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
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


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.