listened to "RIITIIR". This thought kept re-occurring with every consecutive release. Now, having heard "Utgard" I'm thinking the same thing. Enslaved would be better off without harsh vocals. (Grutle can do clear singing, and I'm sure he can get better at it too.) It's just that Enslaved's music branched out so far beyond the confines of black metal that sticking to these super abrasive shrieks seems unbecoming. And frankly, it spoils my listening experience more often than not.

Vocals aside, I find it hard to get into this album. All good ingredients that made up their previous releases are in place, but somehow they don't gel into an intriguing whole like before. Five listens in, and a 7 is the highest rank I can think of. Enslaved are one of my favourite bands, so I'll give them quite a few more listens before my opinion is crystallized.
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08.10.2020 - 00:43
nikarg
Mod
Written by Daniell on 07.10.2020 at 19:13

Enslaved would be better off without harsh vocals. (Grutle can do clear singing, and I'm sure he can get better at it too.) It's just that Enslaved's music branched out so far beyond the confines of black metal that sticking to these super abrasive shrieks seems unbecoming. And frankly, it spoils my listening experience more often than not.

I thought I was the only one who felt like that. Especially in the last two albums it seems to me almost as if they are using the harsh vocals only because people expect them to and they are afraid to be accused of going all Opeth.
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08.10.2020 - 16:37
JayMo4
I feel like the reception here has been somewhat lukewarm for such a great record, although it almost seems like most bands that have been around this long start to accumulate some bitter ex-fans. The bands that release the same record over and over again lose their impact for most, but then those like Enslaved that continue to evolve start to annoy the people that loved the old stuff and just wanted to hear more of the same over and over.
Also, I think the band occupies this sort of weird middle ground where you have disgruntled black metal fans that don't like the prog, and curious prog fans that would like the band a lot more if they ditched the heavier elements altogether (especially the harsh vocals.) I'm both a black metal diehard and a prog geek, so I absolutely love that a band like this even exists... that anyone out there is this capable of doing both things well. But I do think Enslaved was doomed to carry around their share of critics from the moment they moved in a proggier direction many years ago.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, I think that this is one of the strongest installments of Enslaved post BTL/Isa (for me, those two records are as good as anything progressive metal OR prog rock have ever produced.) It's simultaneously catchy and progressive, accessible and experimental, psychedelic and grounded, grandiose and straight forward, heavy and mellow, and true to the band's established sound while exploring new territories (layered clean vocals (!), expanded use of keys, etc.)

It took me a couple listens for some of it to sink in (and I think for a band like this that is how it is supposed to go,) but I am really impressed. I think it's their trippiest record since Vertebrae, and possibly their best overall record since then as well (to be fair, I know I'm in the minority of people that preferred Vertebrae to AEO.)
I keep waiting for these guys to run out of inspiration, but they never do. It's almost an odd thing that Opeth rather than Enslaved is usually the first band people name when speaking of progressive extreme metal bands. I've been a huge fan since the 90's, but Opeth has a core of great records and several more that are decent to good but not great. I don't even dislike the newer stuff and certainly don't need something to be heavy to enjoy it, but those albums just don't move me like Blackwater Park or Still Life. Yet almost everything Enslaved has done falls somewhere between really good and mind-blowing. There's just never a misstep.

It's all subjective of course. But I am really digging this one. It's probably my album of the year, though I really like that Psychonaut record. The Ocean's new one and the shockingly underrated but brilliant Intronaut album from a few months back are close behind.
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08.10.2020 - 17:21
musclassia
Written by JayMo4 on 08.10.2020 at 16:37


It's all subjective of course. But I am really digging this one. It's probably my album of the year, though I really like that Psychonaut record. The Ocean's new one and the shockingly underrated but brilliant Intronaut album from a few months back are close behind.


All the records mentioned here will quite likely make my end-of-year top 20, so seems like we have rather overlapping tastes; probably not a big surprise we feel similarly positive towards this new album as well!
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10.10.2020 - 17:00
tea[m]ster
Au Pays Natal
This album is fantastic - can't put it down. Excellent review and thanks.
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rekt
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10.10.2020 - 17:04
tea[m]ster
Au Pays Natal
Written by Troy Killjoy on 01.10.2020 at 17:33

Enslaved could throw drum sticks, loose guitar strings, and a low quality mic at a wall for 45 minutes and still come out with something brilliant.

Is there a better discog top to bottom? Let me throw some out there that come close, decent sample size of course:
Moonsorrow
Fates Warning
Fen
Agalloch
Isis
Be'Lakor
The Ocean
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rekt
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