Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Words (EP Review)

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Otherworldly is definitely the word.

Among their blackened Norse contemporaries, Enslaved were always sort of the odd group out, taking the road less traveled and dealing in a more expansive definition of extreme metal. One could liken their evolutionary trajectory as similar to the progressive and often melodically consonant way that fellow Bergen residents Borknagar has been going, though they entered the scene a few years later and have landed in a somewhat more predictable place. In the early days, pivotal demos in the early 90s in Nema, Yggdrasill and their seminal 1993 EP “Hordanes Land” set them comfortably among the ranks of grim and frostbitten icons such as Emperor and Satyricon, but even as far back as their 1994 debut LP “Vikingligr Veldi” there was a technically nuanced character to their dark craft that set them apart from the rest of the 2nd wave vanguard, and since then a highly prolific career spanning about 3 decades has seen their signature sound transmogrified into something pretty far removed from the traditional sonic parameters of black metal.

In similar respect to their 2020 opus “Utgard,” this outfit’s latest release in “Caravans To The Outer Worlds” shares a largely tangential relationship with the rawness of the 90s, and often finds itself flirting with the spacey progressive musings of Ne Obliviscaris and the Andorran outfit Persefone. The extreme edge has not been wholly excluded from the equation in how the songs here make their impact, but has been employed in a more measured fashion, as a penchant for fairly drawn out periods of buildup and a fair degree of softer atmospheric interludes shares an equal footing with the harder moments. Likewise, the traditional bone-chilling growl of front man and co-founder Grutle Kjellson is only an occasional fixture when compared to the lighter and cleaner tone of keyboardist and newer member of the group Hakon Vinje’s singing, further accentuating the folk and progressive rock music elements that permeate much of the experience.

“Caravans To The Outer Worlds” EP Artwork

Fashioned along similar lines to a concise and polished novella, this EP presents an appetizing collection of powerful and structurally involved songs. The opening explosion of frost rage and title anthem “Caravans To The Outer Worlds” is the most intense metallic offering of the bunch, featuring Grutle’s icy mutterings in all their glory, yet also cycling through a series of mixed up riff work, low-droning bass grooves and a flashy guitar soloing display out of Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal, well renowned for his work with Demonaz’s solo project and the short-lived Immortal spinoff project I. It only occasionally veers into overtly chaotic territory, but still functions as the most aggressive entry. On the other hand, the misty acoustic landscapes of “Ruun II (The Epitaph)” and its very gradual progression from a folksy ballad with some slight psychedelic detailing to a crispy yet hazy post-rock vibe comparable to some of Agalloch. A duo of intermezzo compositions in “Lonnlig Gudlig” and “The Navigator” round out the collection, with the former meshing some Deep Purple vibes with a quirky military march feel before landing on a slow-paced heavy stomp, while the latter leans heavy into noodling 70s progressive rock territory with a dense array of ambiences painting the periphery.

In essence, this is a fairly complex and compelling offering that just happens to clock in at less than 20 minutes, covering all the stylistic bases while also avoiding the technical and stylistic excesses that often come along with a progressive musical take. It may come up a bit short in the rawness department and diverges significantly from the tundra-infused chills set to music that defined Enslaved’s early years, but it’s unique mixture of largely disparate styles gives it a unique charm that will lend itself most to newer fans of the band. And while there are no overt points of weakness present, this offering’s strongest asset is the dense production that unifies it all together, conforming to the heavier and more bottom-ended approach to black metal while also indulging in plenty of hazy, distant sounding keyboards and vocal harmonies that leans a bit closer to the old, obscure low-fidelity recordings. It’s an otherworldly blend that lives up to its correspondingly adventurous title, and stands as one of the more eclectic examples of this quintet’s habit of discovering the new by reshuffling the old.

Released By:
Release Date: October 1st, 2021
Genre: Preogressive Metal

Band Members:

  • Ivar Bjørnson | Guitars
  • Grutle Kjellson | Vocals
  • Arve ‘Ice Dale’ Isdal | Guitar
  • Håkon Vinje | Keyboards, clean vocals
  • Iver Sandøy | Drums

“Caravans To The Outer Word” Track-Listing:

  1. Caravans to the Outer Worlds
  2. Intermezzo I – Lönnlig. Gudlig
  3. Ruun II – The Epitaph
  4. Intermezzo II – The Navigator
8.1 Great

From pioneering figures of the 2nd wave of black metal in Norway to a curious player within the outer fringes of the progressive metal vanguard with an occasional echo of the past, Enslaved press on in their quest for new sonic territory on their latest and highly concise offering

  • Songwriting 8.5
  • Musicianship 8
  • Originality 8
  • Production 8

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