bit much, isn’t it? That’s the way all good metal works. Excess being an easy way to evoke emotion. Enslaved has been masters of it for more than a decade and with Isa, their newest record, they seem far from letting up on the excess. In fact, if anything, they’re embracing it.
Few things sounded quite as amazing in the death metal world as Below the Lights. While the album undeniably ranked as one of the group’s heaviest albums, it also is regarded as one of the band’s most emotionally charged. It seems that much like Ulver, the group is trying to experiment more with their sound as they grow older, rather than retread territory well-worn until the end of time (see: Napalm Death). If anything, the group seemed only to come back to death metal when it needed a tether to ground itself. More often than not, Below the Lights was an exploratory mission.
Enslaved are back from that mission on Isa, have refueled, and are going back up again into the ether. But this time the ride is a tad bumpier and the sights seem a tad less thrilling than before.
It’s not hard to isolate why. There’s the ending of “Ascension,” for instance, which seems like it’s been brushed with a producer’s comb to within an inch of its life. The guitars are so clean as to be lifeless. Obviously no one’s asking for the album to be recorded in a bathroom, but a little bit more dirt in the machine might be for the best. Especially when the drums suspiciously sound like they were recorded with eight hundred mics and eight hundred miles away. Frankly, it’s Enslaved getting a bit cute. And no one wants that sort of excess.
Similarly, Herbrand Larsen’s vocals this time out veer even more often into that clean area in which he dangerously sounds like a nu-metal singer whining about his parent’s abuse. Luckily, he more often than not understands this and tempers it with his typical painful razors-in-the-throat stylings at enough other times to satiate.
But both of the above criticisms are indicative of something disturbing about Isa: it really is just prog rock with blastbeats and sometimes screamed vocals. Any way you slice it, Enslaved has even further gone down the road towards becoming death metal’s (Reo)Genesis. And for those willing to bear it, Isa will be a revelation. Perhaps even genius.
But for those still listening for that rare combination of the Norse metal and experimental side of Enslaved, that time seems to be over. Beware.
Reviewed by: Michael Bennett
Reviewed on: 2005-04-07