Music

Enslaved: Ruun

Norway's ultimate late bloomers shed the black metal tag for something altogether more enthralling.


Enslaved

Ruun

Label: Candlelight
US Release Date: 2006-05-02
UK Release Date: 2006-06-19
Amazon
iTunes

If there's one band today that perfectly encapsulates the term "progressive metal", it's Enslaved. While other talented, well-known bands operate under the guise of being "progressive" when they're actually formulaic (Tool), self-indulgent (The Mars Volta), or just plain tedious (Dream Theater), when a band comes along and shows such an astounding level of growth over a period of time as Enslaved has, not only is it a jarring reminder of how much new ground has yet to be traversed in the extreme realm, but even better, it restores one's faith in a musical style whose fans claim is more groundbreaking than it actually is.

Although Enslaved has been around since the early days of Norwegian black metal, starting at the same time as such icons as Emperor, Mayhem, and Immortal, they've only just started to peak artistically in recent years. In fact, over the last three years, they have quietly become one of the most exciting progressive metal bands in the world, ranking alongside such respected peers as Opeth, Meshuggah, and Ulver. As Emperor was releasing their acclaimed final album Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire... in 2001, their countrymen in Enslaved were beginning to move away from their black metal roots, first with 2000's Mardraum: Beyond the Within and then on 2001's pivotal Monumension. 2003's awe-inspiring Below the Lights marked the first time everything came together perfectly for the band, as brutality, atmospherics, and accessibility combined to form one of the decade's best metal discs. Two years later, Isa challenged listeners even more, as "extreme" gave way to psychedelic-tinged groove and cleaner, catchier vocal melodies, and now with Ruun, the fascinating evolution of Enslaved continues further, capping off a trio of albums that defy categorization, the result of the most drastic, yet graceful musical metamorphosis in heavy metal since Voivod's astonishing run from 1986 to 1991.

In fact, Ruun gets off to a rousing, dare I say upbeat start on the insistent "Entroper", storming out of the gate with a melodic chord sequence before downshifting into a lurching, Voivod-like breakdown midway through. The title track continues to break new ground for the band, sounding equal parts Opeth and Katatonia, keyboardist Herbrand Larsen's clean vocals working well against the stately, goth-tinged musical backdrop before bassist Grutle Kjellson enters with his otherworldly screams, the harsh contrasts between clean and dark, electric and acoustic making for an absorbing epic song. "Path to Vanir" is arguably the most accessible song the band has recorded to date, centered around a simple, lively groove riff, highlighted by Kjellson's multi-faceted vocals and Cato Bekkevold's simple, yet charismatic drumming (playing 16th note beats on the hi-hat is very underrated in metal).

Melodies dominate "Api-vat", from the soaring guitar notes during the intro to Arve Isdal's rousing guitar solo at the end, while the unrelenting "Fusion of Sense and Earth" serves as a reminder that Enslaved has not yet forgotten how to deliver plenty of high-quality aggression (but not without a neat little mellotron-accompanied interlude midway through). All the ingredients come together most beautifully on "Essence", Kjellson getting morbidly poetic on us ("By will alone / Does my heart carry the strength / To see you burn?"), as Bekkevold's understated drumming gives the song a dignified air before the band explodes into an exhilarating black metal coda during the final minute.

Nordic pride has always played a large part in Norwegian black metal, and certainly when it comes to the music of Enslaved, their sound often projecting a somewhat hilly air while the lyrics focus on Viking themes, but more and more, we're starting to feel some actual warmth on their albums, as genuine emotion begins to melt away the icy, impersonal façade. Sure, Norway gets 24 hours of darkness every winter, but this stirring album reminds us that the region also gets 24 hours of sunlight six months later. At one point they sing, "All beauty must die." Listening to this creative, immensely talented band, we don't believe that for a second.

Enslaved - Path to Vanir

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Confinement and Escape: Emma Donoghue and E.L. Doctorow in Our Time of Self-Isolation

Emma Donoghue's Room and E.L. Doctorow's Homer & Langley define and confront life within limited space.

Books

Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.

Books

The Rules Don't Apply to These Nonconformist Novelists

Ian Haydn Smith's succinct biographies in Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need to Know entice even seasoned bibliophiles.

Music

Siren Songs' Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels Debut As a Folk Duo (album stream + interview)

Best friends and longtime musical collaborators Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels team up as Siren Songs for the uplifting folk of their eponymous LP.

Music

Buzzcocks' 1993 Comeback 'Trade Test Transmissions' Showed Punk's Great Survivors' Consistency

PopMatters' appraisal of Buzzcocks continues with the band's proper comeback LP, Trade Test Transmissions, now reissued on Cherry Red Records' new box-set, Sell You Everything.

Music

Archie Shepp, Raw Poetic, and Damu the Fudgemunk Enlighten and Enliven with 'Ocean Bridges'

Ocean Bridges is proof that genre crossovers can sound organic, and that the term "crossover" doesn't have to come loaded with gimmicky connotations. Maybe we're headed for a world in which genres are so fluid that the term is dropped altogether from the cultural lexicon.

Books

Claude McKay's 'Romance in Marseille' Is Ahead of Its Time

Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille -- only recently published -- pushes boundaries on sexuality, disability, identity -- all in gorgeous poetic prose.

Music

Christine Ott Brings the Ondes Martenot to New Heights with the Mesmerizing 'Chimères'

France's Christine Ott, known for her work as an orchestral musician and film composer, has created a unique new solo album, Chimères, that spotlights an obscure instrument.

Music

Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.

Books

The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.

Music

ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.