Where to start with... Enslaved

Enslaved 2020 promo pic, by Roy Bjørge
(Image credit: Roy Bjørge)

Enslaved are what Norwegian black metal was always meant to be. Mentored by genre leader Euronymous and introduced to prog in his infamous record shop, Helvete, they still adhere to its boundary-pushing spirit. Just one album can dabble in any amount of krautrock, jazz, folk or symphonic music; that’s why they’re still dropping jaws three decades and 15 full-lengths in. To commemorate both Enslaved’s 30th anniversary and their new Caravans To The Outer Worlds EP, here’s where to hop on if you’re unfamiliar with these restless masterminds:

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The one that started it all: Vikingligr Veldi (1994)

It took a year of fine-tuning for Enslaved to impress their way onto Euronymous’s Deathlike Silence label. That commitment to mastering black metal is obvious on their debut. Its five suites aren’t just searing; they integrate the kind of dread that made Mayhem so unnerving, as well as melodies from horns and Tangerine-Dream-inspired synths. Meanwhile, the lyrics’ passion for all things Viking and Norse mythology established themes that would persist for the band’s whole career. Nineties black metal rarely got better than this, and it’s only more flooring when you discover guitarist and sole songwriter Ivar Bjørnson was 15 while recording. Blimey.

The classic: Below The Lights (2003)

This was Enslaved’s coming-of-age moment. Its release followed Mardraum and Monumension: two albums that began pivoting from black metal into the truly avant-garde, but hadn’t struck the perfect balance yet. Then Below The Lights nailed it. It’s an opus that demands patience and investment, needing to be heard from front to back as each track segues discreetly into the next. However, before long, the rewards emerge: that swelling riff in the latter half of The Dead Stare, the snare-powered climax that ends The Crossing, A Darker Place’s full-throttle breakdown – all as primal as they are intellectually sculpted.

The connoisseurs’ choice: In Times (2015)

By the 2010s, Enslaved were being heralded as among the most continuously intriguing prog-metal acts; one review of 2008’s Vertebrae declared them as just as imaginative and consistent as Opeth. Yet, even then, none were ready for In Times, which remained transcendent while cranking the metal to ear-bursting intensity. Opener Thurisaz Dreaming explodes with blastbeats and wails, while One Thousand Years Of Rain is a thrashing battle between bassist Grutle Kjellson and keyboardist Herbrand Larsen’s vocal lines. Whenever fans discuss which is the best Enslaved album, it never takes long for this one to come up.

Enslaved promo pic 2015

(Image credit: Nuclear Blast)

The misunderstood visionary: Eld (1997)

In 2018, Bjørnson described this as “a classic of an album that was years ahead of the world.” And he was right. Before Emperor’s Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk, before Mayhem’s A Grand Declaration Of War, before Agalloch’s Pale Folklore, no one had heard black metal this bizarre. Why is there so much clean singing? Is that song 16 minutes long? And are those jazz drum patterns?! As a result, Eld infuriated purists upon release. However, its ability to get weird while staying true to its genre hinted at the genius that Enslaved would exhibit from Below The Lights onwards.

The old dog’s new tricks: Utgard (2020)

This isn’t the cult of the new; Enslaved’s latest is simultaneously their most accessible and diverse album to date. After predecessors In Times and E emphasised lengthy compositions, this adopted a more episodic form. However, each song has a unique, defining sound, from the stomping snare of Jettegryta to Urjotun’s danceable synth lines. Utgard also added drummer/clean vocalist Iver Sandøy, whose pipes rocket Homebound into an arena-worthy singalong. How many bands can you think of that have crafted a career standout 29 years in? That’s how brilliant Enslaved are.

Enslaved’s Caravans To The Outer Worlds EP is released on October 1 via Nuclear Blast

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.