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Album Of The Month August 2008
Enslaved | ‘Vertebrae’

It’s hard to overstate just how well Enslaved have managed the transition in their sound.

From the harsh, wild and blackened Norse Metal attack of their youth into a progressive and far more expansive style that commenced around the release of the very fine ‘Monumension’, the band have well and truely reinvented themselves.

For many, the high water mark of this new vision was 2004’s ‘Isa’, the sound of a group pushing themselves to the limit – presenting a veritable storm of cleansing fury and uplifting atmospherics. ‘Runn’ was a very decent follow-up, but somewhat afflicted by a lack of striking stand-alone tracks.

Happily, the good news is that they’ve now managed to deliver something well above even the usual high standard that we expect of them. ‘Vertebrae’ blows it all out of the water. Yep. It’s that good.

The naming of the record can’t be coincidence, suggesting that the band now completely understand the knack of vitally connecting the icy, biting guitar of their past with the texture and expanse of the keys and broader progressive elements.

Throughout, the ability of the group to lock together the various elements of their sound in a perfect fashion is fully evident. Right from the first second of opener ‘Clouds’, a digital sample beat blends perfectly with fast picked guitar to generate a gorgeous, strong melody that just screams Enslaved.

An almost relaxed vibe is evident through the warmer passages, some moments of genius in quick guitar leads quickly cementing the impression that they’ve really hit their stride on this one.

Special mention must go to the leaps and bounds that have been made in respect to the of clean vocals, graduating to fully fledged, soaring singing, rather than the supportive position it’s held before.

It’s always been in the background for the band, threatening to assert itself, but the presence of a flowering voice in the form of Herbrand Larson combining with Grutle’s always satisfying rasp is now fully realized.

The touch of these restrained but impassioned vocal passages are the perfect finishing strokes on sections like the outro to ‘Ground’, which summons both hairs on the back of the neck and images of awe-inspiring, sunlight fjords in equal measure. Moving at an easy, almost leisurely pace, and punctuated by a Floyd-esque solo of great taste, the piece is simply spellbinding in it’s power and delivery.

The great thing about ‘Vertebrae’ is that it doesn’t let up in the least. Through the racing title track and into the album highlight and proper centre piece, the downright fucking lethal ‘New Dawn’, it’s hard to find fault. A massively powerful production powers the whole experience wonderfully, right on into the gloriously abrupt finale of ‘The Watcher’, which ending in an instant following a truly uplifting section of singing and an extended passage of crystalline, swaying guitar .

The simple fact is that the group has crafted an album that flows like a dream, sounds nigh-on-perfect, and has the songs to back itself up in every department. This is all managed while confidently projecting that potent aesthetic of rebirth and cleansing fury in a way only they can achieve. Most importantly, they’ve finally nailed their unique sound in the most comprehensive fashion possible.

A new and bright star in an already dazzling constellation then. The sort of thing you can listen to over and over and over again and it doesn’t get old. Three times in a row today for this reviewer, and I’m not stopping any time soon. It’s something very special. This is Enslaved reaching the heights of what we knew they could achieve, and beyond. Essential in every way.

4.8 / 5 – Lorcan Archer ::: 01/09/08

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