Norway has been the stage to some of the best extreme metal in the world, and Bergen-based Enslaved is one of the finest representatives of the genre. Founded in 1991 by Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson, the band is ready to release their 16th full-length studio album, “Heimdal”, out on March 3, via Nuclear Blast Records.
After 2020’s “Utgard” incursion into the land of ice giants and 2021’s in-between journey of “Caravans To The Outer Worlds”, “Heimdal” is a conceptual continuation of the two, owing its title to one of the most mysterious old Norse deities, the gatekeeper between the nine realms. Representing a journey through one’s own life, the realisation that youth is in the past, and the mystery that lies ahead, “Heimdal” is indeed one of Enslaved’s most interesting works so far.
“Behind The Mirror” opens the album with the sound of waves and the blowing of a horn, which sets the otherworldly atmosphere that is present throughout “Heimdal”; a heavy guitar riff follows, as well as clean vocals, which slowly dive into a slightly unsettling and dissonant soundscape. When Grutle Kjellson’s harsh vocals kick in, the listener feels at home: “this is going to be Enslaved at their best”. “Congelia” follows, the heaviest and most difficult song on the entire album. This song is made up of layer upon layer of sound ̶ at first, confusing, but it becomes a delightful exercise to peel off these layers and make a new discovery with each listen. The song has a hypnotic and almost shamanic feel to it, and features excellent drumming.
Melodic and progressive, “Forest Dweller” tells a story; bringing the right amount of electronics to set up a dreamscape atmosphere, the track has perfect balance between light and darkness, heavy moments following brighter passages. “Kingdom” is next, with futuristic sounds and a forward motion, mixing elements of 70’s psychedelia with characteristics of old-school baroque music ̶ in a Bach-meets-Krautrock kind of way, this is a fascinating song built with synths, contrasting vocals, and Icelandic chanting. Not devoid of heaviness, this is one of my favourite pieces on the album for its structure and nostalgic feel.
“The Eternal Sea” opens with a bass line that dominates the intro, followed by a chant that dives deep into dark waters, only to re-emerge into the light and hope in what lies ahead. “Caravans To The Outer Worlds” follows, previously released as the core-song of Enslaved’s 2021 EP. The track is the link between 2020’s more straight-forward “Utgard” and the more mystery-shrouded “Heimdal”, a journey through the unknown, with excellent guitar solos.
The album closes with the title track “Heimdal”, in which ominous notes announce the proximity of Ragnarok; after an equally ominous-sounding interlude that brings the energy up a notch, it leaves the album with an open ending, a leap into the unknown and the sight of new paths for the future.
“Heimdal” is an album about the journey, an initiation rite not without its challenges, but always rewarding in the end. The listener that approaches it at first is not left unchanged after treading this musical path. With inspired cover artwork ̶ is something lurking in the mirrored image, that is shrouded in dark clouds on the upper half of the picture? ̶ , tonally interesting and musically beautiful, this album is a mystery in the best possible way, and leaves a question mark on one’s mind: what is to come next?