If there is any band that demonstrates the flexibility of metal, the ability it has to change and evolve, and the possibilities it offers for musical progression, it’s Enslaved.
Born into the rotting underbelly of 1990’s Norwegian Black Metal – amongst murder, dead bodies, suicide and church burnings – Enslaved began life as a traditional black metal band complete with videos about Vikings, fast and heavy riffs, torturous vocals and decaying corpsepaint.
Twenty-seven years later, the make-up has been abandoned and the sound greatly advanced. The melodic vocals and keyboard interludes show a rapid development in complexity whilst retaining the bands underlying Norwegian ferocity. This is a band who aren’t afraid to test and question tradition.
This becomes instantly clear as I walk into The Dome to the distinctly soft and delicate vocals of Håkon Vinje for the monumental “The Roots of the Mountain”. Vinje’s lyrical interludes are much more poetic and metaphoric, singing about the ‘inner eye’ and ‘streams of life’ – the clean vocals provide a narrative voice.
These melodic choruses are regularly undercut by the fierce Viking attacks of founding member Grutle Kjellson, who in contrast retains traditional black metal vocals and snarls “Hark, men of faith.” This balance, Vinje at the back of the stage swaying to the sound of his keyboard, with Grutle fist-pumping at the front like a medieval warrior off to war, captures how Enslaved have been able to develop from their Norwegian roots to remain fresh and interesting.
However, there were still many trips down memory lane. One particular highlight was the mighty “Havenless,” which Grutle revealed had never been played live before. Throughout the song, he cowered over a modest special effects unit – perhaps technical equipment is to blame for this songs absence from the live-set shelf. And what a treat it was.
This is a song which could easily provide a soundtrack for the White Walkers marching on Winterfell, beginning with distinct chanting-style Norse vocals. Enslaved are a band with a desire to create new music which looks forward without feeling restricted by their roots; the introduction of Vinje into the band and the release of the album E last year marked a clear shift in their outlook and musical odyssey.
Headliners tonight were California’s High on Fire, who by way of a sharp contrast offered a distinct time-warp, an old-school thrash band. Matt Pike stormed onto the stage, bare-chested and tattooed, with all the energy of a 20-year-old. HoF is all about fast guitars, fast drums and fast vocals.
It was a high-energy, high-powered performance which went down a storm with the army of fans that turned out to see a band who next year move into their third decade.
Pike sings with a distinct lip-curl, giving the music a Woody Harrelson quality that feeds into the history and tradition of American thrash. Having recently released their new album Electric Messiah – for which the title track closed this evening of contrasts – High on Fire are all about tradition and keeping it old school – this particular album released as a tribute to the late and great Lemmy Kilmister.
However, this evening Enslaved were the true highlight. The Norwegian’s level of musical complexity and willingness to evolve and experiment places them on a pedestal: we shall not be restricted by tradition and we shall not fear change.
Review by: Emily Castles
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