Not a lot of bands get to their thirteenth album, and very few get there while still garnering respect. Fortunately, Enslaved are one such band. Most of their albums are very well received and their most recent two releases, Axioma Ethica Odini and RIITIIR are regarded as exemplars of the genre of progressive black metal. As such, their thirteenth album, In Times, has big shoes to fill. Unsurprisingly, Enslaved have done it again and created a great album. There’s a catch though, while the album is great on its own, as a follow-up to their previous excellent releases, it loses a bit of steam.
First of all, In Times is a modern Enslaved album through and through. Sound wise, it is very similar to Axioma and RIITIIR. The production has the same spacious quality to it. It’s clear yet smooth enough to maintain the atmospheric quality expected from black metal. The album sounds unmistakably like Enslaved, and if one has heard their recent work, it can easily be recognized as a continuation of those.
Therein lies the problem, though. The formula is rather similar to their recent output. Long songs with concise, primal riffs developing a sense of character, soothing clean vocals and the subtle backing instruments to enhance the mood. It’s all great, really, but if that sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The band have been doing this for a few albums now, so it becomes exceedingly easy to compare their work across releases. And the fact of the matter is that most of In Times doesn’t exceed the bar already set by its predecessors. This sounds like a strike against it, and while it sort of is; one must also remember that the albums In Times is being compared to are masterpieces that are essentially perfect. Regardless, the uncomfortable comparison stands — In Times isn’t as great as RIITIIR.
Is that really a problem though? Perhaps not. Judged on its own merits, this album is pretty damn good. Every song is over eight minutes, which gives Enslaved a lot of room to develop their ideas within songs, and this is where they shine. Taking a rather simple riff and repeating it, playing variations based off of it, building up mood and breaking it down, these are all the band’s strong suits. There are some interesting variations on their usual method in this album too, be it folky chorus singing, more experimental instrumental flourishes or some rhythmic tricks. The problem is these aren’t utilized often enough, and what’s left is “typical Enslaved riffing.” Again, Enslaved are so good that they can get away with just doing their thing, but when they tease some more depth to the music and don’t deliver on it, that can be disappointing. Coupled with the fact that while their songwriting is up to par with a generalized version of themselves, it rarely ever shines. It’s weird, because while everything sounds good as a whole, the spark that made Axioma or RIITIIR so special is just missing here.
It might be unfair to compare this album to its impeccable predecessors, but the feeling is just too hard to shake. In Times unfortunately feels like b-sides from its parents, albeit spiced up with the occasional creative elements to make it feel a bit fresher. What the band fails to capitalize on is the dichotomy here. They could have either just fully embraced the album sounding very similar to their previous work and just honed it to perfection, or they could have went deeper down the rabbit hole of weirdness and differentiate it with a more experimental sound. That they do neither is what causes prevents this album from greatness.
Make no mistake, In Times is a good album, but it is not a great album. It’s still unbelievably impressive that a band thirteen albums into their career can still find it in themselves to make quality music that is progressive and invigorating. And at times, it feels fresh too. Fans of Enslaved will definitely enjoy this album, there is really no reason not to – but it’s not the highest point in their career. That’s alright though! If anything, this shows promise for the band’s future if they choose to develop on it, and in the meantime we still get a solid album to listen to.