There’s rarely an album by Norwegian’s Enslaved that doesn’t leave one reeling in admiration at the complexity of their music, their storytelling or their crushing intensity. The band, founded by Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson back in 1991, have never released the same record twice, and with album 16, that approach continues. Heimdal is one of their most complex yet compelling releases of recent times. It flows from 2020’s Utgard, the bridge between the albums being the last EP release, Caravans To The Outer World.
Enslaved – Heimdal (Nuclear Blast Records)
Release Date: 3 March 2023
Words: Paul Hutchings
Musically, Enslaved continues to evolve. Each album presents different styles and approaches, yet on Heimdal, one can instinctively feel the band’s early Black Metal roots whilst appreciating the distance that the band have subsequently placed between themselves and that whole scene. They continue to delve deep into the Nordic Mythology that they have seamed for much of their career. Heimdal is named after one of the most mysterious entities – most famously known as the gatekeeper between the nine Norse realms.
“It’s the weirdest concept,” explains Bjørnson. “I’m not sure entirely what we’ve done on this album, but I was pulled towards Heimdal mythos from very early on. Heimdallr was one of the first songs we ever wrote for Enslaved, and it was an entry point for us into the world of Norse mythology. There are contradictions in who are his parents, and there are wonderful theories that he could be Odin. There’s one theory I found particularly interesting, and a lot of the album is based on this, that after the Ragnarok that is coming, he will be the new main god after Odin. And this leads to all kinds of further speculation. So instead of taking a concept and a framework and filling it in, this is more like going down a rabbit hole. We’re chasing all these ideas that we just started with and are still fascinated by.”
The seven tracks begin with Behind The Mirror, which starts with oars in the water before a horn of some decibels sounds. On the album, the horn is blown by Wardruna’s Eilif Gundersen, the signal as land is departed and a new day begins. It’s a classic Enslaved track, with multiple time changes, gravelled roars, explosive passages and harmonised clean vocals. Driven by a riff of pace, Behind The Mirror provides one bookend to the title track, which closes the album.
Congelia, which follows, is a sonic eruption, emerging with a frenetic pace, blistering drums and muffled sound that rapidly builds. It’s as ferociously aggressive as anything Enslaved have written for some time. Powerful, dark, and brutal, it’s contrasted by the almost folk-tinged progressive opening on Forest Dweller, which relies on Håkon Vinje’s clean vocals and keyboards. The peace soon disappears as a frenetic burst of chaos overruns the song. It’s blisteringly fast again, with Kjellson’s demonic delivery jousting with Vinje in battle.
Heimdal remains as complex as every Enslaved release, as you discover as your journey continues, multi-layered elements with undiscovered pieces emerge on each subsequent listen. It’s not something that you can appreciate in one sitting. You need to indulge over several sessions. Otherwise, the progressive rollercoaster of Kingdom or the creativity of the cascading The Eternal Sea are simply swept aside.
Enslaved have always been epic storytellers. They continue their form with this album, which swells with huge riffs, at times, an underlying groove that supports the more expansive elements of their work. It’s incredible to absorb the continued development of the band’s direction and writing, which flips on a dime to rage with Black Metal energy, the band never quite leaving those deep and dynamic roots before flipping once again to soaring melodies and quite beautiful harmonies.
It’s this constant ebb and flow, the switch from powerful crushing power chords to gentler, at times delicate elements, that makes Enslaved one of the most interesting and dynamic bands still driven by their own destiny. The ferocity of Caravans To The Outer Worlds is punishing, yet it will appeal to wider Metal fans should they be tempted to cross the threshold.
This just leaves the three-part conclusion of the title track, which finishes with Heimdal reappearing as the navigator for humans, leading to a destiny as yet undefined.
Underpinned by Iver Sandøy’s hugely impressive drums and the reliable, intricate guitar work of Bjørnson and Arve ‘Ice Dale’ Isdal, Heimdal is a work of sheer complexity. You need to dive deep in order to explore to a level of understanding that is satisfying. Without this, the challenge is a superficial exploration of an album that deserves a much deeper visit.
Without this, the challenge is a superficial exploration of an album that deserves a much deeper visit. Heimdal is yet another creative masterpiece from a band whose ability to craft magical albums continues to astonish.