By Dr. Abner Mality
I freely admit it. Most of my knowledge of Norse mythology comes from the Thor comic books. In them, Heimdall (with two L’s) was the silent and faithful guardian of the Rainbow Bridge that led to the kingdom of Asgard. Of course, in true Norse mythology, he was much more. And who better to show us the mysteries of Heimdal than ENSLAVED?
This is the best ENSLAVED album to come across the Rainbow Bridge in many a moon. Since these guys are a model of consistency, that’s saying something. Everything on this record just sounds massive...the production is almost too much to absorb. Every single note booms and pops with crystal clarity, nothing gets drowned out or overlooked. When you weave the incredibly intricate epics of sound and color that this band does, the production is of the utmost importance. And on “Heimdal”, I can confidently say that the mix is at its absolute peak.
When that Viking horn on “Behind the Mirror” hits its final blast, it just about blows you out of your chair. With that blast, the journey begins. I can’t go into all the details of the 7 songs here or we’d be here until Ragnarok. But “Behind The Mirror” is a prog metal tune with surging drums, a mix of soaring clean vocals and Grutle’s awesome black metal croaks, and a great feeling of forward motion, like a dragonship cleaving the ocean waves. Lots of subtle details buried within the bones of the tune. The track “Congelia” is a real wake up call...frantic, nervous choppy riffs that almost sound like a saw cutting into wood, super harsh vocals, relentless tribal drumming. Everything about the tune is ominous , heavy and filled with tension. Until the last third, when that tension breaks and a choir of clean vocals come in like a ray of light after a storm. A killer jamming guitar solo from Ivar appears and the song ends like something from the heart of BATHORY’s Viking period. This is seriously one of the greatest songs ENSLAVED has ever done.
Sensibly, “Forest Dweller” is not nearly as frantic or overwhelming, although it is still undeniably heavy. The acoustic guitar is more prominent and Grutle’s vocals are as sedate as they can be. Until they aren’t, that is. Lots of layers to peel back here, as always, but the keys and synth need some special attention. Probably the most subtle track on “Heimdal”. “Kingdom” ups the pace and aggression considerably with a smoking hot prog metal jam. ENSLAVED are really masters of mixing soothing sections with fast and heavy parts and this song is a good example. The instrumentation on this one is just phenomenal, but there are some mumbling vocals which are really weird even for this band.
“The Eternal Sea” has a meandering start that gives way to a wave-like rolling sound much like its title, with dreamy drifting vocals. Then get ready for the black metal storm that kicks in at the 5 minute mark, with some of the most frantic work of the album! What a transition. The song lives up to its name. “Caravans To the Outer Worlds” is one many of you have already heard by now… suffice it to say, this one just flat out rocks, with plenty of screaming guitar, psychedelic keyboards and awesome bass work That leaves the title track and what a monster this one is. Starting with heavier than hell fat doom chords and troll vocals, this rolls along like a tank. Listen carefully once more to the subtle keyboard embellishments here. There’s an extended trippy mellow psych section which gives way to a prog metal workout with cool clean vocals that go all the way back to the late 60’s.
What a trip! I couldn’t help looking closely at each song and yet there’s so much more I could have said about each of them. This band is a treasure and I’m guessing “Heimdal” will be high in my year end list even though this is just early February. High level musical mastery…