Enslaved are back to remind you that they haven’t forgotten their black metal roots, nor are they abandoning their ethereally progressive tenure. Heimdal truly is the best of both worlds.
Release date: March 3, 2023 | Nuclear Blast | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Stream/Purchase
Last time I talked about Enslaved, I wasn’t in a… good place. Things are better now, though, and at least my own perseverance is due in part to music like theirs that got me through. A lot’s happened since then, but one thing hasn’t changed: my reliance on great music.
Heimdal is now upon us, and it’s set to be yet another strong entry for the Norwegian metal band that’s been at it for over 30 years. Over time, we’ve seen them get more and more immense with a progressive sound, imbuing their black metal grit with more spaciousness and godliness as they explore more and more Viking lore and mythology that’s always been ripe for hardened, heavy exposition.
Enslaved feel as purposeful as ever. With Heimdal, I get the sense that, almost more than ever, there’s an unbreakable bond between the music and primal nature, history, and ancestral energy. Heimdal feels like a beginning and an end. Literally, Heimdal is a god, one of great import to Norse myth, the one who will blow on the legendary Gjallarhorn to signal the beginning of Ragnarök. Sonically, this bleeds through into how things unravel and sound.
This album feels voidal, a whirlpool swallowing all around it, a waterfall enacting gravity expeditiously into the mists below, capturing an array of noise and entropy to depths untold. Each drum beat is the cracking of the ground beneath you. Vocals sear like the chilly winds of Scandinavia in winter. Guitars roar and murmur not unlike the beasts we’ve forced into unnatural hostility with human intervention. The flow on Heimdal is unreal – while “Behind The Mirror” tees up a rousing adventure, the next track “Congelia” flushes the world’s toilet underneath and sends you tumbling. There’s so much going on it really is akin to the untamed rolling waves of a rushing river, gaining in cataclysmic unpredictability as Gjallarhorn is sounded and the end begins.
Still, even as this album threatens death and loss, there’s something so rejuvenative about its measures. The progressive points stick the most – the wide berth of the soundscape in “Forest Dweller” is that of a frost giant’s gait, the prodding and fizzy synths in “The Eternal Sea” are profound, and the final act of the title track. This is the hardest the band have pushed themselves in this manner in years, maybe ever, yet they don’t lose an ounce of identity that longtime fans want to see retained.
“Kingdom”, though, is something else entirely. While not the most inventive or progressive on Heimdal, it gets the accolade of being the strongest and fiercest outing. It’s also, just by coincidence, the shortest at 5:52 long. It lays a track and doesn’t deviate whatsoever, almost reminiscent of something from their Monumension album back in 2001 in terms of metallic approach, just cleaner and less edgy.
Just about all I’ve come up with as far as critique is that this album reuses a song from their 2021 EP Caravans To The Outer Worlds. This is a pet peeve of mine, but to be fair, the song does fit both stylistically and thematically. Heimdal does all it can to sonically epitomize transport between realms, so the fact that EP’s title track is on here can be justified with that in mind. Would the album be better without it? Technically yes, but it also doesn’t detract if that makes sense.
For the last decade, I’ve grown accustomed to Enslaved‘s progressively progressive side, but they have done anything but. Though there’s threads of commonality between their last few projects, the band always finds ways to keep things enthralling and refreshing, keeping the strength and mass at least plateaued ever since their stellar In Times album. In my opinion, you can’t even say the band have become comfortable because they force themselves out of comfort each time without forgetting who they are and were. That’s a very hard line for bands to tread – not so much a problem for a band like Enslaved who seemingly command portal after portal to ethereal and hellish regions alike at will.