The album, “Utgard,” released last October by the Norwegian avant-garde proggers, ENSLAVED, was easily among the top ten metal releases of that strange year. The outing was such a cornucopia of sublime, prog-flavored ear candy that I guess not many were expecting the band to release new material already so soon. I certainly wasn’t. So the news about their new EP, “Caravans to the Outer Worlds,” reached my ears on the same day it was released via Nuclear Blast – that is, October 1st, 2021. As the title quite explicitly implicates, once again the band is taking you on a sonic journey, only this time not into some mythological domain but rather somewhere deep in the great unknown, far beyond the event horizons of this dismal reality. Over the course of four tracks, ENSLAVED pushes the limits of their highly innovative metal sound even further, making this treat possibly one of their most dynamic and expansive works to date. I guess it would be quite a clichéd way to put it if I said that the band is boldly going somewhere that no bands have been before. Yes, I think it is better to quote the lyrics of the EP’s title track and say that the EP sounds like “esoteric navigation through the astral storms.”
The title track, “Caravans to the Outer Worlds,” echoes the refined prog aesthetics of the previous album quite nicely, by mixing blistering, break-neck riffs with the warmth of vintage prog sounds. I cannot help but think of the lysergic oddball of a track, “Planet Caravan,” on the classic BLACK SABBATH album, “Paranoid.” Geezer Butler allegedly wrote the song about floating through the universe with one’s lover. Somehow the cosmic sounds on this ENSLAVED track resonate with a somewhat similar air as if to suggest that the “outer worlds,” to which the title refers are, in fact, more like the inner worlds.
The EP plays out like a fever dream or a prolonged hallucination, a tantalizing vision of what could lie behind the thin veil of reality. I’m not talking about pink elephants on parade here, but rather something murky emanating from our collective subconscious. Maybe it’s just because the music video for the title track triggers instant flashbacks of the 2017 video game, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, which is about a haunted, Celtic warrior embarking on a quest into Viking hell in search of her dead lover – with voices in her head complicating matters quite a bit. The four-track EP unfolds like such a dark and beautiful visual novel, by turns resonating with the psychedelic overtones echoing from beneath the darkest sediments of the early 1970s and the proggy twists and turns of the haunting 2009 metal masterpiece, “Crack the Skye,” by MASTODON.
Despite being only four tracks in length, “Caravans to the Outer Worlds” EP is yet another portfolio piece released by ENSLAVED in a relatively short time span. Listen with caution – there is a substantial risk of developing an instant crush with these silly Norwegian proggers.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- Caravans to the Outer Worlds
- Intermezzo I: Lonnlig. Gudlig.
- Ruun II – The Epitaph
- Intermezzo II: The Navigator
Grutle Kjellson – Bass, vocals
Ivar Brørnson – Guitars, keyboards
Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal – Guitars
Håkon Vinje – Keyboards
Iver Sandøy – Drums