Review: EnslavedHeimdal (Deluxe Version)

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A Bean is never late. And he sure as hell isn’t early this time around, so let’s say I’m arriving precisely when I mean to.

Astute residents of the Bowl will note that Heimdal (Deluxe Version) is the deluxe version of the band’s album that dropped in March of last year. This version contains 11 extra tracks, a fair amount of them being live tracks from their Otherworldly Big Band Experience in December of ’21.

This isn’t the band’s first time writing about the figure of Heimdall; the fellow has popped up a few times in their body of work, but this is the first album dedicated to the guy. For those of you a little rusty on your Norse mythology, feel free to hop into this boat made out of the toenails of the dead and we’ll take a ride while I tell you about the guy. Watch out for the big wolf. Heimdall is one of the sons of Odin, and he was given birth by nine moms, who are all sisters and are fittingly called The Nine Mothers of Heimdallr. The dude has a big old stash of mead and he guards over where the rainbow bridge meets the sky. He possesses knowledge of the future, has real good eyesight and hearing, and he’s got gold teeth. Dude also really has it out for Loki.

Now, on to the music. Enslaved is one of my all-time favorite bands, and generally every album has one track that really stands out to me as doing something interesting either texture- or composition-wise that really sticks in my head as some quality songwriting. And I’ll be honest, Heimdal had me thinking for a bit that it may be the first album to not have something hit me with a wow factor of some sort. It happens, as interesting as Enslaved are with their compositions, they still have a style and this many years on I thought maybe I’d just gotten used to it. Everything was good, I was having a fun time, but it was just a good album…and then the (originally final) title track hit with that nasty little swamp goblin synth line and gave me something to really dig into.

I stated last time that I’ve come to decide that I don’t want to just give rundowns and summaries of the music (or anything else I’m reviewing), because I think it’s a tad lazy and it feels less like explaining why I like something and more like I’m trying to lead the listener through an agility course where at the end they necessarily must come to the exact conclusion I have. So instead let me give some impressions and some standout sections that caught me during my listening time, and I’ll let you explore on your own.

Those who have any familiarity with the band’s output for the last 20 years or so will feel very at home with this record and in some ways it does feel like the band has sort of settled into a style of its own, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and in fact I think this sort of settling down for a bit is inevitable for any kind of artist. For those who are newer to the band’s sound, this is a hell of a record to dig in to, and will give a wonderful platform to jump off of for everything else in their catalog. The synthesizers are getting a lot more feature time on this one it feels like, which I enjoy, especially as they are kind of breaking away from what most metal bands do with synths (mushy-sounding string samples with the delay set so that you hear each new note roughly a week after the key is pressed). It lends a sort of progressive dungeon synth vibe to the beginning of some of these tracks and that’s rad. I’m also enjoying the little ventures into bitonality and polymeter, mild though they might be. The band has flirted with these musical tools before, but it’s nice to see them continue to dig into them, and I feel it really adds to the sort of otherworldly feeling surrounding the character of Heimdall himself—a dude who can see into the future and was given birth by 9 separate women; like much of Norse myth, it’s difficult to truly wrap one’s head around.

Heimdal as a whole really serves best as a complete sort of tone poem or concept/mood piece. There’s an ethereal feeling surrounding everything, with these juxtaposed cloudy and calm synth and clean vocal lines carrying much of the album, and these floating sung/spoken word sections that end up compositionally creating a section with the before-mentioned bitonality and polymeter. Several times through now, if I choose individual tracks nothing really feels like a particularly strong standalone other than the title track. When you put it all together, though, it really does feel like the strength of the work is multiplied, which I guess is also a trope when it comes to progressive music of any stripe. Go get stoned and put on a laser show and while playing it through start to finish and things go from “yeah that was pretty good” to life-changing.

As for the deluxe edition expanded tracks, they’re pretty cool. I do like the alternate versions of “Congelia” and “Forest Dweller.” I’ve never been one to seek out live tracks in general, but the Otherworldly Big Band Experience tracks that are included are good, I remember watching it in 2021, cooped up like we all were, and it was good. Definitely worth checking out, but if you can find the video of the virtual concert somewhere I feel like it’s a little more worth your time.

So that’s Heimdal. I’m not sure yet if this is just me sort of hitting the “cool down” phase of my relationship with Enslaved, if they’ve just sort of settled into their sound now, if this album will continue to grow on me, or if the next one will blow my mind. Time will tell. But for now, definitely check this out if you haven’t already.

4/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

Heimdal is out through Nuclear Blast Records.

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