Last autumn Enslaved’s latest album ‘Isa’ was met with an unprecedented number of rave reviews and publications of Metal Hammer, Terrorizer and Scream calibre highlighted the release as album of the month. The album represents the crowning of a career that dates as far back as 1991, and ‘Isa’ stands out as one of Norwegian extreme metal’s strongest albums in later years.
The domestic launch of the album and subsequent rave reviews spawned a string of dates around Norway that were very well attended and earned the band some very positive live reviews.
‘Isa’ has also been nominated for the upcoming Alarm awards in the Metal category.
To support the launch of ‘Isa’ in Europe, Enslaved now head out on a massive 24-date European tour that takes them to the UK, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary.
‘Isa’ was released on the European market through Tabu Recordings/Tuba in November, and the US release for the album is scheduled for 7th of February.
Below is the Terrorizer Album of the month – November 2004 review.
Enslaved - ‘Isa’
“There was always a moment, sailing between the shore and island, when neither was in sight.” – Steve Erickson, ‘Tours Of The Black Clock’
The lifespan of most bands can be measured in terms of steady progression, refinement of riffs and incremental gains, a plotting of easily traceable paths. And then, just occasionally, there are bands that step out into moments of unfathomable, redefining magic, moments that sum up their past yet exceed them, that map out a whole new set of clear-sighted co-ordinates. Think Neurosis and ‘Souls At Zero’, Isis and ‘Oceanic’: with ‘Isa’, another constellation to navigate by is born.
It’s not that Enslaved’s latest album is entirely unprecedented, it’s just that the jewels poking up through last year’s ‘Below The Lights’ – the billowing elegy of ‘As Fire Swept Clean The Earth, ‘The Crossing’s fissile rush’ – now seem like the first glimpses of a whole that’s suddenly been revealed. Because where 2001’s ‘Monumension’, for all its progressive flourishes, contained too many diverting styles to make a coherent stand, and ‘…Lights’ honed, serrated timbre of guitars and wistful perspective sounded as though it was knocking at Valhalla’s door, ‘Isa’ has blown it wide open, let in a gust of frozen, soul-clearing air that’s allowed them to embark undistracted on a journey they can truly call their own.
‘Isa’ is at once a reclamation of Enslaved’s black metal roots and a boundless reverie induced by an understanding of far out those roots can take them. You won’t find too many albums that can channel such a sharp, frost-bitten air, every riff sparkling like steel blades in a winter sun. At times, you can almost see the breath vapour billowing out from Grütle’s granite-grinding rasp, particularly on the title track’s invocation, a full-lung exhalation as though it’s processing a vision-inducing rush of oxygen to the brain. But unlike so many of their peers, ‘Isa’ isn’t a secluded purgatory, it belongs to the sea and air, re-imagining their Viking past not through now-clichéd folk interludes or chant, but as a wayfaring drift and surge caught up in its own memories and premonitions, an emboldened yet humbled push into the unknown.
After the eerily pulsing intro, ‘Lunar Force’ ripples out on a ferocious, panoramic charge, and once it’s suffused with the wind in its sails, focuses itself into a luminous, skulking groove that submerges into encircling ambience before detonating itself once more.
And where before, Enslaved’s switches of trajectory could seem like a progged-out overcooking of the pot, throughout ‘Isa’ every counterpoint is perfectly weighted and refined, all breathtaking examples of open-ended elegance and fervour, Grütle’s lupine vocals relapsing into stirring, Åkerfeldt-like trails fusing sorrow and hope and tracks such as the glittering ‘Return To Yggdrassil’, layering on the anticipation as they climb up to a spectacular coast-off point.
It won’t be the last time the comparison will be made, but as much as Enslaved have harnessed black metal and opened it up in affirmation to the elements, ‘Isa’ also shares a spiritual kinship with none other than Isis. The sleeve’s restatement of the eye motif might be the first clue. But the outward-bound-yet-lost-in-the-moment expanses they open up leave you in a similar state of wonder that finds its most sublime, superlative-surpassing expression in the midway track, ‘Bounded By Allegiance’. Stabbing, inquisitive riffs rise on ever-elevated tides as though they’re ingesting falling stardust, solemn vocals transform into a feral charge and beyond-the-horizon flight, and all resolve themselves as they finally spill out into a heart-stopping, cadent break, like mercury percolating through rocks, an overflowing cup that brings tears welling to the eyes.
For an album that resonates so deeply, one that has already become so indispensable, whatever destination ‘Isa’ is headed for, surely the status of a ‘classic’ is high on the list of possibilities. (9,5 out of 10) Jonathan Selzer