It's now two decades after their birth in Norway and ENSLAVED's album, RIITIIR, surprises once more even those who are familiar with their non-linear development. The band's sound – complete with castanets (!) this time around - is more than ever their own; the underlying thoughts and influencing events more deeply engaged. RIITIIR embodies a lot more of what has come to be known as ENSLAVED: indefinable and grandiose, honest and unearthly, dark, harsh, and beautiful.
For 2012's RIITIIR, many elements of the recording process are similar to that of the previous few albums. Again, the team of producers came from within the band itself: Ivar Bjørnson, Grutle Kjellson, Herbrand Larsen – this time completed by Iver Sandøy (who co-produced 2010's Axioma Ethica Odini, the 7" Thorn EP, and the 12" The Sleeping Gods EP). The core recordings all took place in Bergen, Norway: Ivar Bjørnson's guitar, Grutle Kjellson's bass, and Cato Bekkevold's drums were recorded live in Duper Studios while Herbrand Larsen & Ice Dale recorded their vocals, keys, and guitars in Earshot Studios. Furthermore, Grutle and Ivar's vocals, guitars, keys, bass pedals, effects, and percussion were recorded in Solslottet Studios and Peersonal Sound. At times, recordings were being done at all three locations simultaneously. The producers travelled to Fascination Street Studios in Örebro, Sweden, where Jens Bogren mixed and Tony Lindgren mastered the album.
"This time it was all about expanding a winning team rather than changing it," states guitarist / songwriter / founding member Ivar Bjørnson on RIITIIR's creation process. "I have to personally admit that expanding the producer team to include a member from outside the band has had its massive challenges for me, but the result is without a doubt better than I had ever dreamed of. Once again, we have learned something about finding the ideal recording process for ENSLAVED, and for that I am eternally grateful to all the involved parties."
The work of Norwegian artist, long-time friend & collaborator Truls Espedal once again graces this ENSLAVED album – his 7th for the band: "ENSLAVED's music is constantly evolving and expanding," he shares, "and we early on decided that the artwork should reflect this. From my first collaboration with the band on [2001's] Monumension and forward, we have slowly merged different aspects into the work to further expand and change things up a bit without losing the connection to earlier work. It still has a strong sense of symbolism, symmetrical compositions and references to Norse art. But there is an even bigger emphasis on realism on RIITIIR, which hopefully adds atmosphere to the finished work."
Speaking of the finished work, Bjørnson admits that it's difficult to describe, although the song lengths on the album were never premeditated: "It sounds like ENSLAVED, whatever that means. There are so many layers and different focal points. It has a deeper complexity than our previous efforts, but I do find it more catchy and moving. Then again, I am the opposite of objective in this, so again I'll leave it up to the people outside the band to make up their mind. I've poured my work, dedication and inspiration into this (at one point, guitars were being written and recorded in my home studio, while I was waiting for the phone call from the hospital that would admit my wife and I to the Labor Ward to receive our firstborn), and I have a feeling that it has more of everything: the beautiful is more beautiful while the harsher is harsher. That it ended up being the longest album we've made so far was something we discovered by accident when we made the first rough mixes after the recordings. We forgot to think about length during the making and rehearsing of the album before recording it! We sat down and thought about it: did it mean we hadn't been critical enough with regards to the time? Upon listening through the recordings with the proverbial scissors in mind, we couldn't find anything we absolutely didn't want to keep. I'll take that as a good sign."
ENSLAVED are known for having driving concepts in their albums, but what drives RIITIIR? Bjørnson elaborates: "The title is a self-made 'Norse-ified' version of the words 'Rites' / 'Rituals.' RIITIIR = 'The Rites of Man,' to put it in a formulaic and easy way. We've built structures that lay above the independent lyrics that we feel more comfortable with letting the reader explore, interpret, or simply discard themselves. Their meanings are entirely up to them."
Whether you're drawn into the genesis myth of the album's opening track "Thoughts Like Hammers" or experience the stratosphere with "Veilburner," enter some sacred grove via 'Roots Of The Mountain" or long to leave your body after "Death In The Eyes Of Dawn," ENSLAVED continue to explore their perception of place in the natural world and challenge the limits of their own self-knowledge, thus ever-expanding the landscape of their musical ecology. Like all their albums before, RIITIIR brings meaning to our mysteries, our memories, our landscapes, and our lives… if only we let it.
1 - Thoughts Like Hammers
2 - Death In The Eyes Of Dawn
3 - Veilburner
4 - Roots Of The Mountain
5 - Riitiir
6 - Materal
7 - Storm Of Memories
8 - Forsaken