One of the most inventive bands you've never heard of
Since 1991, Norway's Enslaved have evolved into one of the most thrilling bands to still bubble under the mainstream radar. This relative anonymity has everything to do with the fact that Enslaved play metal: If a group as inventive, inquisitive, sophisticated and just plain ambitious toiled in the indie, country or hip-hop trenches, it'd be the on the cover of Rolling Stone, not British extreme-music mag Terrorizer.
Coming on the heels of 2004's Isa and 2006's Ruun, Vertebrae forms the concluding chapter of a de facto trilogy in which the band pretty much invents its own musical genre. Though it's moved away from the pure black metal from which it was forged (Enslaved is so black metal that it released a split with Emperor in 1993), the group still uses some BM elements (notably thin, strangulated harsh vocals) along with others borrowed from Viking metal (brooding lyrics drenched in wintry imagery and allusions to fortitude in battle), prog (song structures that shoot tendrils in unpredictable directions) and even space rock, with plain ol 'hard riffage providing backbone at choice moments.
As befits such a combo, Vertebrae is not easy to apprehend— it works best as a single atmospheric trip, not as individual songs. Twin masterminds Grute Kjellson (bass) and Ivar Bjørnson (guitar) pretty much set up their M.O. in the opening track, "Clouds": the number of moods and textures covered in six minutes is dazzling. While longtime fans may be disappointed by the album's somber, relatively muted tone (there's quite a bit of clean, dreamy vocals, for instance), they should also know that Enslaved can still deliver a blow when they feel like it: "New Dawn" is quite the pulverizing track.