Enslaved - _Isa_
(Tabu Recordings, 2004)
by: Pedro Azevedo (8.5 out of 10)
After the less impressive _Mardraum_ and _Monumension_ albums, the opening track of last year's _Below the Lights_, "As Fire Swept Clean the Earth", was unexpectedly and overwhelmingly excellent -- it would turn out to be the album's finest moment, but to my ears _BtL_ still marked a return to form for Enslaved.

It was therefore with a great deal of anticipation that I first spun _Isa_, wondering whether its start could match its predecessor's, and even whether the entire album might be as great as that particular song. As it turned out, the first track was just an anonymous ambient intro -- quite the anti-climax. When "Lunar Force" did begin, it proved to be a rather different affair; an excellent track, but not quite as great. "Lunar Force" does not dwarf the rest of the album by comparison however, contrarily to what happened on _Below the Lights_ to a considerable extent. There may not be anything as good on _Isa_ as the aforementioned "As Fire Swept Clean the Earth", but overall it is more cohesive and more consistently enjoyable than _Below the Lights_.

Enslaved seem to have regained focus after 2001's rather disappointing _Monumension_, and this last couple of albums easily surpass anything they have done since 1999's _Blodhemn_. Tracks like "Lunar Force", "Isa" and "Return to Yggdrasil" rank among Enslaved's finest, and that should say a lot. Without having had to backtrack or stop experimenting, Enslaved seem to have been able to select less discordant elements for their music: it remains blackened as well as progressive, and retains a majestic Viking feeling, but this time the whole thing does not clash with unnecessary psychedelic explorations.

The black metal rasps are still very good, and the clean vocals are very inspired. While more than adept instrumentally, the album does not need to go into excessive technicality to make its point. Similarly, the level of aggression in the music seems to almost regulate itself, rather than coming across as forced in some parts or lacking in others. The music sounds mature and self-assured, which is something that started to become apparent on _Below the Lights_. On _Isa_, Enslaved occasionally sound more like Borknagar than I would have thought possible a couple of years ago; but it would be unfair to imply any loss of identity or the following of someone else's path. Enslaved are clearly still doing their very own thing, and doing it very well indeed.

Contact: http://www.enslaved.no

(article published 29/11/2004)

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