Album of the Week 01-2016: Enslaved – Ruun

There was a time when I despised Black Metal a priori. Befriending Dystopia’s frontman Dennis Onsia in my early twenties has helped me discover quite a number of good bands affiliated with the genre. That phrase is used quite consciously, because by the time Enslaved released ‘Ruun’, the general dark atmosphere and Grutle Kjellson’s (too) throaty rasp were the only distinctly “Black Metal” aspects that were still featured in their music. And even though the term “extreme progressive Metal” has been a bit overused recently, it’s the perfect way to describe this music: aggressive, but also melodic and sometimes slightly psychedelic.

With the inauguration of their current lineup, the style change was a fact for Enslaved. Installing a fulltime keyboard player was a great move: Herbrand Larsen often expands on the atmosphere of the layered guitar work and contributes greatly to the Pink Floyd-isms of the band’s progressive side. Besides that, he’s got one of the most pleasant clean voices in the business, which is perfect to balance out the irritation Kjellson’s screeches cause me sometimes. But let’s not forget Enslaved’s secret weapon: Cato Bekkevold has one of the most relaxed drumming styles in extreme Metal these days.

‘Ruun’ takes the sound the band has been experimenting with on its predecessor ‘Isa’ and perfects it. Ivar Bjørnson’s dissonant chords provide a perfect basis for Arve Isdal’s dreamy, often Blues-inspired guitar leads and the vocal interaction between Kjellson’s raw vocals and Larsen’s more soothing voice. What makes ‘Ruun’ better than ‘Isa’ is that the songs have a stronger identity this time around. If it’s not the choruses that stick out, the riffs are extremely memorable. This especially goes for the riff-driven nature of the first three tracks: the uptempo aggression of ‘Fusion Of Sense And Earth’, the pleasant midtempo ‘Path To Vanir’ and the brilliant opener ‘Entroper’. Later on, ‘Api-Vat’ adapts the same approach impressively.

If I had to single out one track, it has to be the title track. The build-up in tension and release is just about perfect and the interaction between the esotheric 7/4 feel of the verses and the pulsating nature of the Kjellson-led parts is mindblowing. Also, take note of how the guitars intertwine beautifully in the intro. All of this contributes to what is without any doubt one of the best Metal tracks of the 21st century. It’s not like that’s the only song highlighting the more atmospheric side of the band – ‘Essence’ and the massive closer ‘Heir To Their Cosmic Seed’ do a similarly commendable job – it’s just that ‘Ruun’ is an unbelievable song.

On following records, the band would juggle the balance between progressive and extreme a little until they found the perfect balance on their most recent efforts ‘RIITIIR’ and ‘In Times’, but my favorite album remains ‘Ruun’. It may just be the excitement of trying something new that shines through here, but regardless, it’s a fantastic album that incorporates large amounts of atmospheric layers without ever sacrificing the nature of a good song. Not many bands succeed these days, but Enslaved most certainly does here. It makes ‘Ruun’ a perfect gateway record to the genre.

Recommended tracks: ‘Ruun’, ‘Entroper’, ‘Api-Vat’

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