Norway isn’t exactly famous for its music, but fans of modern progressive metal and black metal know better. It may be a shock to many that this country’s biggest cultural export is most likely its black metal scene, which has resulted in the birth of many bands including Emperor, Darkthrone, Mayhem, Dimmu Borgir, and Satyricon. Opeth, a group whose high-quality psychedelic albums are modern epics reminiscent of a gothic King Crimson or Pink Floyd, may eventually become the world leader in prog rock. Enslaved has found a comfortable place between these two worlds on its newest offering, “Vertebrae.”
The album starts off with the track “Clouds,” a song that builds from a spacey riff and reaches its titular destination with Pink Floyd-esque vocals and the harsh croak of lead singer Grutle Kjellson. “Ground” has a classic rock feel to its riffs, an atmospheric, jazzy guitar solo courtesy of Ice Dale, and emotion to add to its black metal majesty.
Other highlights include “New Dawn,” a confrontational, powerful track, and “The Watcher,” which features a quick buildup to some of the most emotional moments of the album (“Did I sacrifice in vain?”).
Surprisingly mellow, “Vertebrae” is a mature and unpredictable black metal opus that is at once as modern as the murmuring samples throughout and as ancient as the gods that Enslaved have been screaming for in the icy regions of their homeland. An album this well crafted is something Norway should be proud of, something it can add to its rich cultural heritage.