I was a late bloomer when it came to three things: black metal, progressive metal, and driving. I didn’t start getting into any of these until I was in my early twenties. Enslaved’s 2008 record “Vertebrae” fixed two of those things at once.
“Vertebrae” is a haunting album that conjures psychedelic images of a barren, post-Ragnarok world. Taking a visceral form of black metal and splicing in some jazzy prog rock, Enslaved’s tenth record bridged a gap in my musical awareness. The harsh/clean vocal dynamics, thrumming keyboards, and proggy weirdness drew inescapable comparisons to Opeth’s 2005 “Ghost Reveries,” which I had also recently discovered around this time. However, 10 years on, “Vertebrae” as a whole still gets more regular playtime than its Swedish counterpart.
Setting the stage with “Clouds,” and then heading straight “To The Coast,” Enslaved was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Listening with nothing but a pair of headphones and the CD booklet, I accessed my inner Cosmic Viking. The record also blasted its way around the frozen wasteland of upstate NY from my rust bucket of a Jeep’s single working speaker.
Conceptually “Vertebrae” is the kind of Nordic philosophical magic that felt cool and mysterious and never struck me as NSBMish. Relating all this cool Viking shit with “deep” modern philosophical tones, tracks like “Ground,” and “New Dawn” also relayed classic rock solos inspired by Loki on acid and sweeping mellotrons that sounded like the Bifrost on fire.
The transition between the two killer closing tracks,“Center,” and “The Watcher” still gets me going like an eight-legged horse. This record was one of my first cohesive listening experiences, going through it front to back, sometimes multiple times in a sitting.
Enslaved has since gone on to become one of my favorite bands. They’ve released consistently great albums like clockwork in the decade since “Vertebrae” and their rather extensive and varied back catalog has provided with many hours awesome, beautiful, and inspiring tunes.