As winter fell over Norway in 1991, teenagers Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson (13 and 17, respectively) embarked on a journey that would forever shape the landscape of black metal. And thus Enslaved was born, with debut album “Vikingligr Veldi” arriving in 1994. In the thirty years since, Enslaved have remained a mainstay in the extreme and progressive metal scenes, and are credited as one of the forefathers of Norse-inspired metal. Now the band has fifteen full-length albums under its belt, with the sixteenth on the horizon. “Heimdal” is a return to the band’s roots as much as it is a departure, and it serves as a renewal of vows with the Nordic folklore that has long guided Enslaved’s path.
In 2020 Enslaved released “Utgard,” the first studio album that featured the band’s latest lineup. With the new lineup came new stylistic decisions, some of which Sonic Perspectives had not been too keen on, but the album faced a largely positive reception. It was yet to be seen where the band would go next: would they continue to wander aimlessly throughout a smorgasbord of modern influences, or would they redefine themselves as the adept extreme-prog masters they have long been known as?
Fortunately, this latest opus tends heavily towards the latter. “Heimdal” is an outstanding album when viewed either in isolation or when compared against the sum of Enslaved’s discography. It is comprehensive, dynamic, and a journey across etheric realms that comes in a 50-minute package. As compelling as it is enigmatic, there is something for everyone in “Heimdal” and its all-absorbing depth.
Perhaps its greatest strength over “Utgard,” a strength that had been largely absent on most of Enslaved’s albums since “Riitiir,” is its comprehensiveness. From the opening horn of “Behind the Mirror” to the fading notes of the title track, Enslaved crafts an experience that demands the listener’s attention at every moment. And yes, it is the magic sound of echoing horns and running water that immerse the listener in those first few moments of “Behind the Mirror,” sounds so rich that if one closes their eyes they might believe themselves standing upon a dragon-headed ship. The horn is blown by Eilif Gundersen of Wardruna, and its massive sound immediately invites imagination to run wild. Was that the sound Vikings heard as they approached the shore so many centuries ago? How divine must it have been as it echoed across the water, cutting through the morning mists? Distant vocals give the sensation of expansiveness, a feeling that defines much of the album’s atmosphere. There’s so much to absorb that it’s almost overwhelming.
No time is wasted before extremity emerges. “Congelia” is a brutal assault on the senses, its darkness saturated with all the hallmarks of early black metal. Distorted guitars scream alongside thunderous percussion. Enslaved threaten to tear open the sky with the track’s awe-inspiring guitar solo, every ounce of fire and fury of the gods poured into each note. This grim dissonance is the perfect segue into the mellowed breaths of “Forest Dweller.” “Forest Dweller” is perhaps the track most reminiscent of “Utgard,” with its more electric influences and slow- to mid-paced tempo. A slow-tempo introduction is just what is needed at this point in the album, a brief breather to find respite from the relentless storm that had been unleashed in the opening tracks.
Enslaved show the breadth of their experience in their mastery of pacing. From the intense barrages of riffs to the mellow atmospheric interludes, transitions are handled smoothly, and with expert musicianship. Particular credit is owed to Iver Sandøy on drums, as he carefully keeps time from the most solemn marches to the most explosive of choruses. This percussive precision adds to the polished elation of beautiful melodies, and it adds teeth to the barrage of guttural roars. “The Eternal Sea” does dial back the intensity somewhat, but it does so in a way that falls victim to the monotony of a mid-album filler, failing to meet the expectations set by the preceding tracks. This is one of the greatest criticisms “Heimdal” may deserve: sometimes it tries to do too much, much as Enslaved had done in “Utgard.” While “Heimdal” is undoubtedly more focused in its scope, and that focus leads to a much more comprehensive album experience, there is still room to hone the stylistic influences.
“Caravans to the Outer Worlds” was first featured on its titular EP in 2021, and this explosion of sound has its rightful place as the penultimate track of “Heimdal.” Every moment of “Caravans to the Outer Worlds” packs an incredible punch, momentous in sound, nonstop in energy. Although it has been out in the world for almost two years, it fits seamlessly into the story “Heimdal” tells. Kjellson again shows off his vocal talents here, his earth-shattering screams dripping with the darkness of night, expertly controlled alongside Håkon Vinje’s clean vocals. Succeeding this astral ascendance is title track “Heimdal,” which serves as a fitting conclusion to this story. As with most other albums in its discography, “Heimdal” is imbued with meaning, and these concepts are heavily drawn from Norse mythology and Nordic history. Most significantly of all is how the name “Heimdal” calls back to “Heimdallr,” one of the first songs Enslaved had ever written.
Is “Heimdal” the best album that Enslaved have ever produced? Probably not. But is it one of the best albums they have produced in the last decade, and one that is a new spark of passion more than three decades into their career? Absolutely. This latest iteration of the band is still built on the creative vision of its two founding members, and they boldly step forward into the third decade of metallic fury and imagination. The artistic canvas on which Enslaved paints is rich with history and folklore, and it is the musicians that allow these stories to come to life. “Heimdal” is a mind-bending journey between realms and across history, and it is one that deserves the listener’s full attention as they succumb to the fantastic extremities and alluring mystique.
Release Date: Marc 3rd, 2022
Record Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Genre: Blackened Progressive Metal
- Ivar Bjørnson / Guitars
- Grutle Kjellson / Vocals
- Arve ‘Ice Dale’ Isdal / Guitars
- Håkon Vinje / Keyboards, clean vocals
- Iver Sandøy / Drums
- Behind the mirror
- Forest Dweller
- The Eternal Sea
- Caravans to the Outer Worlds
- Marta J. Braun)
Order “Heimdall” HERE
“Heimdal” is an exhilarating journey across astral realms, shadowed by the darkness of black metal’s bite, but illuminated by decades of continuing passion. Enslaved have created a pleasantly overwhelming work of art that blends genres in a way that speaks to listeners across the metalsphere