Artist: Enslaved

Album Title: Utgard

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date of Release: September 2020

My unexpected review hiatus may have meant that I missed the release date but nevertheless I am compelled to focus today, on the new, eagerly-anticipated record from Enslaved, entitled ‘Utgard’. At it’s most simplistic, how could I possibly ignore an album with such beautiful cover artwork? At it’s most important, how could I ignore a new album by one of the most intriguing, innovative, and daring bands within heavy metal at the current time?

I won’t go into a long diatribe about how the Norwegian quintet started life as a black metal band and have slowly (and occasionally, not so slowly) morphed into something entirely different, pushing their boundaries ever further outwards into new realms with each and every release. You can read about that elsewhere. Suffice to say that you’re likely to fall into one of three camps where Enslaved are concerned. You may be a diehard fan, meaning that Enslaved can do no wrong. You may be a casual listener with a favourite ‘era’, thereby hoping for a return or continuation of a certain sound. Or you might not be a fan of this band at all, and wonder what all the fuss is about, regardless of whether their output is classed as extreme metal, experimental, or something in between.

Personally, I fall somewhere within the latter two camps. I’m certainly not a diehard fan, that’s for sure. I have enjoyed much of the band’s output over the years, but rather than hanker for a return to a different era, I simply hope that the music will provide genuine enjoyment, rather than just an appreciation for the final product. With ‘Utgard’, I’m torn.

I’m torn because I can genuinely hear an incredibly talented band deliver music that they are clearly passionate about, to an undeniably high standard. The music, undeniably progressive, spans genres and sounds pretty unique as well. However, there’s a ‘but’ coming. And that ‘but’ is that I don’t swoon over the music. I don’t fall in love with it. Or at least, I don’t fall in love with as much of it as I’d really want to. Admittedly, there are several exquisite moments on the record that I adore and shall reveal shortly. However, it’s not the perfect record, with some of it falling a little short of my expectations.

Opener ‘Fires In The Dark’ is a slow-burning number that begins wonderfully with chanted vocals, replaced by folk-infused acoustic guitars before the heaviness hits courtesy of a slightly jarring riff that accents the chanting really well. A hint of Bal Sagoth enters with an expressive lead guitar line atop a strange sound effect that’s replaced by a slow, churning riff that eventually picks up the pace. The flow of the song is great, with dual vocals from keyboardist Håkon Vinje and Grutle Kjellson mixing some plaintive, emotive clean singing with the more abrasive black metal rasp. And an injection of glorious melody helps to pull everything together and give me the hook to listen again.

I have also grown to love ‘Sequence’, thanks to some strong melodic work, led by excellent clean vocals that create a sense of the epic, almost effortlessly. Not even a foray into near discordant territory, where the music threatens to descend into an incoherent mess, can dull my enthusiasm, especially when we’re brought back on track by gorgeous synths, commanding bass work and more stunning clean vocals that create a dreamlike sequence as beguiling as it is beautiful.

However, possibly my favourite track is the up-tempo, groovy number entitled ‘Homebound’, complete with bursts of more extreme fare to break things up. Again, the melodies are stunning and grow stronger with each passing listen. I feel like I’m repeating myself but once again, the clean vocals are utterly captivating, full of passion and power. The lead guitar work is poignant, soaring over the almost angelic melodies effortlessly.

Interestingly, when Enslaved deliver something more consistently heavy, such as the abrasive ‘Jettegryta’, I’m less fond of the outcome. For me, the song lacks a ‘wow’ factor, even when they briefly break from ploughing a heavier furrow to inject a little off-kilter 70s prog-inspired experimentation.

I also have trouble warming to ‘Utgardr’ and the follow-up ‘Urjotun’. The former is a sub-two-minute spoken-word piece with strange electronic sounds beneath, whilst the latter creates an electronic-heavy soundscape that is interesting for its daring intent and introduction of new ideas to the Enslaved armoury. But as a piece of music, I am not particularly keen on it.

‘Flight Of Thought and Memory’ brings things back to a more enjoyable and, for my tastes, palatable experience. There’s a demonstrable black metal feel to the fast-picked opening riffs, but the track soon opens up to reveal an elegant melody, supported and enhanced by more smooth clean vocals. Again, the ebb and flow is masterful, with the song never once feeling contrived or clunky despite the competing sounds within it. I’m also a fan of the final composition, ‘Distant Seasons’ which somehow calls to mind the work of Devin Townsend, particularly in terms of the layers of vocals, chunky riffing, and bold melodies.

Ultimately, despite a few moments on the album that don’t work as well as I wanted them to, or hoped, you have to admire the Norwegian stalwarts for once again trying new things and attempting to push their sound further than it has ever been before. Some people will love it, others will possibly hate it. In keeping with my thoughts on Enslaved’s entire career, it seems fitting that I sit somewhere in between the two. There are things on ‘Utgard’ that I love, whilst other ideas fail to sufficiently stir my enthusiasm. Overall, however, I believe that ‘Utgard’ is a success, and a worthy addition to an remarkable discography.

The Score of Much Metal: 82%

Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:

Dynfari – Myrkurs er þörf

Amaranthe – Manifest

Kataklysm – Unconquered

Structural Disorder – Kingdom Crossing

Skeletal Remains – The Entombment Of Chaos

Prehistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter One)

Ihsahn – Pharos

Hinayana – Death Of The Cosmic
Oceans Of Slumber – Oceans Of Slumber
Okyr – Premorbid Intelligence
Manticora – To Live To Kill To Live
Pain Of Salvation – Panther
Vanishing Point – Dead Elysium
Unleash The Archers – Abyss
Veonity – Sorrows
Nyktophobia – What Lasts Forever
Ages – Uncrown
Awake By Design – Awake By Design
Black Crown Initiate – Violent Portraits Of Doomed Escape
Gaerea – Limbo
Buried Realm – Embodiment Of The Divine
Navian – Reset
Selenseas – The Outer Limits
Quantum – The Next Breath Of Air
Ensiferum – Thalassic
Long Distance Calling – How Do We Want To Live?
Airbag – A Day At The Beach
Re-Armed – Ignis Aeternum
Atavist – III: Absolution
Frost* – Others EP
Darker Half – If You Only Knew
Atavistia – The Winter Way
Astralborne – Eternity’s End
Centinex – Death In Pieces
Haken – Virus
Pile Of Priests – Pile Of Priests
Sorcerer – Lamenting Of The Innocent
Lesoir – Mosaic
Temnein – Tales: Of Humanity And Greed
Caligula’s Horse – Rise Radiant
…And Oceans – Cosmic World Mother
Vader – Solitude In Madness
Shrapnel – Palace For The Insane
Sinisthra – The Broad And Beaten Way
Paradise Lost – Obsidian
Naglfar – Cerecloth
Forgotten Tomb – Nihilistic Estrangement
Winterfylleth – The Reckoning Dawn
Firewind – Firewind
An Autumn For Crippled Children – All Fell Silent, Everything Went Quiet
Havok – V
Helfró – Helfró
Victoria K – Essentia
Cryptex – Once Upon A Time
Thy Despair – The Song Of Desolation
Cirith Ungol – Forever Black
Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion
Nightwish – Human. II: Nature.
Katatonia – City Burials
Wolfheart – Wolves Of Karelia
Asenblut – Die Wilde Jagd
Nicumo – Inertia
The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous
Omega Infinity – Solar Spectre
Symbolik – Emergence
Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea
Irist – Order Of The Mind
Testament – Titans Of Creation
Ilium – Carcinogeist
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
Torchia – The Coven
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews