Review by Jeff Maki
On its astonishing 13th studio album, In Times, long-running Norwegian progressive black metal band Enslaved follows its recent releases Axioma Ethica Odini (2010) and RIITIIR (2012) in developing its sound further, progressing into unknown territory for an extreme metal band, yet managing to retain a substance of its roots. Consisting of only six songs, all clocking in over eight minutes, In Times is an album that presents somewhat of a challenge for listeners but nothing we can’t handle.
Prior to writing this, I had the chance to interview guitarist/founding member Ivar Bjørnson (read here), who he talked about the recording of In Times and the band’s evolution. He also gave one of the best answers ever when I asked him why many black metal bands eventually change styles. But what I took out of the interview regarding Enslaved’s music and In Times is that the band has a clear direction in which it wants to progress and it always has. Though interestingly enough, this album—not a straight black metal album by any means—shows a lot of the band’s early black metal roots (it formed in 1993) in recent memory. Just hit play on the album opener “Thurisaz Dreaming.” It brought me back to the those early ’90s, when I was discovering black metal and everything sounded so new, exciting and foreign—this type of music didn’t exist in the U.S. back then, and there really isn’t another band on the planet right now doing what Enslaved is doing on In Times.
In Times not only has black metal roots, it is also highly accessible. Songs like the near-nine-minute “Building with Fire” may look daunting, but at its core, this is a verse-chorus-verse song, if not an opus. Even “Thurisaz Dreaming” calms down after its corpse-paint-battle-axe-wielding-like start, where clean vocals and a more traditional ’70s heavy metal bassline and riff take over. I mention clean vocals, because although these aren’t new to Enslaved, vocalist Grutle Kjellson is getting better with each album, and this may be his best performance yet. I thought maybe I had pulled one out of left field in our interview when I compared In Times‘ vocal harmonies (particularly on “Building with Fire”) to Jerry Cantrell and Alice in Chains, but Ivar, seemingly impressed, said the band admires Alice in Chains and it was a “good observation.” “One Thousand Years of Rain” offers the same unlikely combination.
The band is no stranger to experimentation, and for one part of the recording of the album, it retreated to a “cabin in the woods” in Norway (the Woods of Valevåg), where it recorded soundscapes and “nature sounds.” Combined with the members’ excellent playing, these “sounds” are used in parts of each song, giving In Times an organic feel. Other various instrumentation is also present—I may have even heard a piano in the title track.
This certainly isn’t music tailored for radio, unless you know of any stations regularly playing eight-minute songs. In Times is an album meant to be taken in as a whole; I know that’s a cliche, but really it is. So give yourself some much-deserved time. Come back to it time and time again. You’re bound to hear something new with each listen.
(March 10, 2015, Nuclear Blast)