BardSpec Post “Bone” Video

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 16th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

bardspec-Photo-Christian-Misje

If you’re not sensitive to flashing lights and you’ve got 12 spare minutes to get weird in your day — and I think we all know you do, even if you think you don’t; one has to set priorities for these things sometimes — then Enslaved guitarist Ivar Bjørnson would like to invite you to a droning dance party. And no, that’s not a rave where little robot helicopters fly overhead, though I’m sure that exists somewhere on this planet. It’s a video for the track “Bone” from Bjørnson‘s upcoming BardSpec debut, which trips out in electronic psychedelia even as it pulsates light and beats across an extended runtime atop a bed of longform guitar effects. Drone and dance. Dance and drone.

Whichever order you want to present those two, they serve as the core of “Bone,” and Bjørnson, along with Today is the Day guitarist/weirdo noise legend Steve Austin, gracefully plays to one side or the other of the balance between them throughout. The song, such as it is, is an undertaking to be sure, but in its place serving as the post-intro opener of BardSpec‘s forthcoming debut album, Hydrogen — out June 23 on ByNorse Music — its hypnotic effect proves well suited in drawing the listener in closer and readying them for the true voyage still to come. In other words, yeah, it’s gonna get stranger. That’s the whole idea.

And yet, “Bone” makes its own kind of sense, sets its own context. You can hear the linear build in the midsection, or the fluidity as one part leads into the next. You might need to make your way through it a couple times to get a sense of what is happening, but exploratory as it is in style, there is a sense of direction at work. Bjørnson is by no means flailing as he crafts the movement-filled wash at the apex. He’s poised. Just poised in another dimension. Go ahead and see for yourself. Take a chance on it.

Video is by David Hall, and is followed by more info off the PR wire.

Please enjoy:

BardSpec, “Bone” official video

Hydrogen, is the forthcoming debut from BardSpec, an experimental project featuring Enslaved’s Ivar Bjørnson and Today Is The Day’s Steve Austin.

BardSpec offer up a stunning fusion of stirring, hallucinatory synth-sounds with mercurial guitar effects and hypnotic rhythms that navigate illusory landscapes. Field recordings and other found-sounds also drift and evaporate into the ether. Working intuitively with these elements and with sharpened senses, attuned to inner impulses, this is immersive music, that can exist anywhere, and anytime within the minds of the listener.

BardSpec is inspired by the German masters Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schultze, and Conrad Schnitzler in addition to contemporary ambient music like Norwegian one-man-band Biosphere and abstract modern electronic music like When, as well as the electronic/industrial-driven metal like Godflesh.

BardSpec website

BardSpec on Thee Facebooks

BardSpec on Instagram

ByNorse Music

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Bardspec Announce Debut Album Hydrogen Due June 23

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 21st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

I was lucky enough to see Enslaved guitarist Ivar Bjørnson perform a Bardspec set at Roadburn 2015 (review here), and it was an immersive experience to say the least. With flashlights on the side of his glasses and accompanied by his bandmate Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal, Bjørnson set about building a wash of exploratory drones and noisescapes that filled the darkened Stage01 at the 013 — since subsumed into the larger Green Room space — and gave a resoundingly progressive impression.

Given Bjørnson‘s ongoing relationship with the fest — he curated that year, along with Wardruna‘s Einar Selvik — it seems fitting that Roadburn should play a role in the release of Hydrogen, the debut recording from Bardspec, as well. Set for issue June 23 on By Norse, the full-length offering will be previewed at a listening session next month at Roadburn 2017.

The details for that, along with the Josh Graham (Neurosis, Kings Destroy) cover art, you can see below, courtesy of the PR wire:

bardspec hydrogen

BARDSPEC: Ambient Project Of Ivar Bjørnson (Enslaved, Skuggsjá) To Release Debut Album, Hydrogen, Via By Norse June 23rd

BARDSPEC is the ambient project/band led by Enslaved composer/guitarist Ivar Bjørnson. This June, By Norse will release the debut album Hydrogen. Having launched at Roadburn in 2015, BARDSPEC has since evolved into a fully-fledged band, with Steve Austin on guitars/effects, David Hall presenting the live visual aspect of the project, with the layout created by Josh Graham (Soundgarden, Neurosis, IIVII, etc.).

BARDSPEC combines stirring, hallucinatory synth-sounds with mercurial guitar effects and hypnotic rhythms that navigate illusory landscapes. Field recordings, and other found-sounds also drift and evaporate into the ether. Working intuitively with these elements and with sharpened senses, attuned to inner impulses, this is immersive music that can exist anywhere and anytime within the minds of the listener.

Whilst BARDSPEC might essentially be the same brain and personality making the music, compared to Enslaved, it is a widely different entity. Thematically and sonically, BARDSPEC is about minimizing, subtracting, and meditating upon the simplest essence of “things;” the single points exemplified through song titles like “Bone,” “Salt,” and so on, the basic elements and foundations that make up the whole. There is an element of “space” in the music and the artwork, as a representation of the inner workings of the mind and the subconscious.

Inspired by the German masters Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schultze, and Conrad Schnitzler in addition to contemporary ambient music like Norwegian one-man-band Biosphere and abstract modern electronic music like When (Norwegian also), as well as the electronic/industrial-driven metal like Godflesh. Ivar describes the appeal and trance-inducing aspects of such music to him, “I remember listening to Richard Burmer and his album Mosaic from 1984. I thought I fell asleep but I was in a semi-lucid state where I still registered music – but not much else. At the end of side A there’s an explosion so violent and extreme that I jumped two feet into the air and was totally shocked. The weird thing is, I couldn’t remember it being there. When I revisited the music again it was just a little ‘thud.’ I was just experiencing a trance so deep into the music that this deviation from the pattern and frequencies in the foregoing half hour of monotony totally shocked me. I loved it!”

Roadburn Festival plays host to a very special public listening session of Hydrogen by BARDSPEC, a chance for people to hear the album from start to finish in advance of the official release date. This event shall take place on April 21st. More information incoming on the Roadburn website.

Hydrogen Track Listing:
1. Intro – Deposition
2. Bone
3. Fire Tongue
4. Gamma
5. Salt
6. Teeth (bonus track)

Hydrogen shall be released on June 23rd across all formats. The six-panel CD digipak is available as limited first press to 1000 including bonus track “Teeth.” The double gatefold LP is limited to 500 black vinyl, and the digital format also including the bonus track.

http://www.bardspec.com
http://www.facebook.com/BardSpec
http://www.instagram.com/bardspec
http://bynorse.com

Bardspec, “Fire – Tongue/Meat” Live in New York

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ROADBURN 2015 DAY TWO: Fusion of Sense and Earth

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 10th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

roadburn 2015 day two (Photo by JJ Koczan)

04.11.15 — 01.17 — Fri. Night — Hotel

The curated day is a Roadburn tradition going back to David Tibet of Current 93, who was the fest’s first curator in 2008. This year, the hallowed duty was bestowed on Enslaved guitarist Ivar Bjørnson and Wardruna multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Einar “Kvitrafn” Selvik, and their day took on the title “Houses of the Holistic.” I don’t know who picked what individual band for what stage, or if the two agreed on everything or what the situation was, but I know the results were pretty magical, particularly on the Main Stage, which hosted — in order — Virus, Sólstafir, Fields of the Nephilim, Warduna and Enslaved, who joined forces for the final set of the evening to perform Skuggsjá, a Norse-minded work originally commissioned to honor the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution and first performed at the Eidsivablot festival last fall. To my knowledge, Roadburn 2015 is the second time it’s ever been played in public.

Virus (Photo by JJ Koczan)I did some wandering, as one will, but the day started with Virus, who played Roadburn in 2012 and were among the most talked-about bands that year. I knew I didn’t want to miss them again, so I got to the main hall well in time for their start, which unfolded quickly in a technically intricate post-black metal from the lineup of guitarist Carl-Michael “Czral” Eide, bassist Petter “Plenem” Berntsen and drummer Einar Sjursø. They came highly recommended, and while I heard The Black Flux, their second album, when it was released in 2008, that was also seven years ago and it seemed reasonable to expect they would’ve progressed even further along their dissonant path. Sure enough, while they dipped back to their debut, 2003’s Carheart, for “Be Elevator,” it was the material from 2011’s The Agent that Shapes the Desert that most stood out to me, “Chromium Sun,” which appeared early in the set, and “Dead Cities of Syria,” which followed soon after, as well as the new song that served as their closer, “Rogue Fossils,” which Eide teased as being included in their to-be-recorded fourth record, calling it “atonal.”

A challenging start to the day, but Virus‘ avant BardSpec (Photo by JJ Koczan)twists weren’t impossible to track. “Rogue Fossils” was downright catchy,” and the turns of “Lost Peacocks” from The Black Flux weren’t so sharp as to go off the rails. Obviously that’s a credit to the trio, whose sound is individualized enough that it could only have grown organically. If you were to start a band and say, “Okay, we’re going to sound like this,” wherein “this” is Virus, it would fall flat. Some things just need to grow on their own. It was an impressive showing, but I also wanted to catch Ivar Bjørnson‘s ambient project, BardSpec, which was making its debut on Stage01, the smallest of the rooms at the 013. Easy enough to wander over, and I managed the rare feat of getting in before it was too packed and found Bjørnson‘s experimental side in full display, a table set up on the stage with mixing boards, guitars — Enslaved‘s Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal sat in on guitar, and I mean “sat” literally; he was behind the table, largely hidden from view, sitting on a monitor wedge — a laptop and no doubt two or three other swirl-making doodads obstructed from view.

Decked out in a shirt the homemade-seeming designs of which reacted with the blacklights in the room to look like they were glowing in the dark and glasses with lights in them, Bjørnson soundscaped and built on waves of drone from Isdal‘s guitar, manipulating a live mix while video played on the screen behind. Formative, maybe, but ambitious, and Enslaved bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson showed up to watch as well. With a primary focus on atmospherics, it was maybe more of something you’d put and close your eyes to than something to watch on stage, but I almost always find the live creation of droning sounds interesting, to think of that as part of a performance. I stayed for a while and went back and forth to watch Virus finish Solstafir (Photo by JJ Koczan)their set, waiting for Icelandic four-piece Sólstafir to take the Main Stage, which they did — in force, by storm, or however else you want to say it. Like Virus, they played in 2012 and were much heralded, though they also played yesterday doing the live soundtrack to the Icelandic film Hrafninn Flýgur (“Flight of the Raven“), so either way, the Roadburn crowd was familiar with their wares.

Even after playing yesterday, though, Sólstafir drew what was at that point the biggest crowd I’d seen so far at the Main Stage. There were many Sólstafir shirts in the audience, and it didn’t take long for the band — who’ve had the same lineup since the turn of the century with guitarist/vocalist Aðalbjörn Tryggvason, guitarist Sæþór Maríus Sæþórsson, bassist Svavar Austman and drummer Guðmundur Óli Pálmason — to demonstrate how they earned such loyalty. Supporting last year’s fifth LP, Ótta (review here), they played “Dagmál,” album-opener “Lágnætti” and the title-track right off the bat, Tryggvason a consummate, emotive and charismatic frontman, wielding an e-bow for his guitar as if it was powered by his heart, but the whole band just dead on, through and through. I had been looking forward to seeing them for a while, and they more than justified the anticipation. The ending of “Ótta” alone was worth standing there, but I stayed put for just about the entire set and was treated to “Kukl” and the title-cut from 2011’s double-album, Svartir Sandar, as well as “Rismál” from Ótta, which was a highlight, and “Goddess of the Ages” from 2009’s Köld.

The latterSolstafir (Photo by JJ Koczan) showed off some blackened roots, but there was strong sense of performance running through the whole set, and as far back as Sólstafir dipped into their catalog, that tied the show together. A dynamic band, strong in mood and consistent in their songwriting, they also held down that stage, no questions whatsoever. In their energy and their presence, they owned it. Another album or two to follow-up Ótta and I would not at all be surprised to find Sólstafir return to Roadburn in a couple years even higher on the bill. I won’t get to see them on their US tour, which begins April 22 (dates here), but at least now I know what I’m missing. I can’t imagine what they’d be like in a smaller space — Reggies in Chicago, Red 7 in Austin, etc. — if Tryggvason would go into the crowd as he did for “Goddess of the Ages” before climbing back on stage to end out with more e-bow. They’re something special, and I got the vibe from their set that they’d likely be something special whatever the context in which one happened to be seeing them.

There was a break in between Sólstafir and Fields of the Nephilim, so I shuffled over to the merch area and picked up a couple odds and ends — mostly Live at Roadburn releases; PapirPapermoonSula Bassana, and I had my eye on a YOBThe Unreal Never Lived Live at Roadburn 2012 LP that I might have to make mine on the morrow — and ran back to the hotel to drop off the goods, getting back in time for the legendary UK goth rockers to hit the Main Stage, carrying with them a host of classics I’m woefully out of my depth discussing, having never really followed vocalist Carl McCoy or the band. They were something unknown to me, which has an appeal on its own, and particularly following Sólstafir, it was easy to read a Fields of the Nephilim influence in retrospect, in headwear and style. I never gothdanced, but there were some shimmying shoulders to be seen for “Dawnrazor,” “Moonchild” and others, Fields of the Nephilim (Photo by JJ Koczan)though with Dutch prog legends Focus shortly on in the Green Room, the Main Stage attendance thinned out noticeably, Fields of the Nephilim having gone on about 15 minutes late. They’re back tomorrow as the headliners on the Main Stage.

As I understand it, that’s because Walter is a huge fan, which is probably the best reason you’re ever going to see a band playing Roadburn. They don’t have a new record out, they’re not touring, but they’re here doing two sets because Walter, who is the head, figurehead and face of the festival, loves them. Who could argue? I’m not sure I’m a convert, but it gave me a chance to get some dinner, watch Focus through the door for a bit — I’d done similar with Icelandic black metallers Svartidauði earlier, and found them satisfyingly ripping — and still get back in time for the start of Wardruna, about whom I had zero preconceptions. Before they went on, two tiers were added to the stage, making room for the Norwegian outfit’s range of percussion, vocalists, and so on.

Very much led by Selvik — he was the only one on the lowest level of the stage while they played — they were nonetheless an orchestra. Atmospheres so thick you couldWardruna (Photo by JJ Koczan) swim in them, harmonies rang out in Norwegian, telling Viking tales of a history to which I can’t relate but set me off wondering what it might be like to be from a place with a traditionally homogeneous culture; how it might be to have a “team” in terms of nationality. Americans divide. That’s what we do. I don’t have any experience with a history like that into which Wardruna seemed to be tapping, Selvik with a variety of traditional instruments at hand. It’s easy to respect it, and the performance, if you’ll pardon my saying, was splendid. Soulful, rich, immersive and as complex and beautiful as anything I’ve heard at Roadburn in my seven trips here. But even “Americana” discounts entire portions of my nation’s population, so outside the language barrier, I had a bit of cultural wall standing between me and Wardruna‘s Viking paeans, though by the time they got around to the memorable dirge “Helvegen” from 2013’s Runaljod – Yggdrasil, I was ready to set sail on whatever hand-carved ship they might’ve had parked outside the 013. One could almost hear the lapping waves of the Norwegian Sea.

Over in the Green Room, it was a different kind of traditionalism playing out. Oslo-based trio Tombstones riffed loud, riffed early and riffedTombstones (Photo by JJ Koczan) often — their tones a dense, earplug-vibrating lumber that grooved on vicious roll. I knew I liked that band from 2013’s Red Skies and Dead Eyes (review here), but I didn’t realize quite how much I liked that band. Guitarist Bjørn-Viggo Godtland and bassist Ole Christian Helstad shared vocal duties atop their own punishing low-tone and drummer Markus Støle‘s swinging crash, and with a hooded statue of Death on either side of the stage, they played some material I didn’t recognize — might be new? — but slammed home their sonic tonnage as though it was a thing to be directly hammered into the assembled skulls before them and headbanged with true doomly fuckall abandon. I hadn’t seen a band be heavy like that all day, so Tombstones were more than welcome, and the savage heft likewise. They were an act I was very, very glad to have seen at Roadburn.

Coming out of their set, I felt I had a better understanding of what they were about. Not that the album didn’t paint a coherent picture, but to actually see Tombstones made me better appreciate the intensity of their approach. “Intensity” would prove an operative word back in the main hall as well, with Enslaved getting ready to go on. Drummer Cato Bekkevold — buried, as ever, behind his kit — and keyboardist/vocalist Herbrand Larsen had already had their gear positioned in the back row, the highest of Wardruna‘s tiers, Enslaved (Photo by JJ Koczan)in anticipation of the Skuggsjá set still to come, but this was a special gig as well. Dubbed “House of Northern Gods,” it found Bjørnson, Kjellson and Isdal down front of the stage, leading the way through a setlist spanning all the way back to 1993’s Hordanes Land EP, with “Allf?ðr Oðinn” one of the several cuts chosen to represent Norse deities or their archetypes as the band tore through their discography with spoken samples between each song, and runes appearing and disappearing behind them on the Main Stage projection screen along with animations by the artist Costin Chioreanu.

No doubt there were many in attendance who’ve seen Enslaved more than I have, but I’ve seen Enslaved six or seven times by now — including at Roadburn — and this was hands-down the best show I’ve ever watched them give. Also the best setlist. For how tight they were, for the fact that after opening with “Frøyas Smykke” from 2000’s Mardraum (Beyond the Within), they launched into “Fusion of Sense and Earth” from 2006’s Ruun. Kjellson‘s rasp was in top form, and all five of them were raging full-on. It was, yes, intense, and it only became more so as “Fenris” from 1994’s Frost led into the more chorus-centered “The Watcher,” the closer from 2008’s Vertebrae, a one-two that brought to mind not only Enslaved‘s intended focus on Norse mythology for the set, but the progression they’ve undertaken in their 24 years together. For his part, Larsen now sounds better live singing the clean parts on a song like “The Watcher” or “Path to Vanir,” which followed, than he sounded in the studio when they were recorded, his confidence and prowess as a vocalist an ever-Enslaved (Photo by JJ Koczan)increasing factor in Enslaved‘s growth.

Put it this way: I saw Enslaved in New York about three weeks ago. Not only did I stay put for the entirety of their “House of Northern Gods” set, but I’m planning on watching them again tomorrow as well. They wrapped by bringing out an acoustic guitar for “Axioma,” which seemed intended to serve as a transition to Skuggsjá, though there was a changeover necessary and one of Selvik‘s stringed instruments had some technical trouble, so there was an added delay there too, the members of Enslaved and Wardruna both on stage at their appointed start time of 00.15, or thereabouts, but not actually getting going until after 00.30.

When they did start, Skuggsjá was both modern and deeply rooted. With Bjørnson and Selvik at the front of the stage, and a total of 11 people participating, they blended elements from both bands as well as some experimentalism and grand choruses into something beautiful and unique unto itself. I’m keeping my fingers crossed it gets released as a Live at Roadburn album, because it deserves it. To describe the bare Skuggsja (Photo by JJ Koczan)parts doesn’t really do justice to what was happening on stage. It was a moving late-night performance that, knowing it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, I was glad to stick around and see.

With the second day down, there’s still plenty of Roadburn 2015 to come. More tomorrow, but until then, there are some more pics as well after the jump.

Thanks for reading.

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Enslaved, Riitiir: Becoming the Heralds

Posted in Reviews on August 20th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

In some ways, Enslaved’s twelfth album, Riitiir, picks up right where the last one left off. 2010’s Axioma Ethica Odini (review here) was the Norwegian progressive black metallers’ most expansive outing yet. balancing a more traditional (as far as that kind of thing goes with Enslaved) first half with a second that found them pushing the boundaries of influence into doom and even a burgeoning psychedelic sensibility, all driven by their overtly metallic context but given melodic breadth that even pivotal works of their new era like 2004’s Isa or 2006’s Ruun began to point toward and which was all-too-briefly affirmed on last year’s subsequent The Sleeping Gods EP. Since 2004, the band has been putting albums out more or less like clockwork, and despite having moved to Nuclear Blast for each North American release since Vertebrae in 2008 – Riitiir is their third for the label – they’ve been consistent in lineup while exceeding themselves in terms of quality of output. Riitiir – also written as the all-caps RIITIIR, and derived from the words “rites” and “rituals,” themes that encompasses much of the record’s lyrics and musical sensibilities – was recorded across a variety of studios in the band’s native Norway, and overseen by the band personally, but to mix, they teamed with Jens Bogren of Fascination Street Studios in Sweden and listening to the various layers at work on the eight tracks, it’s no mystery why. Along with their most prevalent melodies yet, Riitiir also boasts the complex arrangements vocally and instrumentally that have been a hallmark of the band’s latter-day work. It’s an album you can listen to three times in a row and hear something different each time, whether it’s a tempest guitar lead in “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” from Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal or Ivar Bjørnson or a subtle harmonic shift in the vocals of keyboardist Herbrand Larsen, whose voice has become more and more a fixture of Enslaved’s work since he joined the band in 2004.

And certainly pre-Larsen albums like 2001’s Monumension or 2003’s Below the Lights were not without their progressive sensibilities, but the work the band has been able to do since his arrival is in a different league entirely. There will be those who disparage their growth as some shedding of black metal trueness. I’m not one of them, and I think to limit Enslaved to one genre or another at this point is to undercut the value of what they do, especially in the songs of Riitiir. Bassist Grutle Kjellson still has his trademark rasp and Ice Dale offers no shortage of monstrous and deathly growls, but it’s the lushness that Larsen brings in his clean singing and synth work – Bjørnson contributes synth as well – that ultimately define some of the most memorable parts of Riitiir, be it the rush of “Veilburner” where he tops a near-punkish beat from drummer Cato Bekkevold or the subdued finale of closer “Forsaken,” the atmosphere of which is no less lonely than its title. Throughout, Enslaved bask in their own indulgences and put them to good use, leaving no avenue in the songs unexplored or underdeveloped. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as a result of this, the individual songs are longer than one might have come to expect from the band, the halfway marker “Roots of the Mountain” – a landmark in more than just its track placement – being the second track to top nine minutes behind opener “Thoughts Like Hammers” and the closer clocking in at a weighted 11:15. That’s not quite the 16 minutes that “793 (Slaget Om Lindisfarne)” took to open 1997’s Eld or the lengths they went to on their 1994 debut, Vikingligr Veldi, but on average, they’ve pushed further time-wise to match their expanding scope on Riitiir, and even on the title-track here, which at 5:26 is the shortest of the bunch, it’s time well spent.

While it’s a little ironic that Enslaved would be around long enough to bring them full-circle from starting off with longer tracks, delving into shorter bursts and then working their way back up over the course of their last several albums, the principle difference between Riitiir and the several outings preceding it is the effectiveness of the blend of influences. Axioma Ethica Odini, which was one of 2010’s best albums, make no mistake, kept the bulk of its progressivism for its second half, and it wasn’t until the last two tracks – “Night Sight” and “Lightening” – that the staggering melodic reach of the band  in its current incarnation really unveiled itself. It’s in that regard most of all that Riitiir picks up where Axioma Ethica Odini left off, as there seems to be a willful shedding of concern for expectation happening right from the start of “Thoughts Like Hammers.” The progression is more rock-based and bombastic. The first verse is a genuine stomp, Bekkevold holding back as he does a lot throughout from unleashing blasts or double-bass drumming, and Kjellson starts off Riitiir with a vicious slew of cosmically-themed lyrics. All seems to be going according to plan until the chorus opens up, Larsen comes in on vocals – he’d done a kind of call and response during the verse as well, but the chorus is all him, and in layers – and the majesty really takes hold that the fabric of the record is made apparent. Enslaved won’t be burying their progressive elements this time around, but neither do they shy away from crushing heaviness, as “Thoughts Like Hammers” shows as it approaches its midpoint break, Kjellson and Larsen once more in a call and response, but over a more vicious instrumental burst. An airy solo follows and long synth lines sustained under Bekkevold’s tom runs while Kjellson gurgles out a few more lines, then shouts back a spoken part and a more melodic guitar takes hold to lead back to the initial verse and chorus interchange. If it sounds confusing, it is. If it sounds like a lot going on, it is. Among Riitiir’s impressive achievements, not falling apart halfway through has to be considered right at the top.

Presumably though, if that fate was going to befall a band like Enslaved, it would’ve happened at some point before their twelfth album in. “Thoughts Like Hammers” makes an intriguing opener, showing right away that the band have pushed themselves even further in terms of their arrangements and structuring since the last time out, and that their level of performance, as ever, is second to none. Larsen in particular has surfaced as a defining presence in the band’s sound, and his increased range and confidence on Riitiir only makes the material richer. He appears vocally on every track on the album – he was on almost all of Axioma Ethica Odini as well but for the instrumental interlude – but more than that, he is clearer, more forward and more accomplished-sounding than ever before. Because of the complexity of the arrangements of which he’s a part with Kjellson and Isdal, it wouldn’t be fair to call him a “lead” vocalist, but he makes choruses like that of “Thoughts Like Hammers,” “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” and “Roots of the Mountain” powerful and memorable in ways they simply wouldn’t be without his input. The three distinct voices of Enslaved each have a role to play in the overall balance, but with the bass-heavy groove of “Death in the Eyes of Dawn,” it’s Larsen’s that most stands out, however killer the opening gurgles sound. The song develops some of the spoken ideas of the opener, using throaty semi-whispers to top a bouncingly proggy guitar line during the bridge before Larsen takes over for the pre-chorus and chorus. Isdal returns for the next verse and the cycle seems ready to repeat itself, but a cut to a solo section instead of the Larsen-topped pre-chorus acts as an unpredictable shift and a quick section of effective stops leads to a heavier overall push, Bekkevold announcing its coming with fervent snare rolls and Kjellson coming on for an all-cylinders burst that shifts back to the progressive bounce with hardly any announcement at all. Again, it works. The initial verse/pre-chorus/chorus/post-chorus arrangement repeats, and in the last minute of the song, a stretch of acoustic guitar is introduced to carry the flow into “Veilburner,” which is shorter at 6:46 and more simpler overall in its structure.

Given what Enslaved have so far done on Riitiir, it would just about have to be. Whatever shift it makes to a more established pattern, however, “Veilburner” more than makes up for with its chorus. If modern Enslaved has a prototype arrangement, “Veilburner” is probably it – Kjellson fronting the verse and Larsen taking over for a galloping chorus – but the chorus has a second stage and it’s among the most grand of any on Riitiir. They repeat it twice, Larsen holding the fore once he’s come to it, repeating the lines, “I cannot tolerate being held in the dark/I need to see/I will the flames,” in his kind of drawn out, dreamy melody, seemingly unaffected by the rush beneath him, and when the song opens up and the low-mixed growling accompanies, there’s hardly a finer example of the offsetting melody and brutality to be found in modern metal that is still worthy of the name. Kjellson returns for a final verse and the song cuts to noise that bleeds directly into “Roots of the Mountain,” which stands among “Thoughts Like Hammers” and “Forsaken” as one of the several peaks of the record. At 9:17, it is grandiose, but not inflated. Solid. It is the catchiest chorus on Riitiir and ties together not only the theme of rituals, but the career-long battle-mindedness of Enslaved with their cosmic side and even a flourish of inward wisdom-seeking. Again, it sounds like a lot and it is, but it’s all there. And for those who’d relish the head-down pummel of Enslaved at their blastbeaten heaviest, that’s there too, right in the beginning of the song, which shoves its way through the first verse before you even realize it. It’s only when Bekkevold evens out his bass drum and Larsen hits a newfound falsetto in the chorus that “Roots of the Mountain” makes itself fully known. They rush through another verse and get back to the chorus in good time – rightly so – and let loose a guitar solo before bringing in a different progression, also led out by a solo, this time in an ascending line that leads to a break of Kjellson’s bass and the drums (which sound sampled if they aren’t). The guitars kick in and Larsen spits some raw philosophy, and for a minute, it genuinely seems like the song is in its final stretch.

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