ENSLAVED - Vertebrae

Enslaved - Vertebrae

8 songs
49:06 minutes
***** *****


Enslaved have probably always been more than just another black metal band. When the band started in the early Nineties, the two founding members Grutle Kjellson and Ivar Bjørnson were only seventeen and thirteen years young. Even in their early days, the Norwegians had a fondness for long songs, which early on in their career saw their sound borrowing more and more progressive rock elements. Their last two album, Isa (2004) and Ruun (2006), even went so far to receive Norwegian Grammy’s, even if hardcore black metal fans felt a little alienated as the band was somewhat shedding their roots.

Now they are back with their tenth full-length album Vertebrae, and I must say it doesn’t happen very often that I find myself speechless already after the first chords. The opener Clouds starts with warm guitars that have a certain psychedelic edge to them, and the heavy use of organ sounds furthermore transport Enslaved into sonic spheres that have so far not been explored by likewise bands. Sure, there are myriads of so-called symphonic black metal bands, but Enslaved have nothing to do with that. Instead they seem to flirt quite obviously with early Seventies Pink Floyd and to a lesser extent with Deep Purple. Having a black metal band use a mellotron has also been unheard of so far.

Is this actually still black metal? I dare say yes, because New Dawn for instance is still an aggressive piece of venomous contempt, even if it finds a conciliatory Seventies prog ending with warm Mellotron waves. Enslaved have always been known as having a certain avant-garde edge to their musical approach. Just think of their side-project Trinacria with the electronic music artists Fe-Mail, and two of the band members are also playing in the more rock sounding Audrey Horne. Enslaved even played a collaborative show with fellow Norwegians Shining (avant-prog flagship and possibly best European band at the moment) that was broadcast on a Norwegian radio station. All these reasons and the fact that they have been around for nearly two decades gives them every right to venture into new directions. Vertebrae is a complex album that surprises the listener again and again. The mix by Joe Baressi (Tool) and the mastering by George Marino (Led Zeppelin / Metallica) should emphasise what a unique album we are having here. No other black metal band has ever gone that far. Emperor might have been ultra-complex and therefore also progressive, Tiamat may have flirted with Seventies sounds, but Enslaved’s Vertebrae has raised the bar this time even higher. Like the black metal equivalent to Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Vertebrae might just be the best black metal album ever to have been released!

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