Album Title: Caravans To The Outer Worlds
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Date of Release: 1 October 2021
I have a thoroughly odd relationship with Enslaved. I like the band, and I respect them highly for everything that they have achieved over the years, starting out as a straight-up black metal band, but slowly, methodically morphing into something far different, far more progressive, and a lot more experimental over the years. Aside from a couple of albums, I have liked the majority of what
they have delivered, some of it really striking a chord with me, garnering the praise within reviews that it deserves. Take my 82% positive review of ‘Utgard’ as an example. And yet, I cannot remember the last time that I looked at my CD collection and deliberately pulled out an Enslaved record to listen to. I don’t know why, but I never seem to gravitate back to the Norwegians. But every time new material is delivered, I feel compelled to check it out. Today is no different.
What we have here is a four-track EP entitled ‘Caravans To The Outer Worlds’ that offers forth around twenty minutes of brand new music from Messrs Grutle Kjellson (bass, lead vocals), Ivar Bjørnson (guitars, synths), Arve ‘Ice Dale’ Isdal (guitars), Håkon Vinje (keyboards), and Iver Sandøy (drums). It’s a succinct affair, but it offers a window into where the ever-experimenting band are currently sitting musically in 2021, and what we might get from their next new full-length release in due course.
Being a relatively brief affair, I have been able to spin the EP a fair few times of late and so I really feel that I have given it a fair crack of the whip before offering these thoughts. And my overriding thoughts are that ‘Caravans To The Outer Worlds’ is ok, very good in places, but just a little disappointing overall if I have to be totally honest.
The opening track is also the title track and this is where I believe Enslaved offer the music on this EP with which I engage the most. It begins with a fairly lengthy intro, where strong bass work permeates the sounds of howling winds before gradually building in intensity. When the song takes full flight however, it is arguably one of the heavier cuts from Enslaved in recent times. There is a demonstrable black metal feel within the flurry of fast-paced drumming and guitar work, not to mention the aggressive growling bark of Grutle Kjellson. Those 70s-influenced keyboard sounds do make a bold appearance at points, as does an energetic lead solo from Isdal, but it’s the ferocious pace that catches my ear the most, occasionally punctuated by more atmospheric passages, with clean vocals also deployed to juxtapose the aggression. In fact, the final two minutes are given over to more experimental climes where a powerful, rhythmic beat overlays synth-driven soundscapes, with quiet, almost whispered vocals adding another layer to the spacey atmospherics. As a song, it has definitely grown on me, but I question how much I’ll listen to it once my review is complete.
The other high point of the record is the final composition, ‘Intermezzo II – The Navigator’, which I enjoy thanks to the overt piano-led prog rock leanings, and the subsequent groove created by the ensuing guitar riff coupled by more spacey keys underneath. I genuinely nod my head in appreciation as I listen to this final cut on the EP.
In between, we have ‘Intermezzo I – Lonnlig. Gudlig’ and ‘Ruun II – The Epitaph’. Whilst neither are terrible, they are not my thing per se and don’t engage me any more now than they did at the outset. Admittedly, the former has a pleasant stomping riff at its heart, but the swirling and eddying psychedelic sounds and effects detract from my enjoyment just a little. The latter features some lovely acoustic guitars, strumming energetically at the start, before morphing into something that’s part space rock, and part post-rock. It’s ok, especially the resonant clean signing that plays a big part in the way the song ultimately sounds. But it isn’t what I would call essential listening, certainly not for my particular tastes.
This review may seem overly negative and dismissive to a band of the stature and creativity of Enslaved, but it is simply my personal opinion. If you’re a die-hard Enslaved fan, I’m sure you’ll consider my words to be complete and utter heresy and you’ll curse me whilst listening avidly to this EP. For my tastes though, I find it lacking that ‘wow’ factor that I’m always hoping to hear. I’ll still eagerly check out the next Enslaved release, just as I do every time new material drops.
The Score of Much Metal: 72%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: