On their new EP, Caravans To The Outer Worlds, Enslaved notch yet another successful release in their iconic career, even if the EP is not quite as adventurous as their most ambitious work.
Caravans To The Outer Worlds brings everything that longtime Enslaved fans have come to expect from Norway's progressive-meets-black-metal giants. The roughly eighteen-minute EP is broken into four tracks, two main songs and two shorter interlude pieces, styled as "Intermezzos."
The EP's opening title track serves as a strong reminder that unlike the other extreme metal bands that have grown more and more fascinated over the years by psychedelic and progressive sounds, Enslaved has never forgotten their extreme metal roots. Although the track has some more melodic and exploratory moments, the backbone of this track is a thundering, ferocious wave of aggressive black metal, driven by Grutle Kjellson's fearsome blackened rasp, still one of the best in the genre after thirty years.
The other longer track "Ruun II – the Epitaph," stands in stark contrast. An apparent reference to 2006’s Ruun, one of the best entries in Enslaved’s epic discography, "Ruun II" is a psychedelic exploratory track that is almost more ambient and rock than it is metal – especially since it has only clean vocals. "Ruun II" transitions seamlessly into the EP closer "Intermezzo II – The Navigator," which is the strongest moment on the EP. With far more meat and structure than one would expect on an interlude track, "Intermezzo II" takes the atmosphere established on "Ruun II" and builds it to a heavy, psychedelic, proggy crescendo driven by crunchy riffing and swirling synthesizers. In the context of the EP, "Ruun II" and "Intermezzo II" really function as a single movement.
For most metal bands, Caravans To The Outer Worlds would be an incredible accomplishment, particularly the latter half. But for Enslaved, undeniably one of the greatest bands in heavy metal history, it falls a notch short of their greatest works and maybe plays it a little too safe. This is unfair, as I am holding Enslaved to their own incredibly high standards. But while very, very good, only the last few minutes of Caravans To The Outer Worlds offer a glimpse of the sheer brilliance (and I don’t use that word lightly) that Enslaved’s best albums shower upon us. Caravans To The Outer Worlds is a great EP and well worth repeated listens, but still a little disappointing from one of the few bands in metal that is truly capable of mind-warping perfection.