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Enslaved - Vertebrae CD (album) cover



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5 stars With the release of their tenth studio album Vertebrae, Enslaved continue to demonstrate their ability as innovators within the realm of progressive black metal. Ivar Bjřrnson & crew's songwriting seems to get better with each album, and Vertebrae is no exception.

The record starts off with the track Clouds, which showcases the band's current state of mind musically. The guitars, the keys, and the drums have a very organic sound on this song, as well as throughout the entire album. On other tracks such as Ground and Reflection, the overall atmosphere seems a little on the lighter, on the more proggy side, but just when you think it might be getting out of hand they surprise you with the more black metal-tinged drumming and riffing that they were known for in the beginning. It certainly sounds as if they have near-perfected this formula of blending prog with black metal, and Vertebrae is perhaps the best representation of their style to date.

While this album mayn't be as heavy as their previous albums Isa or Ruun, it most definately is their most progressive album so far. So, for people looking to get into Enslaved who also love progressive rock, Vertebrae is must-have release.

Report this review (#199250)
Posted Thursday, January 15, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Enslaved's Vertebrae is a masterpiece of extreme progressive music in my opinion. In NO way is it a step in the wrong direction for this incredible band hailing from the dreary village of Bergen. I see it as a natural step, utilizing phenomenal attention to details and harmony throughout the entire record. Mr. Herbrand Larsen's vocals start the album off with a perfect clarity and mix. Ivar Bjornson's compositional skills have only improved with the past three albums. Grutle's vocals are disgusting as ever and his Gibson Thunderbird bass tone is thick and fluid. Ice Dale's lead guitar playing adds a great touch and has improved with time as well. What can be said about Cato's drumming?? Perfect fills, perfect tone, etc. Mellotron adds fantastic feeling and atmosphere all over Vertebrae.

Bottom line: If you love Enslaved buy this now!!! Especially the limited vinyl pressing with a bonus live performance.

If this is your first exposure to Enslaved, don't worry, you will not be disappointed.

The masters from Norway have done it again.

All hail Enslaved!

Report this review (#199563)
Posted Saturday, January 17, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars I hate to be the devils advocate, and I love how this album has really gained some appreciation on the site, thus furthering the bands popularity here, but I cant help but say that this is a very flawed album. Isa and Ruun are both very good albums, almost masterpieces. Dynamic, fast, aggressive, everything you'd expect from a black metal band, but with a progressive edge that plays a huge role in the bands music. A larger progressive edge then the other other "progressive" black bands I've heard have accomplished. I don't know what happened, but Grutle and the gang really dropped the ball on this one though.

One reason I love this band so much is because they helped keep alive the progressive spark that sounds so fresh and original, and when compared to the "progressive" artists of today, I almost gag with how utterly cheesy and unoriginal almost all the retro artists are (if not all of them). On Vertebrae though, Enslaved almost joins the "regressive" band wagon sadly. The tempos are slowed down, and almost every song seems to be going at the same pace. Even the songs that seem to start off fast and heavy, such as New Dawn and The watcher lost my attention less then half way through the song. The energy seems almost completely sucked from the band, the riffs aren't as fun, the drums not nearly as busy, and the vocals just sound straight up board, which leads me to my next biggest problem; the vocals. For some reason the group decided it was a good idea to over mix the vocals to the point where when Grutle is singing his harsh vocals, you can hear the spittle, and nastyness that's going on in his throat, and it's the same situation for the growling vocals too. Not only does it make the vocals sound real bad, but really bored as well, compared to their previous two albums, it sounds like they're barely trying.

While there are redeeming qualities, such as the few guitar solo's, the the particularly good track "To the Coast", Vertebrae was a serious disappointment, especially when matched up to the ever more flourishing progressive/atmospheric black metal scene. I honestly don't know what to expect from this band next. Should I pursue the next album with excitement, or should I wait to see what the fan base says, or here a sample before I invest? We'll just have to see in a year or so, but I doubt it would be a stretch to say that this band has reached their peak... I can only pray that that's not the case. 2 Stars.

Report this review (#217871)
Posted Saturday, May 23, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars "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.

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, proving that Vertebrae is an album that isn't to be missed.

Report this review (#217968)
Posted Sunday, May 24, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
3 stars 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, I've really had it with these black metal rasps. They were very effective on Blodhemn and Mardraum, but they sound awkward and do not fit the more laidback style of music that Enslaved has adapted since. 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. My conclusion is that even though 21st century Enslaved has the potential to be another Opeth, they will never live up to it.
Report this review (#237535)
Posted Sunday, September 6, 2009 | Review Permalink
The T
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars A flawed album that still manages to capture some of the magic of 2004's near- perfect "Isa".

In "Vertebrae", ENSLAVED all but eliminate all traces of black metal sound from their music. Sure, the vocals are still high-pitched guttural growls in the style of the most evil of metal genres, but that's about the only element that regularly reminds us of the ENSLAVED of "Frost" or "Vikingligr Veldi". The music, in general, has taken a more contemporary- melodic-extreme-metal approach, with slower songs, less emphasis in blast beats and tremolo riffs, a little bit less of that dark atmosphere typical of the genre, and a crystal-clear production (that the band had started adopting long ago anyway). The violence is still there, but now it is much more tamed, much less in-your-face.

ENSLAVED, though, has learned to really rock. The Norwegian band, in their best moments in "Vertebrae", delivers powerfull riffs with a lot of groove and kinetic energy in a way that they weren't used to in the past. Mixing that with their typical progressive elements, like the use of keyboards and special structures, makes for a very interesting kind of metal, less black, less menacing, but also a little bit more contagious.

The songs are a little simpler than in the previous albums, with a stronger emphasis put on melody and actually sung vocals, bringing the band closer to Swedish-style death metal than to the Norwegian black-metal roots of their past. Clean vocals are used much more frequently now, and it's common for choruses to be doubled in a style somewhat reminiscent of the machine-like voices of CYNIC's "Focus", though in a much more natural, human-sounding way. This creates a nice balance of chaos and melody, and brings the music of the quintet a step closer to more experimental, post-metal-like styles of extreme music.

There are a few less-than great songs in the album but also there's a few that really stand out. My two favorites are two of the most "rocking" ones, "Clouds", with its fantastic quasi- electronic intro, and "Relections", with an amazing riff that moves forward with the energy of thunder, balanced with short slower-tempo sections with a fantastic use of the cymbals by the drummer.

All in all, a very good album that comes highly recommended. Still not in the same league as "Isa", but then again, very few extreme-metal albums are.

Report this review (#245281)
Posted Monday, October 19, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars A more raw approach with this album, and while not as strong as Ruun this album is still a great piece in the puzzle that is Enslaved. The first 2 songs CLOUDS and TO THE COAST start this album of fantasticly, i think it goes a wee bit downhill from there though with the songs sounding to much the same and becoming slightly boring, before picking up the pace again with the epic REFLECTION really saving this album and the end two songs CENTER and THE WATCHER, closing this album off in style. Lets talk a wee bit about the production here as they really toned it down a bit maybe focusing on being more black metal then prog and trying to go back to their roots, which i dont mind, it just took that original sound that Enslaved had for a few albums before and just made them sound like a 'clone' instead of progressing and trying to find their own path, other than that the riffs are still very catchy and have great vocals on this album;

Clouds ? 9/10 To the Coast - 9/10 Ground ? 8/10 Vertebrae ? 8/10 New Dawn ? 6/10 Reflection ? 10/10 Center ? 9/10 The Watcher ? 9/10

My Conclusion? not as strong as the album before but the passion and that fire still seems to be in Enslaved so for that ill still give em 4 stars.

Report this review (#285159)
Posted Saturday, June 5, 2010 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
4 stars 'Vertebrae' - Enslaved (83/100)

My journey with Enslaved began with Vertebrae. That's undoubtedly a lot later on than many of the band's other fans, but I can't think of a better place and time to have started listening to these guys. They had always been a name on the periphery ever since I began my explorations into black metal some years earlier. For whatever reason, it wasn't until the then-recently released Vertebrae was given a warm recommendation from a friend that I finally opened up to them. Given that I grew up essentially as a prog kid, who turned to extreme metal styles once I heard so many creative acts sprouting out of them, Enslaved's own sound was practically a musical wishlist fulfilled.

Enslaved blended vintage warmth with echoes of a colder path on Vertebrae. At the time, I honestly couldn't get enough of it. The upbeat synths and emotional range of "Clouds", soaring melancholy of "The Watcher", or the inventive chord progressions on "Reflections"; the album took me by surprise. I was slow to warm up to their backcatalogue, so I kept returning to Vertebrae. As it happens, it become one of my biggest staples of 2008. With that experience in mind, I was surprised a couple of years later to find out that the album was actually one of the most divisive in Enslaved's discography. Revisiting the album again after a few years' distance however, and I think I can see why Vertebrae has had that polarizing effect on people.

Vertebrae is, at once, Enslaved at some of their most creative, most restrained, most progressive, and easily their most self-involved. Their career up to this point was defined by a steady transition into progressive rock territory. Mardraum - Beyond the Within in 2000 marked the first overt steps as a prog metal act, and the superficial aspects of the transformation were complete at some point between Below the Lights and Isa. Vertebrae stands out as the first point where Enslaved stopped trying to be progressive by way of aping Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd, and instead adopted the progressive mindset for themselves. I'd say Enslaved are still every bit as restrained as they were on Isa. The material itself is a lot less predictable however. Something always sounds a bit alien about "Clouds", even a near-decade after first hearing it. The slower tracks like "To the Coast" and "Center" embrace psychedaelia without the influence feeling contrived a la Monumension.

I might call Vertebrae Enslaved's weirdest-sounding album. By the time they followed it up with Axioma Ethica Odini, their progressive mindset had been made into a much sleeker beast. For better and worse, Vertebrae gets lost in its excesses. "The Watcher" is probably the only song of the lot that sounds like it was penned with economy in mind. The songs tend to feel much longer than they actually are. This isn't because they're slow per se, but rather that Enslaved see fit to pack most of them with different ideas and identifiable movements. There's a certain irony in the fact that these weirder compositions are being played with the same sterile restraint Enslaved had gone on since the Isa days. With the exception of their graceful soloing, the guitars are played as by-the-numbers as possible, and Herbrand Larsen sings like there's a gun to his head that will fire if he wavers off pitch. This heavy restraint is the thing that keeps me from loving Enslaved's mid-era work. While their sound would fortunately take a more energetic turn from Axioma Ethica Odini on, Vertebrae's weird songwriting allows the controlled approach to succeed.

There's a part of me that finds it difficult to critique Vertebrae. Unlike the other Enslaved albums, I listened to this one to the point of virtual memorization. It almost begrudges me to admit it, but this album probably changed the way I thought of extreme metal when it was released. There are reasons it became one of my favourite albums for a time. It still sounds great years later, but I think there's enough distance now for me to recognize its flaws. For one, the album flows awkwardly at best. The songwriting is less consistent than is usual for Enslaved, and for all its formal inventiveness, it comes off as dry at times. I can see why fans are split down the middle when it comes to this one. Contrary to what I originally thought, it's not the best album they ever did-- I'd say the honour goes to Below the Lights. Even so, I'm glad I got into Enslaved on their oddest note. It's a wholly unique experience that happened to bring their progressive influences full circle.

Report this review (#297062)
Posted Wednesday, September 1, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars "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.

Report this review (#410483)
Posted Thursday, March 3, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars 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.
Report this review (#733075)
Posted Thursday, April 19, 2012 | Review Permalink

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