So yeah, I’ve really given some time for Enslaved’s latest offering Vertebrae
to sink in, and what’s really interesting is that my opinion of the album has remained pretty much unchanged since it made its first spin through my CD player some 10 months ago. Such words as messy, obscure, incoherent, and boring come to mind as the album goes along, with each song bringing about more laughs than the last. Not to hate on Enslaved or anything, since they are one of the veteran acts of the black/Viking metal scene, and being around for almost twenty years deserves some recognition and respect, but at this point I can honestly say that they really have gone off the deep end. Why on earth would I take such sloppy prog black as Vertebrae
over such finely crafted works like Frost
I do see what Enslaved was going for here, but it’s pretty astounding how far they missed their mark by. When I first heard that this new album had been released, I expected great things. I expected wonderful progressive elements and song structures masterfully tied in with moments of ripping black metal, with aggression and progression biting at each others heels throughout the run time. What I got was only half of what I expected, and the half which I got was pretty lackluster. There are hoards of progressive elements to Vertebrae
; lots of mysterious ambiance and clean vocals which to me seem like a failed attempt to capture Garm’s voice during Bergtatt
. What we are left with is a shell of a clean voice, virtually emotionless and lacking any hint of wonder, serenity, happiness, sadness, pain, hate, or whatever emotion you could tie in with a vocal performance. It’s not that they are off-key or anything, quite the contrary actually, it’s just that they seem to be in a different place than the music itself, just out there in the abyss in an attempt to appear interesting, heartfelt, and ominous.
Also, with Vertebrae
, Enslaved have lost a lot of what made them a great band in the first place. Sure, the guitars are still fairly good, and shine through at some points throughout the album (the fantastic guitar solo in “Ground” immediately comes to mind) but for the most part the album is lost in other places, going in way too many different directions way too many times in each song. The pace changes in each song several times, but when we are talking about tracks that go as short as just over four minutes and only as long as eight, these constant changes in the song’s structure can mess with your mind and with the albums flow and coherence. It would have been a lot better if Enslaved had extended the lengths of nearly all of their songs by at least three minutes, and made each progressive element and extreme metal element more interesting and diverse, each riff more melodic and memorable, each acoustic piece more emotional, and each black metal section more aggressive.
It’s almost like Enslaved had intentionally dumbed down their level of intensity to make this album more accessible and easy-going. The black metal moments are way, way too calm. There are no moments of face-melting blast beats and double bass, the harsh vocals are weak and lacking of that certain bite which really makes black metal so impressive and the Viking elements are really weak here. Each song builds and builds toward a climax which never comes, and each song has a handful of riffs which never connect with each other and result in awkward transitions and tiresome repetition with no advancement of sound or emotion throughout.
Contrary to the album’s title, Vertebrae
lacks any backbone to it whatsoever. Each element here is totally average and reeks of other, more lackluster bands attempting to create a progressive album. Enslaved should know better, considering their pedigree and what they had accomplished in their previous work. Awkward moments abound in this album, leaving the listener uneasy and quite baffled as to what went wrong in the minds of the band members to put out an album so unworthy of the name Enslaved. This album isn’t complete garbage, no, it is just so painfully average. This is an album which will not become better with time, which will not strike you right away as a masterpiece. This is an album from a band which is trying to find its identity, which for some reason it had already acquired but somehow lost.