In many ways, RIITIIR is the album that I expected to follow the “Progressive Extreme Metal” band’s 2008 release Vertebrae. The moody, psychedelic nature of songs like “Center” and “Ruun” (from Vertebrae’s predecessor) have more in common with the songs on this release than they do with the songs on Vertebrae’s actual follow up, Axioma Ethica Odini. That album always struck me as a reaction to Vertebrae’s sound, rather than a development of it, and RIITIIR feels, in turn, like a reaction. Where Axioma brandished thunderous grooves, muscular riffs, and big hooks, RIITIIR responds with patience and subtlety.
In fewer songs is this new vision more successfully realized than in track two: “Death in the Eyes of Dawn.” The song begins with a dreamy groove reminiscent of “Essence” (from Ruun) but heads in a different direction, creeping patiently to a fairly mild climax before taking almost as long to descend into a lonesome trio of acoustic guitars. Following the dramatic “Thoughts like Hammers” with such an understated song could have been a disaster but Dawn ends up being a highlight and sports both a catchy refrain and a fantastic solo courtesy of underrated axe-wielder Arve Isdal.
Unfortunately, Enslaved are treading in unfamiliar territory here and they don’t always hold their footing. The next song, “Veilburner”, fails to deliver on the promises of not only the previous two songs but its own throw-away introduction. It’s an awkward patchwork of ideas that is built from elements of the two previous tunes but fails to deliver them as effectively, which isn’t all that surprising when you consider just how different those two songs are. The conflicted nature of this song is, sadly, more indicative of the rest of the album than the first two tracks are. “Roots of the Mountain” and “RIITIIR” both open with ferocious Black Metal outbursts before settling into forgettable mid-tempo grooves, while the meandering closer “Forsaken” is built from five disparate sections of music, the last of which is a simply interminable and intolerable acoustic outro that could not be any more anticlimactic.
At the same time, though, the blood-pumping verse/chorus trade-off that follows the pointless piano introduction in “Forsaken” is one of the most riveting sections of music within the album, and the Blackened salvos in “Roots” and “RIITIIR” are both highly enjoyable. Furthermore, the contemplative “Material” – with its primal drumming, gentle atmospherics, and serpentine guitar leads – delivers almost as strongly as “Dawn” does, and the desolate guitar/bass duet that floats gently over blasting drums in “Storm of Memories” provides a much needed textural contrast.
Indeed, “RIITIIR” is full of great moments, but ultimately it feels very lost. The band plays around with a myriad of ideas but refused to commit to anything. Still, their refusal to stagnate gives me hope for their future, and despite my disappointment with this album I am looking forward, eagerly, to their next one.
Released: September 28, 2012
Label: Nuclear Blast
Score: 5/9 Hammers