Enslaved – Utgard (Nuclear Blast)Monday, 5th October 2020
When you think of most bands that have 15 albums to their name, you tend to think of acts who have ‘towed the line’ or streamlined their sound into something that is at least somewhat static with each new release. They aren’t going to radicalize things or make bold changes – it’s more about keeping the sound (and therefore, the fanbase) intact. Enslaved continues to impress with their ability to bring in different elements and shape their sound over time.
Utgard still retains that distinctive Nordic cold and ‘Enslaved’ sound, but at the same time, they are noticeably changing things up a tad. The most notable change is how progressive and dreamy the album sounds, and how well it meshes with their black metal roots. “Sequence” has near psychedelic soundscapes that tickle your ears when the track slows down, pushing things into some trippy and space-y vibes that are nothing if not playful. But mixed in with this is some galloping blackened riffs and snarling vocals to make you stand at attention. “Jettegryta” embraces more of a black metal vibe, complete with raining blastbeats, but rises up with ethereal moments and choral vocals into something more grandiose. “Urjotun” opens with some near-danceable synth bouncing and energetic bass lines as it morphs into something more dark and almost gothic, and finally hitting the second half with a fun blackened fusion of everything before it. Essentially, Enslaved break a lot of ground in the way that everything comes together, yet somehow it still sounds like Enslaved – no one is going to accuse them of biting off more than they can chew. Certainly the closing duo of “Storms of Utgard” and “Distant Seasons” alone will be enough to show their resolve to most as they gel some raging black metal with intricate arrangements, and then finish it off with some epic progressive splendor.
A considerably strong album from Enslaved, Utgard doesn’t rest on the laurels of releases before it. It hits the epic notes the band has been cultivating for years and gives it an extra dose of progressive dreaminess. It’s a potent combo that should have fans, old and new, thrilled at the band’s songwriting finesse.