Longtime readers of this blog know that I have a fraught relationship with Enslaved. Once one of my favorite bands, these Norwegian Viking metallers’ releases between 2003’s Below the Lights and 2008’s Vertebrae make for one of those unbroken strings of heavy metal glory that few bands ever unleash. Unfortunately for me, since 2008’s masterpiece, the band has released two records (Axioma Ethica Odini and RIITIIR) which left me cold. While I liked Axioma at release, I have returned to it basically never since then, and RIITIIR was a nut I never cracked. The band’s transformation from black metal to proggy post-black metal hasn’t been something I frowned upon, but their latest material has really sent me moss gazing. So I guess you could say that the anticipation for me has been a little tough to get up to a fever pitch with In Times. Sure, it’s a new Enslaved record, but it’s hard to keep my expectations high after having been so disappointed over the last few years.
I’m going to get this out of the way right away: In Times is not a great record. It suffers some real problems, and the biggest one is uniformity. The album has six tracks and they are all over eight minutes long, three of them clock in at roughly eight minutes and 15 seconds, two of them at roughly eight minutes and 50 seconds and the final one clocks in at ten minutes and 45 seconds. While the music is littered with time changes, dynamic ups and downs, and what I am tempted to call a progressive sensibility that is long post-black metal at this point, I’m not sure that this record ever changes volume. With a dynamic range rating of 6, In Times becomes monotone. There’s no meaningful variation in volume, moderate variation in feel, and despite some bright musical moments, I have trouble sitting through this record from start to finish.
In Times does have some great songs, however. As I have listened to the record more actively to try to pinpoint where the disconnect was, I discovered that there is only one song—”Nauthir Bleeding,” which mostly just bleeds into a uniform mass—that I consider to be genuinely uninteresting. Other than that, the songs on here are good. Opener “Thurisaz Dreaming,” rips out the gate with a blast (like, y’know, black metal), and while it goes over to a more modern Enslaved groove, the cleans are catchy and interesting and the song benefits from a remarkable and epic bridge. Title-track “In Times,” has two minutes too much intro, but once the two-thirty mark is crossed the listener is regaled with classic riffing, with Ivar and Isdal using bar chords instead of just straight power chords to make a wall of sound that’s proggy and dense. “In Times” is especially enjoyable towards the end—the harmonies and nearly Gazpacho-like progressive sound suits these aging black metallers well. The real highlight on here, though, is “One Thousand Years of Rain,” which is a top-tier Enslaved track. This track feels like a blackened viking metal track, doing what Enslaved does best: hypnotic, memorable riffing backed by keys. Whether it be black metal rasps or the Norsky choirs, everything feels in like it’s in the right place.
But I can’t help but be a bit disappointed. Sure, Enslaved is checking all the boxes that I have traditionally loved about them: expansive tracks (if not as heavy as they once were); interesting, dynamic writing and the post-Vertebrae melodic work; hypnotic groove and post-black metal progressiveness. Yet, listening to In Times as a whole is a chore. I find my ears becoming fatigued, my eyes glazing over, and I can’t keep myself on task. Between what is an uniform sound, because the record is so compressed that the softs and louds are essentially on the same level, and a production so laden with reverb, the album hardly feels heavy. Even when the kick drums are pummeling away and Grutle is screaming at me about Odin, In Times isn’t heavy; it’s just loud. And when everything is loud, nothing is.
In Times is the perfect name for this record, though the band probably won’t see it quite this way. This record is demonstrative of how the excesses of the modern recording industry can take perfectly serviceable-to-good music and turn it into something tough to swallow. Instead of highlighting Enslaved‘s strengths In Times makes them sound tired and uniform. So even if I love different moments, and appreciate a lot of the songs, I can’t give this whole record a thumbs up. I really hope there’s a dedicated vinyl master of this, because I can’t see owning this in any other way.