The audience tonight have shown up as much to witness sludge metal co-headliners High On Fire as they have to see Enslaved, and it’s only natural to wonder why the hell Prog are here. But the Norwegians aren’t the traditional black metallers they once were, and over the course of nearly three decades their sound has slowly evolved, to the point where the band who made 1994’s brutal Vikingligr Veldi are almost unrecognisable from the one that produced last year’s densely atmospheric E. The music is no less violent, but is it more melodic, and less one-dimensional.
Live, they’re a real force. The dynamic chasm between the growled vocals of frontman Grutle Kjellson and the clean singing style of new keyboard player Håkon Vinje – who wasn’t born when the band formed – bring real light and shade to songs that might otherwise only be noted mostly for their malevolence.
Opener Roots Of The Mountain starts with a frantic thrash before a soaring chorus drops the tempo and lifts the mood. Ruun is almost the reverse, launching with sinister, symphonic riffs before climaxing in a furious, overwhelming froth. Momentum sags as the taped intro to E opener Strorm Son plays – it’s nearly a minute of bad weather and creaking wood before a whinnying horse signals the arrival of the song itself – but an intensely dramatic version of The
River’s Mouth and the breakneck isöders Dronning put things back on an even keel, the latter being played in London for the first time since its recording almost a quarter of a century ago. Sacred Horse keeps the pot on a feverish boil, and the magnificent Havenless – a stirring mix of ancient Norse chant and demonic riffs – gets the hair really flying for the first time. The set ends with a chaotic, demented rush through allfǫðr Oðinn, from the band’s debut EP.
The real beauty of Enslaved is how their music somehow manages to conjure up the epic nature of their subject matter. at face value they may sound like a heavy rock act put through some kind of hellish meat grinder, but as dry ice billows up through red light as if from fissures in the earth, visions of fierce Viking battles, raging storms and long, terrible journeys quite naturally fill the imagination. it’s some feat. and if the band’s more experimental approach alienates black metal purists while the growled vocals give prog fans pause for thought, they’re clearly doing something right: something progressive.