Never faltering, Norways iconic ENSLAVED continue to exist as one of the most dependable components in extreme metals indestructible backbone. Possessing the reputation as one of the most riveting live acts in metal, they once again offer us talent of the highest calibre with eight new songs, rightly doing justice to their signature extreme/black/Viking/progressive metal sound.
While Vertebrae is a bold declaration of ENSLAVEDs tenacity and displays all the vital characteristics of their musical genre (referred to by music scribe Brandon Stosuy as a psychedelic, almost Floydian form of post-black metal), thus easily meeting the incredibly high level of expectation thrust upon these respected, subterranean veterans. Decibel Magazine avidly praises Vertebrae as another Album of the Year contender from Norways best band. Revolver Magazine asserts: "True to their Viking roots, black-metal warriors ENSLAVED rape and pillage like Orcs gone wild, but they do it with such intelligence and grace that you'll barely realize how you've been savaged until long after the smoke clears." Formed in Haugesund, Norway in 1991 by Bjørnson (then 13 years old) and Kjellson (then 17) and named after Immortals demo track "Enslaved In Rot" ENSLAVED recorded their first demo „Yggdrasill“ (shop)in the summer of 1992.
One year later, they released the legendary split-EP „Hordanes Land“ (Info | Shop) with their fellow countrymen in Emperor (later released as its own mini-album). Completing their first full-length album, "Vikingligr Veldi“ (Info | Shop), for Norways Deathlike Silence Productions (Euronymous of Mayhems label) in 1994, their debut was successfully followed-up that same year with the highly-acclaimed „Frost“ (Info | Shop)album on Frances Osmose Productions. Three years later, Eld marked a horizon-widening era for the band. The fury and blacker edges on 1998s Blodhemn (translated: Blood Vengeance) surprised some fans.
The 11-track „Mardraum: Beyond The Within“ (Info), released in 2000, was an aural nightmare of an album that sent shock waves through the extreme metal scene with its experimental, innovative approach. The ever-prolific ENSLAVED followed-up with Monumension in 2001 (marking the launch of a long-time collaboration with artist/painter Truls Espedal) and was shocked to receive such a widespread positive response to their "no rule" approach to extreme metal.
Two years later, the band released „Below The Lights“ (Info), a perfect blend of power, tradition, progressive elements, and dark psychedelia which became the most important milestone in what was to become their progressive yet darker signature sound.
A line-up change in 2003 introduced scene veteran Cato Bekkevold (Red Harvest, Ashes To Ashes), Arve Isdal aka Ice Dale (Trinacria, I), and Herbrand Larsen (Audrey Horne) into the fold, and ENSLAVED began to climb to new heights with their live performances, adding strong visual elements by way of dynamic video art. This acclaimed new line-up released the extremely lauded album „Isa“ (Info | Shop) in late 2004. The album catapulted ENSLAVED to the very forefront of contemporary Extreme Metal - both as studio and live artists. Not surprisingly, the band was honored (in absentia since they were on tour) with both the Norwegian Grammy for best achievement in the "Metal" category and the independent Alarm Prize for Isa. In order to share their stunning live shows with their worldwide fan base, ENSLAVED released their highly praised live DVD, „Return to Yggdrasill“ (Info), in 2005.
Never ones to fall short of new material, ENSLAVED released yet another highly-lauded collection of songs: 2006s "Ruun“ (Info | Shop). Their review on Blabbermouth.net advocated that [t]he metal world needs more bands this willing to throw out the rule book and go wherever their mad Muse takes them." With their reputation of expanding the peripheries of their genre firmly in place,Ruun was awarded the Norwegian Grammy for Best Metal Album of 2006. The band celebrated in early 2007 with a world tour that began in the U.S. and Canada and took them throughout Europe to enormous accolades from their faithful and fervent fan base which would have to wait another year before being graced with new material.
Recorded in the first quarter of 2008, mixed by "Evil" Joe Barresi (Tool, Queens of the Stone Age) at TNTs personal studio in Norway, and mastered by the legendary George Marino (Metallica, Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin) at Sterling Sound, „Vertebrae“ (Info | Shop) was produced by Ivar Bjørnson, Herbrand Larsen, and Grutle Kjellson themselves. Considered by all band members to be their strongest material in the seventeen years of their existence (this is their third studio album with the exact same line-up), Vertebraes elegant music, epic lyrics, gallant vocals, and hypnotic guitar tone “ combined with ambient atmospherics and seasoned, soul-travelling guitar solos - marks a crowning achievement for ENSLAVED as musicians and as a contribution to their musical genre as a whole.
ENSLAVED, touts Barresi, is a perfect blend of beauty and darkness." Featuring artwork by Truls Espedal “ the gifted painter who has worked with the band since 2001s Monumension“ Vertebrae is a concept album of the highest order. According to guitarist/lyricist/founding member Ivar Bjørnson , "there are mythological, philosophical lyrics in the songs "Clouds" and "Vertebrae" written by Grutle [Kjellson, vocalist/bassist/lyricist], where thick layers of metaphors and mythological references point towards existential questions.
On the other hand, there are also lyrical pieces like the straight-forward "New Dawn" and the somewhat surreal "Center" that I've written that are far more aggressive and break into more contemporary observations on "reality." The connective piece between them all is the "vertebrae" - in a metaphorical sense and the literal.
"To have a backbone" is an expression almost every language contains. In the literal sense it is the piece of the body where body and mind communicate. We see the vertebrae as a symbol for the communication between the real world and the worlds of ideas. The blood vessels you see embracing the vertebrae part on the album cover make up the rune of Mannaz “ the Rune of Man. In the language of the pre-Christian users of the Runes, "Man" was a term used for both sexes. It was distinguished between the two types of Man: the male and the female Man. This abstract piece of art showing blood vessels on a piece of bone making up a rune symbolizes the core of the what might "be concept" a movement towards a physical philosophy/way of life." For those who have followed ENSLAVEDs seventeen-year career, many know the band has incorporated Icelandic, Old Nordic, and ancient Norwegian linguistics into their musical world view while simultaneously drawing on the rich sagas of Viking mythology. For Vertebrae, all songs are sung in English, providing dedicated non-Norwegian fans with a non-translated, first-person, trance-inducing listening experience (especially via headphones) of their mesmerizing cosmic accessibility, tantalizing aural dissonance, and profusely mature majesty that has remained "at its inherent core" beautifully and blessedly black.