If you had told me as a young metalhead that one day I'd be hearing bands successfully infuse Norse black metal with progressive rock, I may not have believed you. Surely this arching over-genre has come so far when bands are capable of such a unique cross-pollination; to not only succeed at it, but to also find success with it. As such, Enslaved is a long way from 'home' (their earlier, Viking black metal years) without ever having left...
If you haven't already guessed, I think Vertebrae is a pretty massive fucking statement from a band already responsible for creating many masterworks. At once it is both a continuation of their recent style on Isa and Ruun, and a celebration of their previous progressive works like Monumension or Below the Lights. Sheer progressive black metal bliss. "Clouds" is the first step on this airy journey, a fusion of textured riffing and prog synthesizers with some of their best clean vocals yet. But don't fear ye, the snarl is still present during a pretty creepy riff sequence. "To the Coast" is a deeply resonating track, with an atmosphere as thick as its title. The vocals here switch between the Kjellson snarl and some of the Gilmour-like vocal layers you'll find on numerous songs here. "Ground" begins with a groovy, flighty prog metal riff, quite wonderful in fact, and then moves into a total Pink Floyd space. Note that I'm not complaining. The title track "Vertebrae" is like a dream, reminding me a little of Voivod's Angel Rat album. Again...not complaining at all! "New Dawn" is another stellar track, with a winding progression of notes and chanted, mellow vocals. The rest of the album is equally impressive. I loved the moody and mystical "Center" and that extremely catchy riff beneath the snarling of "Reflection".
Enslaved has such an amazing repertoire under their belts already that you expect no less than a monument to tasteful, original output every time they stroll into a studio. Vertebrae exceeds even that great expectation by immersing the listener in a flowing dreamstate which wonderfully manipulates the powers of pure psychedelic mood and thoughtful lyrics, without giving up the snarling ghost...simply unbelievable.
We've reached the outer limits of this orchestrated vision
Some might think it can't be kept apart
Forgot to ask: where are we in all of this?
Trying to get off track ... Into the wilderness
Assuming you are not a fool, you will purchase this album immediately and lose yourself amidst its splendors. You probably already have. I'm just here to tickle the memory.
Verdict: Epic Win [9.25/10] (gaze upon the waters and turn back again)