Last month Enslaved released RIITIIR, certainly one of the most anticipated metal albums of the year. I'm not going to write a real review of it, because I just can't seem to wrap my head around how exactly to do that. Instead, I'm just going to share some thoughts about the album and the band as they relate to me.
First of all, I'd like to get this off my chest: I don't get it. Any other extreme metal band that starts using extensive clean vocals or drifts from their original sound into prog territory is castigated as a sellout or is assumed to have lost their minds. Enslaved do exactly that, and suddenly they go from being a solidly well-respected band to being the greatest thing in the world in the eyes of the metal community.
Now don't get me wrong, it's not like I hate new Enslaved material. But I just don't understand the fuss either. Sometimes it feels like there was some massive metal conference where it was determined that Enslaved get a special exemption and everybody should praise them at all times, and my invitation was just lost in the mail. Now, I actually liked RIITIIR. I certainly don't think it's incredible, though, and there's no way it's in the top 10 releases for this year (it may creep its way into the bottom edge of the top 25, depending on how these final months go). Likewise, when I heard Axioma Ethica Odini, my reaction was "This is good. Not great, but good."
I keep coming back to their newer records and replaying them in the hopes that I'll suddenly discover what I've been missing. So many people who I consider to have good taste in metal love these releases that I feel like there must be something there that I just haven't noticed. It's like there's this majestic, beautiful land just on the other side of a wall, and if I keep hurling myself at that barrier with enough force then eventually I'll crash through. Then, so the imagined story goes, it will all come rushing in and in a sudden epiphany I'll finally understand what everybody else already seems to know.
So far, as this post's existence indicates, such a revelatory moment has not yet occurred. The band is very good, no question. They're creative and they continue to change and evolve. But when I hear RIITIIR and then I sit down to listen to Frost, I can't help thinking of the flak Opeth took for Heritage and asking myself what the reason is for this apparent double-standard.