Truth be told I’m a bigger fan of later day Enslaved, than of records like Frost (1994) or Eld (1997). It’s on Isa (2004) that Björnson and Co manage to reach their full potential with their progressive rock/black metal hybrid for which they’re known nowadays. This direction gets further explored and developed on Ruun (2006) and reaches its zenith on Vertebrae (2008).
Enslaved’s collective admiration for seventies prog rock in general and Pink Floyd in particular reaches new heights on Vertebrae. The viking/black metal influences are pushed even further to the back in favour of a more progressive approach in the form of nifty time changes, melodic guitar parts, more clean vocals and a bigger role for the keyboards. Clouds, Ground, Reflection and the title track are great examples of this on Vertebrae.
One thing that has remained are the grim and harsh screams by Grutle Kjellson. New Dawn and The Watcher still contain some references to the older Enslaved material. Most songs are mid-paced and have a warm, almost fuzzy guitar tone. This gives Vertebrae a laid-back, almost stoner rock feel. This is rather unusual for the genre, but it gives this record a unique vibe of its own. It also enhances the prog rock feeling. To The Coast and Center are other two great tracks with major prog influences.
The album is mixed by Joe Baresi (Tool, Queens Of The Stone Age). He has given Vertebrae a warm and organic sound, which enhances the seventies prog rock feel.
Vertebrae is a shining example of what can happen when a band isn’t afraid to think outside the box. Influences from seventies prog and black/viking metal are expertly fused together with intelligent song writing. When you’re into forward thinking metal with progressive tendencies and you don’t mind a blackened edge, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Written by Raymond Westland