Album Review: Enslaved - 'In Times' (Nuclear Blast, 2015)

New Enslaved is Enslaved. Not that that's a bad thing.

It's hard to fault progressive black metal band Enslaved for releasing the same album for the third time in a row now. For one thing, they've been around for almost a quarter decade now; you try to be a working musician for that long without finding yourself covering some of the same ground.

I'm not saying this as a backhanded compliment, the way you might refer to workhorse bands that put out records that frankly don't work but are too consistent to be mad about.

The songs are good! The album flows! Enslaved knows better than to put out a bad record. That's not the point, though.

Second, it's not exactly like anyone is going to mind; like similar progressive extreme metal band Opeth, they've carved out a place at the seat of extreme metal royalty specifically for this sound. Their mixture of mid-paced art rock, progressive song-structures, black metal chord voicings and various retched vocals, and Pink Floyd-inspired psychedelic flourishes has been a slowly-evolving course for their entire career, and a sound often referenced by other extreme metal bands on the progressive end of things.

It's unfair in certain ways to fault them for reaching where they've always been going on 2009's Axioma Ethica Odini, continuing it on 2012's superb RIITIIR and on into this one.

There's ample room for mixed metaphors about wheels that ain't broke, but I won't bore you.

And lastly, at heart they are a pagan band.

Their records have been about Odinic and runic worship since day one, from the visual aesthetic to lyrical subject matter.

(And, thankfully, they are not only not racist or nationalistic about their Scandinavian paganism but are openly against interpretations of their faith that all-too-frequently skew that way in their peers.) Enslaved may have played with their sound and progressed as musicians, but this is only to match the fire of their spirits and bring into full being the songs of worship and invocation.

It's an occult thing, a magickal thing, summoning through sound, visuals, words and atmosphere the non-real spirits into psyche so that they, and we, might become equal to these myth-figures that inspire us. We're meant to take away the Odinic spirit, the runic magic, to enter the phantasmic realm of art and music and recover the runes from the well, crucify our spirit againt the world tree, and bring these things back into our normal lives when the songs are over.

It doesn't have to change every time, so long as they still have the power to do that. After all, isn't that what makes any piece of art good, regardless of medium or genre?

...But that's where things get a little tricky. This record does deliver, but in a way that's awfully hard to write about. The songs are not just good, but above average. Any other band would be flattered to release an album like this.

But we haven't just heard these sounds before from Enslaved, we've also heard them done better. RIITIIR might very well go down as the greatest record from this phase in Enslaved's career, where they aren't just a musically adventurous black metal band and progressive rock isn't just something they dabble in but a full and equal aprt of their sound.

But if that album was the Empire to Axioma's New Hope, then this is certainly their Jedi, at least of this specific approach to their sound.

That's not bad, and it's still a notch above the rest of the pack. But it isn't as ambitious as one would like from a group as talented and consistently interesting as Enslaved.