Vertebrae by Enslaved
Release date : September 2008
Reviewed by Mark Fisher
In mid July 2008, it was revealed that Enslaved had inked a record contract with Indie Recordings. Furthermore, tenth studio album Vertebrae was slated for a September issue. During 2008's initial months, the full length was laid down at the following studios; Propeller Music Division in Oslo, Norway, Amper Tone Studios in Oslo, Earshot Studios in Bergen, Norway and at Peersonal Sound in Bergen. At these studios, the following engineers were present; Johnny Skalleberg (Amper Tone Studios), Herbrand Larsen and Ice Dale (Earshot Studios), Ivar Bjørnson (Peersonal Sound), and Mike Hartung (Propeller Music Division). Production, meanwhile, was handled by Ivar Bjørnson, Herbrand Larsen and Grutle Kjellson. In Toten, Norway, Vertebrae was mixed by Joe Barresi (who's worked with such acts as Tool, and Queens of the Stone Age). Subsequently, George Marino mastered the album at Sterling Sound in New York. As had been the case since 2001's Monumension, Truls Espedal helmed cover artwork design.
On July 31st at the Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany, a listening session in support of Vertebrae was held. In mid August, it was revealed that Indie Recordings had struck a licensing agreement with Nuclear Blast Records, meaning the album's North American issue date would arrive in late October. By mid September, an e-card promoting the full length had materialized. Later in the month, the entire album was made available for streaming via Terrorizer's official website.
For this reviewer at least, the name Enslaved gives rise to many conflicted feelings. Extreme Metal boasts very few acts like the mighty Enslaved, willing to follow their hearts instead of dictated scene trends. In writing 2004's Isa and 2006's Ruun however, the group fell victim to artistry. Upon those aforementioned full lengths, the group wielded little to hold onto, and consequently, seemed extremely overindulgent. With such thoughts swimming through the mind, this reviewer reluctantly placed Vertebrae onto the computer's disc tray, and closed the tray.
Upon Vertebrae, places some much needed boundaries within their material. Vertebrae still ebbs and flows, swaying with the wind as it pleases, yet boasts a more structured sound which is as beautiful as it is brutal. Furthermore, the album never gets so atmospheric that it simply fades into the background, something which moments upon Enslaved's last several albums have achieved. Via its accessible, driving opening (not unlike how a quick paced Dream Theater full length may open), inaugural cut “Clouds” respectably sets lofty hopes for Vertebrae's other numbers. As the vocals gradually rise, it isn't difficult to become wholly engaged prior to the Viking-esque alternate vocal and the sonically Extreme Metal bridges laying all to waste. Enslaved have rarely sounded so accessible. By the time that Enslaved arrives midway into the track, it sounds as though the group are almost mocking the opening third until they actually return to it, making it known that each and every sound and movement is wholly intentional. A number of tracks possess qualities similar to “Clouds”. Tracks such as “Ground”, “Center”, and “The Watcher” are structured in much the same way even, which could be a cause of discontent amongst fanatics of Enslaved's more experimental, atmospheric records.
In the guise of both “Center” and “New Dawn”, Vertebrae's most intriguing moments arrive. “Center”'s near off-balance sound proves fascinating. Musically, the track resembles a fusion of both nineties Alternative Rock, and deep-rooted Stoner Metal. As the deep, growling vocals gradually bring the track to fruition, it isn't difficult to imagine both guitarists Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath) and Scott “Wino” Weinrich (Saint Vitus / The Obsessed / Spirit Caravan / The Hidden Hand) jamming with prime era Soundgarden. It's quite a different number, even when critiqued against Enslaved's past material. “New Dawn”, on the other hand, proves intriguing due its throwback stylings. The composition's thin production, teamed against an exceptionally punishing sound (to hear its whole effect, play the cut at a loud volume), will irrefutably please those who find delight in Enslaved's initial three studio albums (Vikingligr Veldi and Frost, both issued in 1994, and 1997's Eld). Raw, dark, and powerful, it boasts little experimentation, and few instances where Enslaved deviate towards spontaneous tangents.
Generally speaking, Vertebrae will certainly seize the focus of those fanatics whose interest has wavered since the 2003 issue of Below the Lights. Upon this specific full length, Enslaved's sonics are extremely tight. Likely, this is in no small part due to the fact that Vertebrae features the very same lineup which figures upon its two predecessors, namely Isa and Ruun. To those who felt that Enslaved's greatest years were behind them, Vertebrae is a potent statement. For this group, the future has rarely looked so bright.