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Style: black metal, prog-rock, Norwegian
Label: Nuclear Blast
Members: Ivar Bjørnson, Arve Isdal ~ guitars
Grutle Kjellson ~ bass/vocals
Herbrand Larsen ~ keyboards/vocals
Cato Bekkevold ~ drums
First what I don't like about this album, to get that out of the way. The growling vocals do nothing for me, but anyone who reads this blog knows I'm no fan of them whatever the band, except for a few artistic usages. They are a distraction from the music for me, distracting my ear from what is interesting to what is annoying. They feel like they belong to another band & somehow found their way on to Enslaved's tapes. But, they are what keeps Enslaved firmly in the black metal camp. Without them one would be hard-pressed to call this a black metal band versus a prog-metal band. The band also employs some chorus vocals - think Pink Floyd or Edison's Children - which are more interesting, though less exciting & not in your face & are without doubt more of a backing vocal thing. Now, for what I like. It's not until the third song (i.e. "Ground") that a traditional guitar solo appears, not to reappear until the sixth song "Reflection", & then it comes out of nowhere as Enslaved is working towards being something different within the black metal landscape. Enslaved, at least in this part of their career, have a moody extreme metal sound that is three guitars & a bass literally forming a solid wall of sound. Sometimes I wonder if there is even any strumming going on as it often feels like static chords with no beginning or end or interruption. Drums keep the beat while keyboards bubble away underneath it all providing some texture, if not a momentary melody line for a verse or chorus. There's very much an industrial-esque drone metal feeling, as chords are often just held for a long time & the riffing is on the slower side, or at least feels like it. There's no rushing anywhere for this band. It's a slab of sound slowly moving. But, while Enslaved is interesting & moves black metal into a new direction there's also an anti-climactic sense. The songs are heavily repetitious, both within themselves & also blending into each other. The result is a late night atmospheric hypnotic landscape that floats in the background rather than comes at you or builds up to any internal climax, while no one songs sticks in your head. I'm very much reminded of Edison's Children for straight prog version of this feeling. Though, here is a problem for me - it doesn't go anywhere. But, I recognize & appreciate their attempt to create a black metal soundscape beyond screaming guitars, though if this is black metal anymore, outside the vocals, is hard to tell. Vertebrae really is a perfect title because they've pulled away everything but the skeletal structure of black metal, though for me that includes the anger, fierceness & energy of the genre. I'm still looking for Freddie Krueger but they're going in an Alfred Hitchcock direction. While it's not particularly my thing, as I still prefer something akin to Sadistik Exekution for my black & death metal, I would name Enslaved a good bridge for prog-minded folks that want an introduction to black metal but don't like all the traditional noisiness of it. I'd also call this a band in transition, looking for a new musical high but not quite there yet, but certainly on the way. It may not be my thing, but I can hear where they're going & what they are doing & that might be the most important thing.