ENSLAVED — Vertebrae

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ENSLAVED - Vertebrae cover
3.97 | 39 ratings | 5 reviews
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Album · 2008


1. Clouds (6:08)
2. To the Coast (6:27)
3. Ground (6:37)
4. Vertebrae (5:00)
5. New Dawn (5:22)
6. Reflection (7:44)
7. Center (7:32)
8. The Watcher (4:11)

Total Time: 49:01


- Grutle Kjellson / Vocals, Bass
- Ivar Bjørnson / Guitar, Keyboards, Effects
- Arve Isdal (Ice Dale) / Guitar
- Cato Bekkevold / Drums
- Herbrand Larsen / Keyboards, Vocals, Mellotron

About this release

Full-length, Indie Recordings, September 26th, 2008

Recorded during the first months of 2008. Mixed by Joe Barresi and mastered by George Marino in Sterling Sound.
Produced by Ivar Bjornson, Herbrand Larsen and Grutle Kjellson.

Re-released on May 2009 in two deluxe formats :
- CD box with patch, lanyard and a live show (Rock Hard Festival 2008)
- Triple coloured vinyl edition with a live show (Rock Hard Festival 2008)
1. Path to Vanir (04:52)
2. A Fusion of Sense and Earth (05:05)
3. Bounded by Allegiance (06:23)
4. Violet Dawning (03:43)
5. A Fire Sweapt Clean the Earth (07:07)
6. Isa (03:55)
7. Return to Yggdrasil (06:10)
8. Ruun (07:42)

Thanks to UMUR, adg211288 for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

For the first moment or so of album opener Clouds it almost sounds as though Enslaved have gone full-blown New Age with this release, with gently tinkling keyboards suggesting an ambient trip through gentle, relaxing soundscapes. The album offers nothing of the sort, of course: within seconds, the ugly, raw guitar assault bubbling under the surface has burst forth. A little more diversified in sound than the preceding Ruun, there's points where Enslaved unashamedly rock out, throwing in traditional heavy metal riffs to their now-expected amalgam of spacey progressive metal and frosty viking black metal. On the whole, it's another success from one of the most enduringly interesting bands of the Norwegian scene.
Another dense and difficult album from Enslaved. It is particularly frustrating because it constantly hints at an enormous potential of the music. Unfortunately this potential gets realized only very sparsely.

The blame is largely on the vocals. First of all, the black metal rasps don't work here for me. They are simply not evil and aggressive enough. They were much more effective on Blodhemn and Mardraum, but they sound awkward and unfit for the more laidback style of music that Enslaved has adapted here. Now, I hear you say "but they use a lot of clean vocals as well now". Well that's true, but those are even less satisfying. The melodies are underdeveloped and the singer's voice is monotonous and emotionless.

3 Years ago my conclusion was that even though 21st century Enslaved had the potential to be another Opeth, they wouldn't live up to it. But back then they hadn't released the blast that is called 'Axioma Ethica Odini'. An average Enslaved album for me, with some good songs and a lot of unremarkable ones. With better vocals it might have been another story altogether.
"Vertebrae" is the 10th full-length studio album by Norwegian black metal/ progressive metal act Enslaved. The album was released in September 2008 by Indie Recordings. Enslaved have gradually, over the course of now many albums, incorporated more and more 70s influenced progressive rock elements into their basic black metal sound and the outcome have been refined with each new release. The inevitable consequence of this, has been that many of their original black metal fans have slowly left the fan ranks. Enslaved need not to worry though as they are succeeded in building a dedicated fanbase who are waiting for each new progressive black metal release with great anticipation.

While Enslaved have always stayed somewhat true to their black metal roots on all preceeding releases, "Vertebrae" is sure to test even the most loyal fan though, as just about the only feature that is related to black metal on this album, is the raspy raw vocal delivery by lead vocalist/ bassist Grutle Kjellson. The rest of the music can loosely be called progressive metal. We are of course not talking progressive metal in the conventional sense and "Vertebrae" is focused on atmosphere rather than technical playing. In addition to the extreme vocals by Grutle Kjellson, keyboard player Herbrand Larsen delivers clean vocals and the combination of the two vocal styles generally work very well. The music is dynamic and shifts between mid-paced heavy sections and more mellow slower sections. The influence from 70s progressive rock is mostly heard in the mellow atmospheric sections and it´s artists like Pink Floyd, Genesis, Rush and Hawkwind I´m reminded of when I listen to the music. Enslaved are a unique act though and there´s nothing here that sounds like it´s blantantly ripped-off or anything like that, I just pick up a sound or an idea here and there that is greatly influenced by some of the great progressive acts from the 70s. All influences are seamlessly combined into a sound that is unmistakably the sound of Enslaved though. The use of organ and mellotron gives the music a warm laidback feel, that I again associate with 70s progressive rock.

The 49:07 minute long album contains 8 tracks. Like all earlier releases by the band, "Vertebrae" has taken a while for me to absorb. It´s not that the music is especially complicated or technically challenging, but the melodies and hooks took me a while to appreciate. That´s a personal experience though and others might pick up on the music much faster than I did. One of the things I´ve noticed about the album is that it continuously grows on me and new details and layers in the music reveal themselves with each listen. It´s one of the features I´m always searching for in music and "Vertebrae" more than delivers in that respect. Instantly likeable albums have a tendency to become tiring after few listens, so an album like "Vertebrae", which offers new details with every listen, is right down my alley. The albums starts with three fantastic tracks in "Clouds", "To the Coast" and "Ground", but also the epic "Reflection" and the post-metal tinged "Center" deserve a special mention. Actually all songs deserve a special mention because the album is through and through a strong release. A great dark and melancholic ( and at times slightly uplifting) atmospheric journey.

I´ve been very impressed by other Enslaved albums in the past but "Vertebrae" is probably the album by the band that so far has impressed me the most. A strong love for 70s progressive rock probably helps on the fact that I like this album so much, but the album isn´t all mellow and progressive. There are plenty of metal riffing here too, so don´t worry that the band have gone too soft to make your head bang. The aggression is of course a bit more reserved than on earlier releases but this is still extreme metal ( albeit mostly because of the raspy vocal delivery). "Vertebrae" is to my ears a complete release with very few flaws. Excellent organic production, great musicianship and intriguing clever compositions paves the way for a 5 star rating.
Conor Fynes
'Vertebrae' - Enslaved (9/10)

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 an excellent album by a great band. It may take a few listenings for the brilliant moments of the album to shine out, but once you know the album, there is no escaping the fact that it's great. People unaccustomed to the rough black metal vocals may have a hard time, since that is a major part of the music. However, fans familiar with more extreme forms of music know that the style has to grow on you over time.

The overall sound of the album is difficult to describe. There is clearly a firm root in black metal on this album, but it's certainly different from true black metal. Right from the beginning of "Clouds" with gliding ride cymbals, winding synthesizers, and guitars taking a step back in the mix, a person expecting pure black metal will instantly realize this is something different. Low, haunting singing gives another indication.

This unique can probably best be described as black metal laced with a good amount of progressive elements. Anyone expecting the less accessible viking metal of Enslaved's past will be dissapointed, but they can take joy in knowing that the band is continuing their sound and developing metal genres altogether. It's black, but there are great vocal harmonies, cool synthesizers, interesting rhythms, and atmospherics that paint the dark coast that the album seems to describe with obvious progressive rock sounds from the classic era.

Highlights include the great opener, "Clouds" with an excellent intro with some cool keyboards that have a tone unique to Enslaved's music. "Ground" is also a wonderful track, though the instruments are rather light, but it also has a wonderful guitar solo with great emotion. Possibly the best track on the album could be "New Dawn", starting off with a purely thrashy black metal song, when suddenly mellotron sounds explode and create an angelic atmosphere as Grutle sings, "A new dawn arises out of the shadows". Things finish up nicely afterwards, with a killer syncopated intro of "Reflection" and a sludgy "Center".

All in all, Vertebrae is a great album. Some of the songs may be too standard for the prog fan, not true enough for the pure metal fan, and the tracks may sound too similar for a casual music fan. However, there are great ideas that are not to be forgotten and excellent composions all throughout, showing that Vertebrae is an album that shouldn't be missed.

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