Enslaved “Vertebrae” (2008)

With “Vertebrae,” Enslaved present their most ambitious and developed album yet, and one of the most convincing agglomerations of progressive rock and metal to date. Right from the start you know the band has achieved a superior synthesis. The opening keyboard line, with its analog punch, is right out of the seventies playbook, segueing into a rich blanket of white noise guitar that would sound very black metal if not for the stop-go rhyhthm delivered with Prong-level efficiency.

Occasionally, the album’s quirky ambiance brings to mind Brian Eno’s mid-seventies rock output—I almost expected a Robert Fripp solo to explode onto the scene in “Ground,” with its rollicking feel-good rhythm. Indeed, the overall music can sound like a black metal band and a psychedelic rock outfit jamming through a temporal wormhole, combining the glacial grimness of the far north with the sunny atmospherics of tanned hippies. There’s also some deliciously slow and heavy riffs that recall the band’s earliest albums and a few dissonant crusty bits reminiscent of more recent American doom.

But I don’t want to overemphasize the outside sounds and influences; like a high-quality craft beer, the ingredients may be found elsewhere, but the flavor is wholly the band’s own. The songs are soaring and expansive, with pummeling drums, trollish growls and slithery solos striking out between kick ass riffs and melodic, sometimes lilting vocal lines.

The band is so far away from the gimmicky Viking Metal sound, they might as well be in a neighboring star system. They’ve retained the epic scale and thundering power, but molded it into something artful, subtle, even beautiful. The songs are never overwhelmingly dark, somehow both more epic and breezier than any of the band’s previous output, which sounds more transitional next to their work here.

I suspect that as time goes on, I’ll find myself returning to “Below the Lights” more—that album’s blistering psychedelic metal attack speaks to me on a nearly unconscious level—but “Vertebrae” is undeniably Enslaved’s finest hour, easily their most accomplished and sophisticated album. “Ruun” was perhaps too simplistic and hooky for its own good, a well-oiled rocker. “Vertebrae” doesn’t run as much on autopilot; it’s a far more alert and busy album, and a generally superior work, a release anyone with even a passing interest in metal should own.

I’m not sure how this year’s going to shape up for experimental metal, but Enslaved have certainly done their part by delivering a cutting edge album with some sick riffing and beautiful melodic interludes. So far, so good.

-James Slone


Release:  2008
Label:  Indie Recordings
Avantgenre:  Soaring And Expansive Metal-Prog Lovechild
Duration:  49:01
Origin:  Norway
Official site:  http://www.enslaved.no/
Review online since:  28.08.2008 / 03:37:05


01 – Clouds
02 – To The Coast
03 – Ground
04 – Vertebrae
05 – New Dawn
06 – Reflection
07 – Center
08 – The Watcher

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