Who would ever suppose, back in the early nineties, that a Black Metal band from Norway called ENSLAVED and being inspired by Nordic culture will become one of the genre’s most respectable acts not only for the reason of recording brilliant albums but also on account of their constant obstinacy to develop their sound and explore the unknown territories of the immense music universe…
The tenth album from Norwegians is a synthesis of all they have come up with up to this day plus something more. Naturally, suspecting the band for simply picking some of their best music pieces and combining these into “Vertebrae” is out of the question. This release shows that ENSLAVED have neither forgotten how to play Black Metal (try for instance “New Dawn”) nor have they given up the idea of searching for new means of expression. As for the latter issue, they have pushed their music further towards the realms of Progressive music spicing up their style with even bigger dose of clean vocals and beautiful dialogues between the guitar section and the synthesizer department. As soon as these two join their forces, numerous sound landscapes of fragile and stunning nature appear before you absorbing your mind completely and not letting you do anything apart from obediently listening to this poetry.
One of my top tunes here is the closing one “The Watcher” clocking at a bit more than four minutes and being – even if this phrase somehow does not fit a band like ENSLAVED – really catchy. Its mid-fast tempo featuring Grutle’s fierce vocals and blackish thin riffs is modified and gets slower in the chorus where you can hear dreamy vocal performance on the background of a wistful keyboard passage. All over the track one can hear really nice intense drumming granting it a decent flow and a very enjoyable feeling especially in the refrain part. Talking about the drums I also have to point out the intro to “Reflection”, which skillfully keeps the listener in wait for the actual song. A track that might seem to be most unusual among the eight “Vertebrae” records is “Center” mainly because of its hallucinating slow guitar playing and the performance from the vocalist sounding as if he was reading aloud an incantation. As this song draws to its end one gets, though, a stream of atmospheric keys and guitars in the vein of PINK FLOYD, thus one of the most important features of this album appears here as well. Frankly, I could give an account of each and every moment on this album, yet suffice it to say that all of them hold an exceptionally good level of musicianship.
When it comes to the lyrics the Norwegian ensemble is dealing this time with certain aspects of mankind’s psyche and mind. The usual for ENSLAVED Nordic mythology has almost faded away, almost, as the album opener “Clouds” seems to tell the listener the tale of creation according to the old Norse beliefs.
As for the production matters, neither here can I find things to complain about. None of the instruments is too hidden or too much put to forth in the mix – their cooperation is simply well-balanced, which in fact emphasizes the group’s musical direction and helps underline the beauty of the Progressive Rock-influenced parts.
If any of you is looking for something high above the average level then “Vertebrae” is a release to think of. ENSLAVED have fashioned a memorable album containing a unique essence capable of activating the most inner recesses of human imagination. A worthwhile, original effort, doubtlessly one of the best in 2008.
(Online July 29, 2009)