The greatest trick Enslaved ever pulled was to earn respect and admiration from the prog world while remaining firmly entrenched in the underground metal scene that spawned them in Bergen, Norway, back in 1991.
In truth, the band’s harnessing of the progressive rock spirit began as far back as 2000, when Mardraum – Beyond The Within made it perfectly plain that extremity was only one of the creative weapons at their disposal.
Nonetheless, the last few years have seen Enslaved firm up their prog credentials, joining the likes of Opeth and Devin Townsend in the ranks of ostensibly metallic acts that generally get a cautious pass from a stringent prognoscenti.
Both 2010’s Axioma Ethica Odini and its 2012 follow-up RIITIIR subtly indicated that they were relishing the freedom a more diverse audience can inspire, but to imply that Enslaved have found some flexible comfort zone would be to underestimate the overwhelming restlessness of their artistic instincts. In Times could hardly have been created by anyone else, and yet, like so many of its predecessors, it conjures a brand new sonic world to explore, with only a breadcrumb trail of tics and quirks pointing to past achievements.
In some ways, In Times is the most vicious album Enslaved have made since their early days as Viking metal mavericks caught up in Norwegian black metal’s bloody gestation. The opening Thurisaz Dreaming is a thunderous, multi-textured affair, but its core of windswept blastbeats and vocalist Grutle Kjellson’s frostbitten roar remain steadfast. Similarly, amid the title track’s blizzard of perverse detours and melodic ingenuity, Enslaved show their devotion to wringing soul from skilled aggression.
More important, for prog aficionados at least, is the obvious fact that Enslaved are able to affirm those formative values via songs that evolve and mutate at an exhilarating pace, without ever losing the wonderful fluidity that makes each sideways step seem as natural as the night sky.
Both on the pulsing Building With Fire, with its faint shades of New Model Army and its Jekyll & Hyde vocal exchanges, and the turbocharged shoegaze squall of the closing Daylight, a desire to stir the blood with contrast, harmony and a profound sense of sonic otherness is laid bare. Elsewhere, Nauthir Bleeding drifts from elegant reverie to hulking post-metal skree and back again, magically arriving at a gloriously dramatic denouement that may have you springing athletically from your armchair to applaud. Another intrepid and laudable adventure into the far reaches of heaviness, then.