The wonderful thing about every Enslaved release is expecting the unexpected. Of course, you can anticipate the unique blend of their black and Viking metal roots with progressive rock’s near-endless scope, but it’s all the permutations of this clash of styles that ensures no two records are ever the same. That their 14th album, 2017’s E, was arguably their best, is testament to how much more the nonpareil Norwegians still have left in the well and bodes extremely well for its follow-up.
Focusing on the titular home of giants in Norse mythology, Utgard is a journey into the mysterious and uncharted realms both thematically and musically. Take the opener, Fires In The Dark, which moves from ancient chants, folky harmonies, apparitional summonings and the band’s trademark marriage of the extreme and ethereal, all within six minutes of unequalled mastery. After announcing himself in spectacular fashion on E after the departure of Herbrand Larsen, keyboardist and clean vocalist Håkon Vinje again anchors the rich, visionary songs with his soothing tones, particularly on the likes of hauntingly beautiful closer Distant Seasons and Sequence’s ascent into gorgeous, serene heights. While synths and effects enrich the mood of songs like the krautrock-inspired Urjotun, this is still a band whose power is grounded in organic songcraft, with Jettegryta’s otherworldly evocations coming on the back of hypnotic, sinister riffs, and Homebound and Storms Of Utgard centred around immediately recognisable melodies that lead you through the wild lands.
After a rapid gallop, Ice Dale’s lead skills come to the fore on the remarkable Flight Of Thought And Memory, that again condenses a career’s worth of fearless expeditions into the unknown into a few fleeting moments. At times bleak and barbarous, at others limitless and life affirming, Utgard is a vast and unpredictable. There’s still no one else like them in this or any other realm.