By Lord Randall

 A word or two in the interest of full disclosure regarding ENSLAVED. Not only has the band inspired the name of my cat (Isa), but since 2003’s "Below The Lights" watershed, ENSLAVED has not made a single bad album. Of course, there’ve been ups and downs, but when you start from the levels of quality the Norsemen have ascended to over the past decade-plus, anything less than stellar comes down to a matter of a listener’s personal preference moreso than the integrity of songwriting. I’ll also admit to "In Times" being my top album of 2015, unashamedly. But fear not, I’m not so far into fandom that I’ll not cry foul should E deserve such treatment. 

 Few bands drawing breath today should even bother opening an album with a tune stretching over the 10-minute mark, but with the past few albums, ENSLAVED has – like ALCEST and AN AUTUMN FOR CRIPPLED CHILDREN – become an experience you fall, rather than run into. Such is the case for ‘Storm Son’, neighing horse for ambience and all, with the sonic grace of a lone skater on a hidden frozen lake in a distant, otherworldly landscape. Long ago did the quartet (now quintet) cease tossing in blackness for blackness’ sake, so rest assured, when it arrives within the latter third of the song, it’s with purpose and the singular shared vision of songcraft missing from so many would-be “hordes”. At just a shade over 5 minutes, ‘The River’s Mouth’ is ENSLAVED at its hard-chargingest, a groove/riff pattern guaranteed to send horns and hails skyward at its core, almost a cathartic explosion after what’s come before. ‘Axis Of The Worlds’ injects what may be a first, not only for ENSLAVED, but for any – prog-blues. Yep, you heard it here first. This soon, however, morphs into a creature reminiscent of, maybe, "Into The Pandemonium"-era CELTIC FROST, while closer ‘Hiindsiight’ takes a majestic, towering dirge and weaves it into a tapestry of which KING’S X would be envious, newly-joined keyboardist Hakon Vinje being given his chance to shine, which, to be fair, he’s done over "E" as a whole, leaving me interested to see where his addition takes the band from here. 

Well, damned if they haven’t done it again. Thanks, ENSLAVED, for wrecking my Top Ten list for 2017 so late in the year. No, seriously. Thanks.