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Let the record reflect that though the official score of the review says one hundred percent, my insides are really saying it's a one hundred and ten percent..at least!
Evolve or die. Perhaps that's why 'Vertebrae' is so fitting a title for this astounding accomplishment of an album. Black metal in it's traditional form is a genre you can only do so much with without sounding the same from album to album. You don't need me to tell you every band who was ever worth a damn has long since taken their black metal sound into another direction than where they started. That old raw and primitive vibe? You just can't reside there and expect to stay relevant if you're any good. This is common knowledge but many bands have struggled to be better than where they once started and listeners yearn for or prefer the old sound for good reason. Of course the degree varies from band to band. Not all of them have about faced Ulver style. Immortal would later incorporate Teutonic thrash influences. And we all know the shift Darkthrone took. Let's be honest, for most of these classic Norwegian bands, their best days are far behind them. Raise your hand if you prefer Circle the Wagons to Transilvanian Hunger. The chorus of crickets compels you. Show me a man who prefers IX Equilibrium over In the Nightside Eclipse and I'll show you no man at all. Right? It's not nostalgia-ism, it's common sense. Such bands didn't achieve legendary status by playing "old school" metal or overly pompous Mercyful Fate eclecticism-to use the example respectively of those latter two records. Don't get me wrong, all those bands are and continue to be fantastic. Enslaved though? I am very cautious about ever tagging a band or musician(s) with the "musical genius" label. In my opinion, few (and even fewer in metal) should ever be called that. As far as individual talent goes i.e. composing coupled with technical ability, Ihsahn would be the only guy who kinda, maybe, sorta, possibly etc. could be considered to approach such a thing (again treading on eggshells here). And sorry Burzum admirers, as innovative and talented as he is, Varg's own sense of self importance has become so high that his teachability index plunged to zero. Nowhere left to go. Obviously I am talking about "progression". No groundbreaking progression, no genius. Even if you broke ground initially. You've read the term "progression" used millions of times regarding the discographies of these bands. But with Enslaved it really does need to be emphasized for clarity. To wit: Enslaved truly are a fine wine who have gotten better and better year after year. They very much PROGRESSED. And this is coming from someone who loves Vikingligr Veldi.
But what does that really mean in the grand scheme and relative to all the other second wave Norwegian bands? Well, let me preface my answer to that by saying Vertebrae is their most accessible album to date. And arguably their best! Very, very few bands can break down the recognizable barriers of genre, be accessible with the right calculation of big risk and have it pay off in spades that will satisfy old hard-to-please fans from the beginning. And that my friends, constitutes musical genius. How did they do it?
It looks like England got invaded by Vikings again. This time not to pillage and ransack abbeys on the coast or grace the local Anglo-Saxon lasses with some Norse nookie or anything like that. Nope, Enslaved have decided to improve their Viking metal sound by tastefully plundering England of her classic prog bands for influence. Yes, there are those who will always still hold Frost or Hordanes Land in highest regard and will probably dismiss Vertebrae as a provocative flirtation of Viking metal with a large dose of a Pink Floyd sound. But for whatever it's worth, I can assure you though that if you played this album to any non-metalhead diehard Floyd fan, they'd probably hate it as an abomination of nature. So don't worry, Vertebrae still retains more than enough black metal sound and it's recorded with listeners of the genre in mind despite busting down the doors so blatantly with the laboratory vials tightly clenched in fists but that doesn't mean they went completely off the reservation either; (see The Meads of Asphodal).
I was at first hesitant to describe Enslaved's overall latest direction as "psychedelic" black metal (I heard Axioma first before this album) but with Vertebrae that is exactly what this is. And I'm really going to hammer this point home. Previously, my conception of 'psychedelic' were green tambourines and kaleidoscopes squirming as sitar plays with a poster on the wall of Hanoi Jane mounted on a phallic anti aircraft gun. So how could Enslaved possibly change my perception of what a 'psychedelic' sound really does and at the same time crank out black metal visions of Vikings and memoirs of Norse traditions of a long gone yore? Tall order, right? Well let me ask you, do you like the 80's? Not to go all Rod Serling on you but Enslaved proved that psychedelia is all about creating a warp drive with creative distortion and dissonant harmonies for a certain sound that evokes a certain exotic sight. In the 1960's, the Beatles pioneered this in Revolver using Eastern music influences. A bunch of other bands soon followed. Flash forward a few decades and genres later and here Enslaved have decided to boldly incorporate 1980's prog influences juxtaposing it with an aural effect so that it reinforces that sense of a romantic time and place fondly remembered that the listener and the artist can identify with and in this case Nordic themes just as reminisced and missed as the great '80s. It's sensory propaganda if you will. Ridiculous, I know. It works magnificently for me. Case in point, and believe me this song is really "out there" when I say Reflection made the hairs on my neck stand up because it conjured up visions of ten hits of acid in the Fantasy Zone of Space Harrier but instead of bombardments by dragons and alien plant pods I was being assaulted by sprites of Viking marauders, dragon ships and giant sculptures of Odin in my wake along the ever moving cosmic checker board. And I've never even done any of that before! That is epic. That is awesome. That is genius. Someone should peddle this shit on a street corner.
What is the active ingredient that makes this psychedelic black metal so potent? Riffs. Riffs and presumptuous transitions and more specifically the mode and speed with which each note is being picked and recorded on a solvent channel of sound. So there were actually a number of things on the grocery list, weren't there? The time signatures while relatively complex, are strictly rationed and the band wisely writes around the rhythm. Black metal is traditionally never bass driven and neither is this band but Grutle's bass lines have always been so important in giving it that huge epic doom-y sound as heard on the track To The Coast. When I blast this cut, that epic wall of sound feels like a surrealistic airship has just crashed through my house. The bass is tracked so dominantly you can hear it as a chorus of hums signaling annihilation. Grutle's unhinged black metal shrieks then follow sounding like a Vinland berserker impersonating the Wendigo under gales of the most violent blizzard imaginable to frighten off the skrælingjar. The chorus is then cleanly sung in a pastiche of serene Richard Wright type vocals. Now, you see what I mean by their masterful accomplishment of psychedelic black/Viking?
Ground also contains a very David Gilmour-ish guitar solo and that's putting it mildly. The title track begins with a fast punishing sonic rhythm perhaps of the post-rock variety but then it transitions into an aggressive fuzz passage that reminded me of the same transition found on the song Trilogy by ELP. It after awhile slows down and the background synths have a pace and sound like that from the Genesis hit Tonight Tonight Tonight. So while the album wears a tie-dye t-shirt underneath its white smock but over it all Enslaved is still clad in a big bearskin coat for overwintering. To describe it as black metal with the Floyd influences does make it seem like it will be weird but you have my personal assurance that these beserkers won't be sacking York any time soon by breaking into 'Money' pummeling you with Doc Mikannibal's sax and battle axes in tow. God save us from the Norsemen!
I have honestly never enjoyed black metal as much as I do death metal, and when after reading list after list of the top albums of 2008 with this album omnipresent in the top 5, I had my doubts. At first, Opeth’s Watershed seemed to win over Enslaved in my mind and on most lists, and eventually it came down to which one I was going to purchase. I am a masochistically indecisive person, so I texted my black-metal-loving friend for advice. After the inevitable answer, I walked away with Vertebrae in hand with serious doubts in head. I am so, so sorry for those doubts.
When I first snapped the disc (which is disappointingly adorned, sad to say) into my ancient CD player, my thoughts were immediately, “Oh god, this is going to be some massive symphonic mess…” It’s not. None of the songs are over 8 minutes long, and the album only runs about 45 minutes. Even with the relatively short songs, each one manages to seem epic. The album is much reminiscent of Pink Floyd, with slow and foggy melodies shrouding but not obscuring the rasping black metal of the heavier tracks like "New Dawn" or the title track. The one solo (that is worth recalling, anyway, the short one in "Reflection" is forgettable) is on the third song "Ground", and is so much a black metal interpretation of "Comfortably Numb" you can just see David Gilmour playing it. Just like the Floyd, the songs are listenable. They don’t drag and they don’t fade off into nothing. Every segment is vital to the structure of the song and perfectly mingles with the following one. The only noticeable gaps are between songs, and even those seem to tie in with the flow of the composition.
This is more than black metal, this is post-black metal. Vertebrae sounds like a journey through death, and Grutle Kjellson’s scratchy screams and smooth clean vocals match the style of misty yet heavier Ulver-esque musical nirvana. When you think about it, this isn't really that far of a jump from Opeth. Vertebrae is a black metal version of Watershed. For those worried that the metal’s been taken from black metal, never fear. There is always "New Dawn", the fifth track and easily most distinguishable as true Norwegian black metal. The guitars are exponentially sped up and Cato Bekkevold beats a permanent hieroglyph into his high-hat. The title track sounds like old-school In Flames done right, Gothenburg riffs and more high-hat torture. There’s a cloudiness to Enslaved’s style on Vertebrae, as the opener "Clouds" suggests. It’s a mystic Lord of the Rings vibe that’s usually reserved for Celtic metal bands in lieu of Primordial or Eluveitie, and if Grutle’s screams don’t sound like an orc, I don’t know what does. Every song on the album could be a closer, with climactic, soaring interludes of black metal hymnage. If any negative remarks can be said of Vertebrae, they will all be of the lack of heaviness and speedy skeletal brutality that the old black metal like Emperor dished out in heaps. Despite Kjellson’s screaming verses, the guitar licks of Arve Isdal and Ivar Bjornson only offer subtle changes from their vaporous Dark Tranquillity-style techniques.
I listened to this album all the way through on the way home through a bitch of a snowstorm, and when two and two went together, I noted the definite wintery feel to the end of the title track and "To the Coast". Vertebrae is a December album, made for climbing the mountains in deep snow with no apparent motive other than to stare at the sky churning above. There’s that distinctive icy sense that almost makes you shiver. Several times I had a chill go down my spine, notably on the catchy "Clouds". It’s cheesy, but it’s true. That’s how good music should be defined: If there’s a certain lick, riff, chorus, or nuance that makes a chill go down your spine, you’ve got a damn good song on your hands.
How much you enjoy this album all boils down to your preference to either this new symphonic post-black or the old school screeching spectral black. If you’ve lived through the age of Emperor, you might want to dip your toes hesitatingly into Enslaved’s newer work before plunging in. If this is your first taste of true Norwegian black metal, then take a dive right into the Clouds of Enslaved.
(17-year-old me apologizes for that last paragraph)
-originally written for www.sputnikmusic.com
In the traditionally frostbitten, 'kvlt' world of black metal, there are few groups that opt to go beyond the call of duty and offer something truly fresh to the scene. With legions of tunic garbed, corpse paint-caked kids out there trying to respark the glory of classic black metal legends in the vein of Burzum and Immortal, it is all the more of a system shock when a band like Enslaved comes along. With the courage to spite the 'tr00' fans of the genre and approach black metal with a 'no holds barred' mentality, these Norweigian metallers have fashioned 'Vertebrae,' only among the latest of a long string of albums that distinguish themselves from what can be considered one of metal's most inconsistent genres.
Enslaved uses black metal as the foundation for 'Vertebrae,' but approaches it much differently than most BM oriented groups. Over the course of the album, sounds ranging from that of psychedelia to classic rock and post rock are mixed into the stirring pot. While Enslaved certainly doesn't hide the fact they are influenced by a multitude of 70's rock groups (a rare trend for a black metal band,) they use the inspiration to create something that is unique and fresh. It is not a shocking occurence on 'Vertebrae' for rapidfire guitar riffage and black metal shrieks to casually give way for some laid back psychedelic ambience and a cool tenor voice. It's this seamless combination of dynamic and contrast in the songwriting that makes 'Vertebrae' one of the most powerful black metal records I have ever heard.
Contrary to most black metal, the production here is crystal clear; every instrument and note can be heard in all of it's glory. To that effect, it can sound a bit awkward to hear typical black metal screams over an otherwise clean and polished metal soundscape. For all of it's vibrance, compositional intelligence and emotional resonance, something concerning the transition between a few tracks also feels a bit unsettled. While the music itself flows properly and agreeably, a few songs feel like they were spliced out of a larger track and thrown into the middle of an album; although I'm sure many people could listen through the course of 'Vertebrae' and not even notice the origin of the complaint.
One thing that 'Vertebrae' does share with the rest of black metal however, is the concentration on atmosphere. The quality of any and all black metal can be considered based on the level and intensity of the atmosphere it evokes. To that end, 'Vertebrae' proves that it's possible to give a beautiful and all-the-more haunting vibe in music with a beautiful layer of production. A real masterpiece, and if you have never listened to black metal before, this is a perfect place to start your journey.
"Vertebrae" is a culmination of Enslaved's softer and less abrasive experimenting, which has evolved for quite some time. The softer passages, which dominate this album, should come as no surprise to anyone who has heard the previous four Enslaved releases, but on "Vertebrae" they take center stage to the detriment of the album as a whole. The so-called progressive elements are well played and sophisticated, but when I want to hear that sort of thing I prefer Agalloch. For the unitiated, I don't mean to imply that this is some sort of sell-out or that Enslaved's recent output lacks intensity, because that would be false. If you are reading this and are unfamiliar with Enslaved, I would point you toward "Below the Lights" for a good snapshot of everything the band is capable of.
The overall feel of "Vertebrae" is one of restraint and smooth, drawn-out passages resulting in a softer overall sound than what Enslaved has put out before. The vocals are split between Grutle Kjellson's patented harsh screamgrowls and a clean, chanted, and mostly pleasant singing style. Based on the vocals, "Vertebrae" still qualifies as an extreme metal album, and those concerned that Grutle would abandon his classic harsh style will be happy that it has not happened... yet. The varied vocal styles have been a part of Enslaved's sound for the past several albums, only this time there is more of it. This album fits comfortably as a progression for the band and most of it falls within the black, thrash, death, and progressive metal style Enslaved has been working in.
The overall sound quality of this album is excellent. The mix is perfect, all instruments can be heard clearly and the precision play of each band member shines through.
Ivar Bjornson is a vastly underrated guitarist and songwriter. It is his talent more than any other factor that has kept me coming back to Enslaved and had kept every Enslaved album in my library worthy of many repeated listens. His tones, unusual riff structures, and sheer originality are incomparable versus his peers in this genre. This album contains tasteful solos, plenty of acoustic bits, and the music is interesting enough that it would be worthy of listening to as an instrumental. The guitar drives these songs, and although this album feels less violent than its predecessors, the musicianship and the will to take chances elevates this album to a par with Enslaved's best output... in theory.
The drum sound is also perfectly clear, however is significantly more restrained compared to prior Enslaved albums. This compliments the music nicely, but for all the fills and action going on behind the kit I would think a little more aggression in the drum sound production would have been a bonus. The bass and rhythms are, again, smooth and change often enough to keep your interest, but ultimately serve to back up the vocals and guitar. The band makes unusual rhythms sound common and easy to play, but of course this music is demanding and intricate.
Most songs are slower and mid-paced, although the band kicks it up a notch with "New Dawn", which incorporates some blasting sections and faster play. "To The Coast" is another favorite of mine here. Both songs would not have been out of place on "Ruun" or "Isa", and realistically I can say the same about the rest of the album too; "Vertebrae" is not that much of a departure for the band if you've been following them.
This album and the progression from prior Enslaved albums was no surprise to me, but as you can see from a few caveats stated above, I find this album to be Enslaved's worst and certainly their most boring. I have no question in my mind that these tunes would crush you in a live setting, as the "Ruun" and "Isa" songs do, mostly due to the band's natural aggression onstage. I will put this album on from time to time to hear the progression of one of my favorite bands, but some of the longer noodling and near-wankery of some passages grates on me. I expect a higher degree of extremity from Enslaved, particularly when they clearly did not mean to radically change their sound. "Monumension" had some odd moments in the evolving sound of this band, but "Vertebrae" takes it to another level that simply puts me to sleep more often than it should.
Time will tell whether the band abandons harsh vocals altogether, but as of now they have not changed too much. All the songs have the same epic structures as the last 3 albums (using "Below the Lights" as a starting point), but this album is just too clean too often. In fact, this is exactly what you'd expect from a marriage of Enslaved and the producers of bands like Tool and Queens of the Stone Age - great sound, but the aggression is tamed. If it wasn't for Grutle's death vocals, this album would strongly appeal to those bands, Tool in particular. Is this a good thing and does it bode well for Enslaved's future? Depends on your tastes. For me, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and will purchase the next album with zero hesitation.
Enslaved is my favorite band of the past 15 years and I just called their album boring. It's enough to break my black heart. Still, I enjoy listening to this from time to time and I won't hesitate to pick up the next one.
If you had told me as a young metalhead that one day I'd be hearing bands successfully infuse Norse black metal with progressive rock, I may not have believed you. Surely this arching over-genre has come so far when bands are capable of such a unique cross-pollination; to not only succeed at it, but to also find success with it. As such, Enslaved is a long way from 'home' (their earlier, Viking black metal years) without ever having left...
If you haven't already guessed, I think Vertebrae is a pretty massive fucking statement from a band already responsible for creating many masterworks. At once it is both a continuation of their recent style on Isa and Ruun, and a celebration of their previous progressive works like Monumension or Below the Lights. Sheer progressive black metal bliss. "Clouds" is the first step on this airy journey, a fusion of textured riffing and prog synthesizers with some of Grutle's best clean vocals yet. But don't fear ye, the snarl is still present during a pretty creepy riff sequence. "To the Coast" is a deeply resonating track, with an atmosphere as thick as its title. The vocals here switch between the Kjellson snarl and some of the Gilmour-like vocal layers you'll find on numerous songs here. "Ground" begins with a groovy, flighty prog metal riff, quite wonderful in fact, and then moves into a total Pink Floyd space. Note that I'm not complaining. The title track "Vertebrae" is like a dream, reminding me a little of Voivod's Angel Rat album. Again...not complaining at all! "New Dawn" is another stellar track, with a winding progression of notes and chanted, mellow vocals. The rest of the album is equally impressive. I loved the moody and mystical "Center" and that extremely catchy riff beneath the snarling of "Reflection".
Enslaved has such an amazing repertoire under their belts already that you expect no less than a monument to tasteful, original output every time they stroll into a studio. Vertebrae exceeds even that great expectation by immersing the listener in a flowing dreamstate which wonderfully manipulates the powers of pure psychedelic mood and thoughtful lyrics, without giving up the snarling ghost...simply unbelievable.
With arguably more metal bands in existence than ever before, and a good too many of them up at the extreme end of the scene, it is re-assuring to know that some bands will attempt to swim against the tide of mediocrity populated by about 98% of them (at a conservative guess) and defy convention so much as to be against logic. Tracing Enslaved's existence from the early days of the impossibly infamous Norwegian Black Metal scene of the early '90s through to now, taking on board a transition from fully-fledged 'Viking Metal' pioneers to today's progressive metal leanings, is a tale of all it's own with the end result displaying a band that has never been content being part of a crowd and arguably becoming the strongest of all that scene's bands nearly 20 years on in 2008.
Enslaved's entire discography from 1993's "Hordanes Land" split EP with Emperor to 10th LP "Vertebrae" has been a journey, constantly evolving, constantly exploring new ideas and territories. Though noone but Enslaved themselves would argue with the influential Viking-ness of albums like "Frost" and "Eld", it really was "Isa" in 2004 that set the ball rolling on Enslaved's current foray into a moog-driven meeting of the progressive rock and extreme metal worlds that has staggeringly bought the band more success that some of the aforementioned albums did in the 1990's. "Isa" was a great album, let's not doubt that, but in hindsight feels like a work in progress with some great songs ("Lunar Force" especially) but a slight lack in flow. "Ruun" (2006) however squared the circle combining brilliant songs ("Path To Vanir", "Fusion of Sense and Earth") and an improved overall flow, coming unsurprisingly as it did at the top of many end-of-year polls for 2006. So just could how Enslaved follow up on an album that had next to zero faults? Well, as may have been expected for anyone who's watched their progress it comes through surreptitiously sacrificing a bit more of the 'metal' in part-exchange for greater proginess. Herbrand Larsen's influence with both keyboard/organs and as a clean vocalist is crucial in this transition; his work in creating a backing track to what the rest of the band are doing is commendable and immediately noticeable in opener "Clouds", while his clean vocals, now used extensively across every song, are as much a part of Enslaved's prog feel as the removal of the blastbeats and scything riffs of old.
"Vertebrae" is an astoundingly mature record, painted in numerous pallets and the bearer of a multitude of moods and tones. The transition between riffs early in "Reflection" is worth pointing out individually to show how a band can change the momentum of a song so drastically through a simple riff change and knowing what creates the most emotive feel for the listener. The whole feel of "Vertebrae" is wholly recognisable to anyone who knows "Ruun" well - that unique 'sound' Enslaved possess is so apparent down to the scratchy trebly guitar sound and Grutle Kjellson's croak, still retained to this day thankfully. In "Center" the smell of latter-day Katatonia emerges in a fantastic leading riff the Swedes themselves would gladly call theirs, while "New Dawn" harks back to the good ol' days, delving more into the more complex extreme riff structure than the chord-based notations of much of "Vertebrae". It's fair to say not everything works so well; "Ground" is a little soft on the ears, well played that it is it doesn't really get going in it's 6 1/2 minute lifespan and as album closer, "The Watcher" itself ends in a rather damp fashion after a stupendous start.
But why finish on a sour note I ask you? Let's not beat around the bush - "Vertebrae" is better than almost all any band will ever be able to achieve, for much like Opeth, progression comes naturally to Enslaved, sounding passionate, genuine and wonderfully unique. Based upon numerous listens "Vertebrae" does fall just short of "Ruun"'s status, but given the rise in stock noticed in Enslaved after repeated listens, this opinion may well change. An excellent album from a band essential to anyone with a passing interest in extreme metal.
Originally written for Rockfreaks.net
I bought this album right after buying 'Black Sabbath' by Black Sabbath and, having loved every minute, wanted to explore a little more rock-influenced metal, as it is a genre I have very little experience of. I had already heard some of Enslaved's earlier work and was quite impressed, and so after I heard that they had included a little more prog rock in 'Ruun' and 'Isa' I decided to pick up this album and see what it had to offer.
I am thus disappointed to admit that my exploration of this genre has not gotten off to a good start. As mentioned, I have respect for Enslaved's earlier work and I appreciate what they have contributed to metal in general, but 'Vertebrae' is an album that suffers too much at the hands of an identity crisis that prevents it from feeling fully complete.
I feel that if 'Vertebrae' had been an entirely prog rock/metal album it would have been very good, as it is these elements that are by far the strongest to be found on this CD. 'Ground' is a very well written track, slowly winding its way through several different atmospheres and musical ideas, while the title track is moody and methodical, and one of (perhaps the only) example on this CD when elements of black metal are fused well with aspects of rock and prog.
The issues lies with the simple fact that Enslaved are, first and foremost, a black metal orientated band, and they cannot help but feel the need to pander to this identity that so greatly informed their earlier releases. The consequence of this is that, when a song like 'New Dawn' follows such tracks, which instantly blasts away with frenetic black metal tremolo picking and screeched vocals, it presents a change in the general aura of 'Vertebrae' that is neither appropriate nor welcome. And yet, just over a minute into the song, and... 'Oh, wait, they've gone prog again'.
After just over 50 minutes of constant genre swapping, I had to ask the question...'Sorry guys, but just what the fuck is this album supposed to be?' The fact that they have not chosen to play "blackened prog rock" or "progressive black metal" but have instead opted to play the two genres simultaneously in a black-prog-black-prog-black-prog manner makes the album highly inconsistent musically, which may be exactly what the doctor ordered for you arty experimentalists out there, which is fine, but it definately grates against me.
The album also has its highly bland moments as well. The opener, 'Clouds', is the musical equivalent of chewing cardboard, while the last three tracks on the album contain very little of musical worth and are thus nothing really to write home about, which can all be wrapped up into one sweeping statement that this album lacks edge. It's a greying, post-fifties CD that has softened with age and is beginning to think about retirement, and it doesn't make for a very interesting listen, unfortunately. Enslaved have done, and can do, better, but whether they will do or not is something else entirely, should they continue to pursue the road they chose to explore with 'Vertebrae'.
Disappointing, I'm afraid.
Where their 2006 album, “Ruun” still retained some of that underground black metal feel but pushed more towards a melodic progressive feel, Enslaved’s newest offering, 2008’s “Vertebrae”, goes for a heavier sound that still has many of the same elements of “Ruun”.
The vocals are much grittier and better produced so that they are a little louder than on “Ruun”. The screams sound perfect for a typical black metal band, the growls go well with the guitars and the growl and scream combinations are brutal sounding. The lyrics are interesting to say the least. Many of the lyrics consist of depravation, starvation, death, and violence all having to do with Scandinavian Viking culture, tradition, and beliefs but when put to the music they take on a more depressing and gothic tone rather than seems as heavy as they could be.
Unlike “Ruun” the long songs do not get too repetitive or boring at all. Averaging about six and a half minutes to a song, this album is actually longer than “Ruun”, but unlike the previous “Vertebrae” feels shorter and is musically more diverse. The songs are just the length that they need to be without getting stale and are all very dynamic and accentuated by different instruments and keyboard sounds. The production sounds great on this album, much better than a typical black metal band and there is very little raw atmosphere, but that doesn’t detract from the music at all as the songs are very catchy and have a rather depressing tone compared to the experimentation in “Ruun”. The sections where the music becomes simpler does well to give the cold feel of black metal but also allows the band to show off their diverse musical influence as many of the songs feature more melody and different influences than they did in “Ruun”. “New Dawn”, the fifth track of the album, is the first to have any real black metal influence as the pounding snare/bass/cymbal section blends into the music and gives the song the kvlt influence that any black metal fan would be able to pick out immediately. Though this section is very short, it shows that the band still has not forgotten their musical heritage and genre in the metal scene.
The guitars are a mix of heavy extreme metal chugging, calm acoustic riffs, and intricate soloing. “Ground” is the first song with a solo in it, and the solo is almost like the one in Pink Floyd’s “On the Run” on their groundbreaking album, “Dark Side of the Moon”. This solo is an obvious reference to their progressive rock influence in Pink Floyd, and the weirdness of the album and the band’s music is completely explained when that solo comes in. The guitars do very well to mix melody and heavy music into the same riffs as one guitar is playing down tuned chugs and another is playing high-pitched melodic riffs, and combined with the synthesized classical orchestras that sometimes join the fray, the guitars seem even more epic sounding than before. On “Reflection”, the guitar chug sounds just like the intense thrash of Metallica’s “Whiplash”, but unlike in “Whiplash”, “Reflection” has a more dismal feel to it rather than a take no prisoners balls to the wall thrash feel.
Other than a few truly black metal sections, the drumming is very simple and doesn’t do much to stand out. Slowly keeping time for the band, there is little atmosphere or uniqueness coming from the drum kit making it neither bad nor good. In “Reflection”, the drums do have an interesting war drum sound to them, but it only goes on for a few seconds before returning to the background as the band solos and plays around them. Other than some eighth note cymbal hits and a few snare beats, the drums do not add much to the overall sound or atmosphere of the band.
Summing up Enslaved’s “Vertebrae” is rather easy to do since there is not much that stands out. After hearing “Ruun” and getting the gist of the band’s style, any of their weirdness in this album is more or less typical Enslaved. But the best way to sum up “Vertebrae” is that it’s just better than “Ruun”. The band doesn’t invent anything new, there’s nothing unique that I’ve not heard before, and the songwriting is not groundbreaking and it doesn’t change my feelings toward this already-defined genre of music. “Vertebrae” is just better than “Ruun”.
I personally disagree with all black metal bands evolving into a form of progressive metal. It seems to me that what might work for certain bands does not necessarily apply to all others. When bands like Solefald and some others did it for the first time, it was fun and interesting but now, when every single band push forward to obtain that kind of sound, it becomes boring and ordinary. Just as happened with the so-called gothic black metal wave during the nineties, and the whole revolution that started when Cradle of Filth and Hecate Enthroned pioneered with a new tone and aesthetics to black metal. It was amazing at first, then, there were countless bands (clones) playing that kind of music. Now, who cares about vampire asshole bands?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t particularly support narrow-minded bands that oppose to any form of progression. I think that Borknagar´s Epic is an album of unique craftsmanship, while Enslaved´s Monumension and Mardraum successfully introduced the concept of progressive/70`s rock in a very successful way into the Black metal realm.
Here the problem is not the progressive part of it. Anyway progressive music shares with black metal the tendency to avoid "commercial success" and mainstream appreciation. Furthermore, the psychedelic elements have suited Enslaved´s music well in the past. Albums like Mardraum and Monumension proved this statement. Even the “Isa” album which is to my opinion, their last enjoyable record, demonstrated the fertility of this combination between two seemingly distinct styles.
What really pisses me off about Enslaved now, is the intentional reduction in aggressiveness and speed of their last two albums. It seems that Enslaved´s approach suggests that slowlier, softer and simplified music equals a higher degree in progression. A rather contradictory view if you consider the fact that highly complicated bands like YES and Emerson Lake & Palmer carved the way for progressive music from the very beginning of the genre, and surely they did not seek to produce light and easy to digest music and then go and promote it as progressive.
Why everybody wants to play low and slow music now? (Fuck Opeth!!!) It seems that Enslaved is trying so hard to satisfy mainstream standards and commercial requirements, so they appear to have forgotten what made them great originally.
Enslaved is a Viking metal institution! While some may claim that it was Bathory who played this type of metal for the first time, it was them who coined that label for good. Same label every single band that could claim to be somehow “Viking” adopted posteriourly.
Based on this, I don’t expect Enslaved to behave like the new metal kids trying to come up with a bombastic metal breakthrough that will blow everybody’s head. No sir!! After following Enslaved career for a while, I would expect them (naively perhaps) to evolve cautiously from record to record. Preserving at least, part of their trademark aggressive heavy sound.
However that doesn’t seem to be happening anymore with Enslaved. With Vertebrae, one may wonder: is this extreme metal still? I guess that you need more than a few guttural screams here and there to qualify as extreme metal. If not, we could claim that The Sins of Thy Beloved is an extreme metal band (yeah right!!)
Nowadays, Enslaved´s music seems to me like a desperate attempt to appeal to Tool’s fans and the sort. All traces of speed and aggressiveness seem irremediably lost, consumed by this new obsession to play slow-going music. This really soft and doomy formula with Pink Floyd infusions every once in a while, may keep you interested for a song or two, but it becomes unbearable as the record goes on. Can you get a little faster at some point for Christ’s sake?
In a similar way, the complex song structures of old have been wiped out too. What is left now? Just simplistic song structures that resemble more those from mainstream pseudo-metal bands. The passion and intensity of albums like Eld and Mardraum have been replaced for a more “sober” approach to art (BS!).
After listening to Ruun for several times, trying unfruitfully to extract some positive aspects to it, I grabbed a Vertebrae copy and gave it a try, hoping that those flaws from the past might be corrected on this one, (self denial more than anything) just to find out that this one is as boring and dull (or more) than the previous.
It is very clear that along with countless others, Enslaved is pursuing new sounds, trying to reach new boundaries that will enrich their music eventually. However, let us not forget that “new” is also a cliché. One cannot pretend to be totally through with the past. As Rob Halford once stated on a Fight song: “The past keeps haunting me”, and indeed I have the impression that there will be a time when Enslaved old records will sound a more as up-to-date products, while Ruun and Vertebrae will sunk in oblivion as that “twist” to their music that didn’t go that well. Then Enslaved will be restored to its original glory…hopefully.
¡Toca Rapido o Muerte!
In the past I have been receptive to Enslaved's more progressive outings, namely 'Isa' and 'Ruun' despite the distinctive departure from the dark and haunting style on 'Below the Lights'. It was quite obvious that the boys had been listening to one too many Pink Floyd and Hawkwind albums, but I let it slide because occasionally this amalgam of 70's psychedelia and black metal presented us with some amazingly epic and well-written songs such as "Reogenesis" or "Entroper".
With 'Vertebrae' however, it's clear that Enslaved have completely lost their marbles. Well maybe the word lost is a bit harsh, let's just say they've misplaced them, as though they've rolled under the fridge or washing machine. Black metal and progressive features still coexist peacefully but they never work together in an efficient fashion; never taking the best aspects of both and combining as they had in the track mentioned in the previous paragraph.
"Clouds" is the best song if only by virtue of being the first track; the beginning is a bit fruity what with Enslaved stealing Jesu's guitar tone and the awful one-chord riffing. After that and the obligatory clean vocal section they move into a heavy section of tremolo picking and growling which is kept interesting by allowing the rhythm section to change tempo underneath, creating a weird shifting pattern and dynamic flow. However in the name of being progressive they fiddle around with their keyboards and turn off the distortion pedal, wasting time better spent with a solo or perhaps remembering that once upon a time they were capable of decent song writing.
The rest of the album relies far too heavily on alternating between the aforementioned sections; half-rate Jesu fuzz guitars, tremolo picked pseudo black metal and clean, keyboard-laden moments. I wish I was being facetious but each and every song goes through the same motions without building towards anything; they are completely lifeless. Flat. Devoid of any and all creativity leaving them content to slosh about in the sty of mediocrity alongside Opeth and similarly themed bands.
There is the occasional divergence from the rinse and repeat formula but in every instance it's anti-climatic and thoroughly underwhelming; the musical equivalent to the release of Daikatana. Solos make an appearance twice; once in "Ground" and again in "Reflection" and whilst the latter starts off a bit slow but builds up to something acceptable, the former is superfluous and is the second most useless moment on 'Vertebrae'. First place goes to the twenty seconds or so of airy, ambient keyboards during the second half of the album's closing track "The Watcher". What they fuck were they thinking? It's one of the few moments during the album where I actually stopped daydreaming about PJ Harvey only wearing a white top in the middle of the rain and paid attention just so I could complain and be confused.
If I was to abandon my usual childish fascination with puerile adjectives what could be said to aptly summarise 'Vertebrae'? Lazy. Enslaved have thrown their once stellar song writing talents out the window and then proceeded to kick the shit out of it before rolling it up in a large rug and disposing of it in a squalid ditch just a few meters down from the dodgy patch of woods where previously 80's thrash bands had taken their fantastic riff writing talents to kiss the dirt. Avoid at all costs.
It's almost unbelievable to listen to 'Vikingligr Veldi' and then 'Vertebrae', and know it's the same band playing in that old classic and in this shallow "prog" album.
'Vertebrae' has the same psychedelic vibe of Enslaved's last albums, which is a sort of a shame compared to their old epic black metal atmosphere. When listening to this album you get the feeling that these norse buddies simply don't know what they trying to do. They worship Pink Floyd for a minute and suddenly put a black metal riff with a very weak distortion gain and airy keyboards at the background. And no, it simply not works.
The guitar work is pretty awkward here. Riffs are being connected to each other without any perceivable backbone, which resulting in a random succession of unimaginative pieces that drag on for a nonexisting climax.
The growls are feeble, lacks any aggression, and the clean vocals are just tiresome.
'Vertebrae' is an ethereal and unimaginative album of a band which focusing on sound weird more than sound good. Pick up their 90's albums and just ignore this crap.
Progressive Viking metallers Enslaved have graced us with another instalment of trance-inducing music. Musically, Vertebrae follows in the same vessel as ‘Ruun’ and ‘Isa’ although the production adopts a passive sound, distributing a less aggressive edge to the release than its predecessors which may have a little something to do with the fact mixing duties were handled by Joe Barresi who has worked with the highly successful rock groups Tool and Queens of the Stone Age.
The production could be improved, particularly on the vocals which results in Grutle Kjellson’s growls sounding flaccid. Fortunately, Herbrand Larsen has been granted more vocal lines than the usual meagre chorus or bridge embellishments he has received on previous efforts and these contribute a promising atmosphere to the album.
A progressive rock feel has been tapped into this time, as opposed to progressive metal, particularly on ‘To the Coast’ and the title track. Often, the drumming adopts an orthodox progressive style. The black metal element of Enslaved is barely existent here but ‘New Dawn’ harnesses it proudly and sufficiently. However, heavy-hitting, muscular Viking metal riffs are in ample supply throughout, driving the songs forward.
Conjuring an ethereal soundscape overall, this album is inhibited by its lack of real innovation for Enslaved. No particular song stands out and it does indeed take a few spins to be digested to a satisfactory degree. Still, after ten albums, Enslaved have yet to put out a money-waster. A fine observation.
Originally written for www.soundshock.net
“Why is it you and not me?” and “but you’re strong enough to live on,” both lines from Destruction pop into my head. I’m undecided if the mighty have fallen or if it is me. On the first few listens the music is too mellow and stripped bare of metalness. I don’t like the new clean vocals, I know they are not really new but if you compare them to “The Crossing” you will hear that they were not quite so whinny then, and certainly not the dominant style on the album, as they are now. I prefer the clean style used on “Neogenesis.” Keeping the harsh vocals as the dominant style has been the key to me still listening at this point. Don’t worry, Vertebrae is just as unapproachable to mainstream music listeners as Frost so no one can throw around the sell out tag. Until they switch to verse chorus verse structure and whine about relationship issues they will still be relevant to metal fans but how relevant depends on your tolerance for bending the boundaries. The list of bands that have moved on to critical acclaim and left me behind is a long one with the likes of Amorphis, Anathama, Therion, My Dying Bride, Arcturus, etc. yet Enslaved moves more and more toward Pink Floyd, a band I have always despised, and I am still here. I think they could record the theme song to Sesame Street and I’d like it. They still remember their origins. No matter how far afield they wander they are always grounded by deep musical roots. After listening to this album I felt the need to pull out Phobia. I swear elements in use today were swirling around in their heads even way back then.
If I rattled off my top twenty five Enslaved songs only one is post Mardraum, and once again nothing off this album will get a spot so I have had to do what many fans do, split at Mardraum, post and pre, and start a new list of favorite songs, to which I think Reflection might just join the ranks with Sigmundskvadet, Queen of the Night, and The Cromlech Gate on the tail end of the list.
The first song on Vertebrae that caught my attention was “New Dawn”, and my favorite song would have to be “Reflection,” just amazing. Honorable Mention, “Center,” with its rougher vocals interesting melodies and effortless flow. After living with this disc for a while I have come to the same conclusion I always do. Enslaved are the kings of extreme metal and I am too dense to remember this. I’ll have to erect a rune stone to that effect here in my dooryard so I don’t have to go through all this brain warping next time.
After writing this review I went to the Enslaved website to snag the cover art and discovered this gem: “Vertebrae is a travel through the history of the band, looking both back to the roots of grim black metal and into the future of progressive melancholy ala Tool and Pink Floyd.” That is really all you needed to know.
Originally written for http://teethofthedivine.com
At first I thought that Enslaved was one of those typical black metal bands that had horrible production, generic riffing, over powering keybaords, and the signature raw black metal vocals. Well, it is best for anyone to admit they've made a mistake and I surely have. Enslaved has fast become one of my favourite bands definitley number one for black metal and it takes something very special and original for me even to give black metal a chance for the most part. Enslaved alawys seems to combine memorable riffs, great vocal varriations, propper use of keyboards, and very rhythmic drumming.
Enslave's Vertabrae is no exception. I will admit that it did take me a few listens to get into this album beacuse I was expecting a follow up from the same style as Ruun. Now that I have given this album a few plays I am very pleased with it. I have alawys liked Enslaved's blend of prgressive and black metal which is what I think makes them stand out in my mind haed and shoulders above any balck metal band. While Ruun was somewhat edgier and more aggressive, on Vertabrae we see Enslaved going for a more progressive style which is a welcome change.
They have not lost aggression by any means but the songs have a slow to mid-tempo pace than their previous album and they have steered away from the blast beats that were found on Below the Lights. I enjoy the riffs on this album very much because they have a great flowing quality to them and of course they are audible. The excellent vocal varriation remains as well which further adds to the albums mastique.
It appears that Enslaved has come into it's own ever since the release of Below the Lights and with Vertabrae it is continuing. With a lot of bands by ten albums they become stale and repetative or they make terrible comeback albums that really sound like they should be b-side recordings at best. Enslaved's Vertabrae is one of thos rare gems where the later albums remain consistant and top notch!
That of Enslaved is a true trip along the paths of human creativity. Started as a tout court (or almost) black metal band, Grutle and Ivar drove their musical drakkar through deeper and deeper menacing waters, passing under the falls of Viking/epic before, and then facing the perilous rapids of progressive.
The black metal scene got us accustomed to everything along the years, despite the task of uniting such extremes would scare anybody; though, against all the odds and commercial logic, Enslaved took the upper hand. And if with "Isa" and "Ruun" we may still speak of a progressive soaked black metal, with this "Vertebrae" - the album with the most enigmatic title and artwork in their career, to symbolize that even the most diverse things have a common root, likewise both rats and giraffes have the same spine – the fusion has accomplished: it's not a something-metal genre, but the perfect synthesis of two opposite poles, with at times the less extreme side that takes over.
"Ground" has some clearly Pink Floyd-like liquid passages (that remain the main source), and "Center", with its slow gloomy crescendo, can recall the less luminous trip hop. Grutle's croaking – actually never too astonishing – mouth continues to storm the album, but overwhelmed by the melodic lullabies of Herbrand, whose keys and uvula represent the true characterizing element in their new course, and he's become the third pillar in the line-up.
The classic metal writing, based on the guitar riffs and on the straight refrain, is often replaced by the prevalence of harmonic scores and by the arrangements compactness, even in the most traditional songs ("New Dawn", "Reflection").
Made not to live as brutes, but to follow virtues and knowledge: who knows if these Ulysses of metal (like Voivod or Bathory) will ever succeed to reach for the other side, or if they are destined to drown under, too.
Originally written for Silent Scream http://www.silentscreamzine.com/Home.asp?Lang=ENG
Undoubtledly, it is real talent that has led Enslaved that far - 17 years or so of undisturbed career and nine full-length albums on their account can't just be a matter of luck. This is one of the reasons I praise the band - another being that I admire the way they have evolved, not releasing any feeble album. But when it comes to the moment a new record is out, I always fear that my excessive expectations will take their toll and leave me displeased. Again, I am more than satisfied with Enslaved's tenth release "Vertebrae".
Just to wash away any doubts you may have - there is nothing really new nor surprising in terms of the style the band represents. If you've had any contact with 21st century Enslaved, you know what to expect. However, the more I listen to "Vertebrae", the stronger I believe that the band split into two forms: the first being old, rusty, viking-inspired black metal, the second being modern progressive rock that failed to fully capture the band's attention. The music remains somewhere in the middle, as it probably have throughout the past few years, but this time it has drifted more towards the modern style.
Getting to the music itself, I'm not able to choose any killer song, any catchy riff that would stay with me until my judgement day. It's rather one of those decent albums you'd listen to while talking, working or doing anything different and occasionally find yourself banging your head to its rhythm. Maybe it's not enough for an Enslaved's album, maybe you would require me to get deeper into it, but I dare say it is much more pleasant not to force yourself to anything. All I care about are the riffs, motives and solos and I have to admit that these appear in the most adorable form, just to mention black metal opening of "New Dawn", riff-oriented "Clouds" or inspiringly eclectic "Reflection".
"Vertebrae" gives you a thrilling opportunity to experience both a raw black metal strike and a journey through what has been and what will be in rock music, all the way from Pink Floyd to Tool. This is more or less what you'd like me to say and, to some extent, what you may really find in "Vertebrae". It probably won't leave you breathless, but I can guarantee it won't leave you indifferent either.
I was not sure what to expect of Enslaved's tenth album Vertebrae. With the bands side project Trinacria recently releasing an album I became even more curious as to what this progressive band would come up with.
Vertebrae either expectedly or surprisingly comes accross as a very natural progression from Isa and Ruun. The production is crisp but atmospheric. The music is actually quite smooth and digestable like Ruun, with Ivar's signature songwriting and surprisingly odd chords and riff structures, but is also varied and diverse like Isa. Grutle's growls haven't let up an iota which provides an excellent contrast to the smooth rockiness of the music. The clean vocals are often harmonized and sweep in and out of the music with a curious catchiness that one might find themselves singing along with. It is apparent that the band may have been listening to pink floyd a lot lately, with sweeping lengthy solos peppered throughout the album, the clean vocals often sounding very floydian, all giving the album a haunting spacey. Accoustic guitars often accompany the distorted guitars creating a lush spacious sound, while maintaining heaviness.
The viking metal elements of their older material are almost totally absent from this album, but somehow that feeling is still there, especially in the haunting lyrics. But rather than proud tales of battles, longboats and stories from nordic mythology, the subject matter seems to be about death, the dead, and rising from the ashes. However the lyrics are open to interpretation
On this release, Enslaved have managed to perfectly combine the diversity, quirkiness, and ass kicking of Isa with the flow and atmospherics of Ruun, which makes this album stand out. It can take multiple listens to fully absorb this album. But it is normal for Enslaved albums to be quite challenging upon first listen, and perseverance pays off. Vertebrae is tasteful, consistant, introspective, colourful and subtle while still having a lot of kick. High volume is mandatory. An awesome solid album.