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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Enslaved

Ruun

Review by Mike Korn

Enslaved is the thinking man's metal band. Of course, they are not the only group meeting that description, but right now, I can't think of any metal group that is more forward-thinking or unafraid to experiment. Influenced by King Crimson and Pink Floyd as much as by Bathory or Emperor, these Norwegians may be considered the heaviest prog rock band in the world.

Never content to release the same album twice, "Ruun" sees Enslaved at their most accessible and easiest to comprehend. I would not consider the music here "relaxed" as it is still quite aggressive and metallic in nature, but there's something abut the way it smoothly flows from one idea to the next that suggests the band is comfortable with the material and their ability to bring it to life.

If the harshness and evil atmosphere of Norwegian black metal scares you away from most bands of that ilk, I'd definitely recommend Enslaved as an alternative. It has the coldness, speed and grim vocals of that genre, but mixed expertly with slower vibes and more melodic, progressive elements. "Ruun" is a terrific stepping stone into the world of extreme metal.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Entropir
Ghostly synth-symphonic tones set the scene and then a fast, powerful metal lick comes in. The riff is powerful and catchy but not overbearing...an Enslaved trademark. Grutle's harsh vocals are some of the best in the Norwegian genre...twisted but still pretty articulate. The bass guitar gets a good workout here, which is also unusual. Like most Enslaved tunes, this wanders through a landscape of different textures and sounds, including crooning clean vocals reminiscent of old Pink Floyd and bone-crushing power chords. A finer introduction to their style can hardly be imagined.
Path to Vanir
The early going here is based around a dark, mid-paced groove with death growls backing up Grutle's raspy musings. Subtle keyboards also add depth to the song. Midway through, it drops intensity to a very relaxing acoustic/keyboard vibe. The clean vocals during this part are so reminiscent of "Dark Side"-era Floyd that you'll be startled. Things get very heavy again in a hurry, with an even more ominous and epic feel.
Fusion of Sense and Earth
This one blasts off with raging black metal in the classic Enslaved tradition, like something from their very early albums like Frost and Eld. There's a very unusual chord progression that breaks up the fast bits...hard to describe, but it has a complex, "rolling" motif. The tune merges traditional Norwegian song craft with a doomier, more progressive touch.
Ruun
There's a kind of psychedelic, almost Middle Eastern aura to most of this track, which steadily builds from a mysterious beginning to a thunderous climax. It's really a wonder to listen to how all the instruments blend together to create a mystical mood. The singsong clean vocals are really catchy. After this opening, the piece switches gears into another very black metal sounding section, with Grutle's razorblade vocals at their strongest. "Reach for the seed eternal," he implores the listener. This is a terrific merger of dark psychedelia and extreme metal that I don't think many other bands could pull off.
Tides of Chaos
Another slow, complex chord progression kicks this off, which features some pretty nasty and sinister vocals from Grutle and lyrics to match. The alternating harsh and smooth vocals give the track a pendulum-like aspect, as it seems to swing from menacing to reassuring. The undulating rhythm that rises about half-way through the track reminds me of a hypnotically swaying cobra.
Api-vat
This is my favorite of the album. After a steady build-up, it explodes into such a sweeping, majestic sound. There's something ancient and powerful about the simple, fast riffing here and Grutle's trollish vocals match the music perfectly. The majestic feeling intensifies and carries the listener through a tremendous mid-section where some really cool "rocking" solos emerge over thick, expansive riffs. This is a great song to just close your eyes and imagine a voyage through deep space or across vast oceans.
Heirs to the Cosmic Seed
The album concludes with this gloomy and ominous sounding ode, propelled by a throbbing bass riff and featuring very spacey, psychedelic guitar sounds. If "Api-vat" was an uplifting track, this is a more sobering cut. The clean vocals sound like an ancient choir as they intone the lyrics. It's the simplest, most rhythmic cut on show, but still featuring subtle aspects.
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