Enslaved - Vertebrae
Indie Recordings
Progressive Viking Metal
8 songs (49:01)
Release year: 2008
Enslaved, Indie Recordings
Reviewed by Goat
Album of the year

In truth, this review is something of a sham, a fraud. Before writing it, before even listening to the album in question, I knew that I would be giving a high score, rewarding the band for what they have achieved in the past instead of for where they currently stand. I make no apology for this, because despite the general state of Metal being quite excellent at the time of speaking, there are few bands in existence quite as excellent as Norwegian Post-Black Prog-Metal horde Enslaved, standing for everything that their Church-burning cousins did not throughout the nineties and since; not least the high standard of musicianship that you’re virtually guaranteed with each new release from the band.

Of course, as anyone that has been following the band knows, you’re also guaranteed that a new Enslaved album will be better than the last, an improvement upon a twisting, tumbling formula that started with 2003’s Below The Lights and culminated with 2006’s Ruun. So really I took no risk at all in setting aside praise for the band, and multiple listens to the new, tenth album later I have no doubt whatsoever – Vertebrae is a damn awesome album, comfortably beating Ruun and coming in at the top of my list for this year’s stand-out albums in the Metal world. In fact, comparing Vertebrae to my top pick from last year, Mayhem’s Ordo Ad Chao, it strikes almost the complete opposite mood in me. Where that album was practically a call to suicide, questioning the need to go on living in the face of everything, Vertebrae is the reverse, in love with life, in love with existence, as happy in the bustling city as it is standing atop a mountain looking at oceans of forest.

The first thing you’ll notice is that this is Enslaved at their most Prog yet. The nods to Pink Floyd are obvious, layered over songs like honey, and there’s a noticeable Yes and Rush influence too, even some very subtle Tool (the album was mastered by Joe Barresi). At times, it’s almost too much – that solo in Ground is just one heart-stoppingly beautiful moment of many – and I believe it’s for that more than any other reason that Grutle’s harsh croak still rings over most of the album, to keep the band attached to earth. It’s like a muscular Viking warrior holding onto a balloon full of light Prog goodness, gripping the string firmly to prevent it floating away. Listen to Vertebrae with headphones on and eyes firmly closed, free of interruptions, and you’ll feel the same rise-and-fall. The album is positively psychedelic at times (the title track’s muffled whispers especially, though there are many other examples) and although you’re likely to hear plenty from others about the back-to-the-roots blast of New Dawn, starting by referencing Vikingligr Veldi and thus causing an explosion of joy in this fanboy’s heart for that alone, it’s the rest of the song that I really love, going on through a spoken piece straight from the band’s weirdest period at the turn of the millennium, and bringing the song to a close with clean vocals and unaccompanied keyboards as wonderfully placed as ever.

The band’s songwriting skills are second to none, catching your attention as much on the tenth listen as it did on the first. Several times whilst writing this I found myself pausing to simply listen to what was unfolding before me – the incredible tinkling percussion of Reflection, the generally fantastic Post-Metal riffs, the dark atmospheric crawl of Centre – and marvel. I had to literally force myself to write an objective review, the impulse to simply state how fucking amazing this album is almost too much to bear. There is nothing whatsoever that I can criticise about Vertebrae, look as I may, no weak songs, no lack of musical skill from any of the members, and so rather than go to on to try and explain the album title or lyrics (who am I to even attempt to fathom the depths of the philosophy espoused here?) I’m going to finish it here: if you’re a seasoned devotee of the band, then you’ll find no cause for complaint, and if you’re yet to hear a note from the band, start listening immediately. Album Of The Goddamned Year, without doubt.

Killing Songs :
Clouds, To The Coast, Ground, Vertebrae, New Dawn, Reflection, Centre, The Watcher
Goat quoted 96 / 100
Adam quoted 93 / 100
Thomas quoted 93 / 100
Other albums by Enslaved that we have reviewed:
Enslaved - In Times reviewed by Goat and quoted 93 / 100
Enslaved - RIITIIR reviewed by Thomas and quoted 92 / 100
Enslaved - Axioma Ethica Odini reviewed by Goat and quoted 92 / 100
Enslaved - Eld reviewed by Goat and quoted CLASSIC
Enslaved - Frost reviewed by Goat and quoted CLASSIC
To see all 11 reviews click here
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