Enslaved – Heimdal Review

Welp, Dr. AMG and Doc Grier are off to a hectic year. With a very understandable back-and-forth of “I can take it,” “You can take it,” and finally, “It won’t be on time,” here I am feeding the plebs a review of one of the most-anticipated releases of 2023. As you all might recall, 2020’s Utgard had me bawling bored tears into my hands. As many of you kindly pointed out, I must have been listening to another album. Once again, I’m here to remind you that I indeed listened to Utgard and reviewed it as I heard it. And, yes, after all these years, it’s still dull. That said, Heimdal is not. And unlike Utgard, which required multiple listens to find anything of interest to talk about, Heimdal had me glued with a single listen. Rejoice! This marks a great moment in history where yours truly isn’t Angrier at Enslaved.

The first thing I noticed while listening to Heimdal is the band continues to use various spacey key elements as they did on Utgard. The difference here is they have a much greater purpose and refrain from becoming an annoying mess, like in Utgard’s “Utgardr” and “Urjotun.” As with all recent Enslaved albums, the progressive passages are intricate and expertly delivered. The variation of approaches on Heimdal also provides a seamless experience while being unique to the song. Finally, the diversity of the clean vocals from song to song is fantastic, not in the sense that it feels like a different vocalist on each track, but in how the vocals are used and the arrangements crafted.

On this latter point, compare the approaches taken in “Forest Dweller,” “Kingdom,” and “Caravans to the Outer Worlds.” In “Forest Dweller,” I could swear the vocals were those of Kjetil Nordhus, as the Green Carnation vibes are strong. “Kingdom” is a crushing number whose only purpose is to tear open a second asshole. This song has it all—impressive guitar play that finds one guitar lead in your left ear and another in the right, headbangable riffage, and wildly intricate drum work. The clean vocals are used sparingly, providing a haven (if only for a bit) from Grutle and band from ripping your head off and shoving it up said second asshole. “Caravans to the Outer Worlds” is literally out of this world. After opening with some effective bass leads, it cracks a beer over your head and gives you the middle finger while it unleashes (wait for it) a nasty thrash riff and solo. Badass, right? Grutle sounds like an angry teenager in comparison to the gentle cleans. While the song is hellbent on staying on the ground, these occasional bursts of clean vox try to yank it off the pavement and put it in flight.

But in classic Enslaved fashion, nothing here is always meant to bludgeon you to death for six to eight minutes. Even around all the chaos of “Caravans to the Outer Worlds,” you also find a beautiful conclusion of reverberating/echoing bass guitar and soft vocals. “Forest Dweller” is also a gorgeous track in its own right. While it shares similarities to the marching chug of “Congelia,” its elements are far more interesting. For one, “Forest Dweller” fights to keep the acoustic guitars present, even when the distortion buries it. While only maintaining a cameo role in the song, these acoustic passages lend handsomely to the Green Carnation vibes before they are swept away by the parade of heavy riffs.

My only real issues with the album are some of the unnecessary meanderings. For example, I enjoy the nifty key and bass work at the beginning of “The Eternal Sea,” but the band seems to forget where they were going with it. After some wasted time, the track finally finds its footing. The same goes for the self-titled closer. While an impressive song that builds up from Dream Theater-like progressiveness to a bouncing groove on the back half, it spends too long getting going and far too long playing around with echoing voices and atmospheres. But, in the end, I’m quite pleased with Heimdal. For the first time in a long time, I can sit with an Enslaved album without skipping songs and jumping to the best parts. While not the best in their arsenal, Heimdal is a massive uptick compared to Utgard.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 192 kb/s mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Websites: enslaved.bandcamp.com | enslaved.no | facebook.com/enslaved
Releases Worldwide: March 3rd, 2023

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