originally written by Chris McDonald
What a strange little release this is for Enslaved, a band that hasn’t officially released anything other than full-lengths or DVDs since their founding efforts in the early 90’s. Coming out of nowhere as a free download (and sponsored by Scion A/V nonetheless), The Sleeping Gods is a five-song EP of wholly new material from the long-running Norwegian juggernauts that shows the outfit delving a little more deeply into some of the less accessible elements of their sound.
“Heimvegen” and “Alu Misyrki” open the proceedings as easily the most “traditional” modern Enslaved songs on this recording. The former gets off to a terrific start with a series of triumphant melodic riffs and crooning clean vocals, before transitioning into a rather strange segment of spoken word growls and angular guitar work. It’s a pretty strong track, but also fairly unfocused, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a song composed during the Axioma Ethica Odini sessions but cut from the final product for that very reason. “Alu Misyrki” is a better showcase of the band’s dynamic range, going from an intense old-school charge to an interesting refrain driven by more clean vocals and some unusual layering of different guitar sounds. This will probably be the favorite song of most Enslaved devotees, but like “Heimvegen” it feels a little unfocused and incomplete, like it’s the result of various engaging ideas that the band had to rush to put together.
From this point on things become more strange and unexpected, and consequentially a lot more intriguing than the first two songs. “Synthesis” is a lengthy ambient piece, structured around an undulating, spacey center upon which the band expands with a myriad of ghostly vocal samples and other strange effects. It’s actually surprisingly haunting and emotive, and it seems perfectly suited for release on this kind of format as opposed to inclusion on a proper full-length. Instrumental “Nordlys” returns things to rocking territory with a highly enjoyable mix of Vertebrae-esque prog rock and Axioma-derived polyrhythmic intensity. While it initially felt a bit clipped without vocals, a few listens showed the variety of different melodies and textures explored to be a worthy substitute. The EP concludes with the title track, a tribal-sounding ode to Enslaved’s Viking roots, complete with the requisite Nordic chants that the band has occasionally featured on their recordings. I’ve never really connected with this side of the band’s sound in the past (mainly the vocal style), but fortunately, the musical background of this track is again very atmospheric and powerful, and it makes for a fitting conclusion to this somewhat esoteric recording.
It’s a little strange to be reviewing a release that anyone can (legally) obtain for free with the click of a mouse. So I guess the real question regarding The Sleeping Gods is whether or not it’s worth the time and interest of Enslaved fans so soon after the last album — and the answer to that is a tentative “yes.” None of the songs are spectacular in their own right, and interestingly enough, the two songs that would sound most at home on a full-length release are probably the weakest tracks here. This EP is most enjoyable as an opportunity for the band to explore ideas and dimensions of their sound that they typically only hint at on their albums, and it really would have been more effective overall if the band had gone with that direction entirely instead of feeling the need to tack on two “proper” Enslaved tracks. Nevertheless, The Sleeping Gods is a surprisingly immersive listening venture considering it’s a stop-gap EP, and any Enslaved fans who have yet to do so should experience it for themselves and see how this kind of output from the band resonates with them.