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It´s been a quarter of a century since teenagers Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson set out on their musical quest, boldly pushing and soon overthrowing the boundaries of black metal. With each new album, Enslaved made strict genre classifications look a bit more ridiculous, but to the present line-up (which has now been together for a little more than a decade), even the sky no longer seems to be the limit. The band´s challenging compositions are matched by multidimensional lyrics that continually explore the depths of the cosmos and the mind. Universal archetypes are interwoven with layers of meanings that spur imagination and interpretation in ways comparable to ancient sagas or classical symphonies.
Enslaved´s two previous masterpieces, Axioma Ethica Odini and Riitiir, took this complexity to new heights, their sheer amount of material demanding many spins before finally opening up to - and generously rewarding - the patient listener. The new album, In Times, is more concise and less meandering, its six songs forming a compact entity that seems much shorter than its actual duration of some 53 minutes. "Thurisaz Dreaming" is a characteristic Enslaved opener, starting and ending as a purebred black metal track but pointedly contrasted by Herbrand Larsen´s angelic voice, which rules the middle part. "Building With Fire" is a captivating track from the first note on and shows that Enslaved are no strangers to the art of the stripped-down chorus riff that hypnotizes through repetition. Ice Dale´s guitar solo is pure ear candy and Grutle´s bass gets a part in the spotlight as well, but the main highlight of the song is the cinematic build-up that precedes the final chorus.
The consistency of In Times makes it difficult to pick a favorite track, but if I had to name one, the most likely choice would be "One Thousand Years Of Rain", a showcase of Ivar Bjørnson´s uncanny knack for addictive melodies with unexpected turns. The icing on the cake is a heroic choral part in best (no irony here) Viking metal tradition. More melodic glory follows on "Nauthir Bleeding", a beautiful song that culminates in a battle-like showdown where guitars and keyboards are pitched against the driving rhythm section with a fervor that is almost physically tangible.
"In Times" forms the lyrical centerpiece of the album, but as far as Enslaved´s title tracks go, it falls somewhat short of the epic heights of "Riitiir", "Ethica Odini" and the uplifting final hymn of "Vertebrae". On the other hand, its simple chorus is downright infectious. With its drawn-out intro and outro, it is the longest song of the album, its more reflective passages offering some respite to balance the overall pace of the album. The intense closer "Daylight" features some of Enslaved´s most Floydian moments, not to mention another sterling guitar solo. My only complaint with it would be that the ending comes a bit too abruptly. Which may of course be a calculated decision, as I´ve noticed it to trigger a barely resistible impulse to immediately replay the album from the start.
The current incarnation of Enslaved already has an insane track record for fascinating albums, and In Times raises the number of candidates for the top spot to at least four. Someone else may choose the ultimate winner, but in my personal opinion they are - to borrow the closing line of the new opus magnum - "all united in timelessness".
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