Prog - - Take A Bow - FRASER LEWRY

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.

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