Enslaved – Vertebrae

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.

Tracklist:

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)

Line-up:

* Grutle Kjellson – vocals, bass
* Ivar Bjørnson – guitar, keyboards, effects
* Arve Isdal (Ice Dale) – guitar
* Cato Bekkevold – drums
* Herbrand Larsen – keyboards, vocals, mellotron

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