After a strong album in 2010 with “Axioma Ethica Odini”, ENSLAVED comes hot on that album's heels with a free EP. Giving fans their latest fix with a batch of five songs, “The Sleeping Gods” does not feel like anything particularly significant in the band's catalogue, instead feeling like the band just wanting to get some more music out there for people to listen to and enjoy. For what this short album lacks in longevity and depth however, it is certainly enjoyable while it lasts, with each track taking its own very distinct path. Being arguably the most diverse thing that ENSLAVED has ever released in their career, “The Sleeping Gods” is a good, interesting EP from the band, even if it may be little more than merely that.
The first song “Heimvegen” is arguably the most typical ENSLAVED track that we have become used to hearing from albums like “Vertebrae”, and the latest. It is arguably the best thing that “The Sleeping Gods” has to offer, and manages to pack some Black Metal, gradual build ups, as well as an epic chorus section to climax things. “Alu Misyrki” isn't quite as memorable, but it is certainly more energetic, taking the tempo up a few notches and diving deeper into Black Metal territory. Reaching the middle of the EP comes a big surprise from ENSLAVED, a six minute ambient soundscape piece called “Synthesis”. Although it is certainly atmospheric, it does tend to get fairly boring and overdrawn, plodding on through muffled whispers and electronic ambiance. Although it is refreshing and to the EP's benefit to switch things up like this halfway through, “Synthesis” could have likely had more of an impact were it somewhat shorter, as opposed to being the longest piece on the album.
If “Synthesis” was surprise enough, then “Nordlys” tops it. ENSLAVED has always been adventurous with what they do, but taking their sound into what feels more like Post-Punk than anything else was certainly an unexpected twist. “Nordlys” is an instrumental track that begins off on a fairly upbeat note, sounding almost as if ENSLAVED were covering a track by THE CURE, believe it or not. The track eventually barrels down to some heavier Viking Metal riffs, but the initial excitement makes it a very cool track. And lastly is a track that feels much more familiar to the ENSLAVED fan than the previous two; the title track. “The Sleeping Gods” is a song that seeks out ENSLAVED's pagan Folk roots; something that was explored as far back as the band's earliest albums. Led on by deep vocals from Grutle Kjellson and booming drums, the song has a presence to it, but it is a little derivative and feels like the band did this sound quite a bit better with early pagan songs like “Yggdrasil”, off 1994's “Frost” record. In any case, it caps off “The Sleeping Gods” in a somewhat triumphant mood, even if it may not be the best track here.
Although ENSLAVED has not created something I believe will hold much weight by the time the next album rolls around, there are few EPs or albums out there I can think of where each song is distinctive from one another. “The Sleeping Gods” is a strong interim release from this band, and has made me excited to hear the next full-length from these giants of Black Metal.
(Online January 29, 2012)