Enslaved, King @ The Prince Bandroom, Melbourne 6/10/2016

Enslaved delivered a monumental 25-Year Anniversary show.

Everyone has a handful of bands that were formative of their passion for metal music. For me, Norway’s Enslaved are principal among these. Excited and completely star-struck to finally witness Enslaved live, and keen to check out King for the first time, I wound my way to the Prince Bandroom in St Kilda, with a little bit of trepidation to stand face-to-face with a band that had been so important to me, like, twenty years ago. Enslaved’s twenty-five year anniversary tour’s Melbourne show was everything and more a fan of the band could expect. Enslaved are as energetic, boundary pushing, dark and heavy as ever, embracing their history and thundering into the future. 

Opening the show was a band that I’ve been curious to check out for a while: recently formed Melbourne blackened-epic-death metal group King. Hot on the heels of their first album release, Reclaim the Darkness, King features the drumming excellence of Dave Haley who has to be one of the most captivating drummers currently active. King genuinely lured me in with a curious blend of blackened energy and conceptually primeval themes, and intrigued me to learn more about this band. Opening song Cold Winds, showcased the huge vocal presence of Tony Forde and piqued my interest with a cascading guitar solo by David Hill. The set moved between blistering speed in hard-hitting songs like All In Black and steady, moody blackened riffs laid over thundering double kicks in Night Sky Abyss. Compositional precision is a feature of King, particularly in very careful, controlled songs like One World One King with its majestic advancement. Other songs such as album title track Reclaim The Darkness embody this by travelling through several different movements to invoke an epic timelessness that I feel communicated the band’s ‘Nordic twilight’ conceptual agenda powerfully and convincingly. King’s overall enormous, impressive sound rolled through the Prince Bandroom and the swelling audience were treated to a flawless set. 

The main event of the night was the Melbourne instalment of longstanding Norwegian extreme metal band Enslaved and their twenty-five year anniversary tour. In a titanic display of performance stamina, Enslaved spoiled a hundreds-strong crowd to two mindblowing sets comprised of songs spanning most of their prolific career to date that were nominated by their fans. 

The first set was entitled Tales From the Mythological Forests and it featured material from Enslaved’s earlier career. The opening song Loke reinforced one of Enslaved’s defining features for me: it is one of the most darkly immersive and aurally seductive bands I have ever heard. Convoys To Nothingness featured dynamic sway between crowd-firing breakdown sections and beautiful, gloomy and brooding instrumental work particularly between guitarists Ivar Bjørnson and Arve Isdal whose layered soloing work reminded me that few extreme bands pull off lengthy instrumental segments with as much power as Enslaved

The next song truly was a treat, indeed an excursion back to one of Enslaved’s earliest recordings – their 1993 cassette tape demo Yggdrasil – and one of its most iconic, tempestuous and energetic tracks Heimdallr. This song hailed from a very classic black-metal phase for Enslaved and it was awesome to witness the raw, grimy, furiously fast and snarly old-school sound live. Heimdallr was a set highlight for me; treated to a ripping solo by Isdal and hearing vocalist Grutle Kjellson recite some Old Norse was truly special. The memorable cycles of Eld followed, beginning with its chaotic blackened sound sliding into an epic slower midsection with transfixing soloing by Isdal before stomping back into its face-tearingly fast finale. 

Another very early song featured in Enslaved’s first set that I was just too excited to see performed live. 1993’s Slaget i Skogen Bortenfor remains for me one of the most epic pieces of extreme metal ever written and Enslaved delivered a captivating performance of this gem. Crowd favourite Fenris whipped the audience into a frenzy with its heavy rocking headbanging rhythm and blood curdling screams from Kjellson. The first set culminated in the epic-length, vocally sparse and musically diverse 793 (Slaget om Lindisfarne) that astounded the already spellbound audience.

The second offering from Enslaved was a set of newer material entitled Spinning Wheel Ritual and it suitably represented the more dark-ambient and recent evolutions of the band. Roots of The Mountain opened the set with its gigantic epic death metal sound. Then one of my favourites from more recent Enslaved; 2006’s Ruun, showcased the stellar stage performance skills of all the members but particularly frontman Kjellson who saluted the crowd with a profound sign of Odin. This song was performed to stunning lighting work, rendering its serene moments in a golden haze of light, reminiscent of a sunset that brought through its ‘mankind and nature’ theme before weaving back into dark melodic grooves and thundering rolling progressions. Kjellson then practically transformed into a grim visionary to introduce Return to Yggdrasil before the band transported us on a journey oscillating between dark dreamy hypnotic and explosively heavy sections. Then Enslaved really opened-fire with Ethica Odini featuring powerful vocal interplay between Kjellson and keyboardist/vocalist Herbrand Larsen. Spinning Wheel Ritual concluded with the gripping, almost tribal drumming of Cato Bekkevold in The Crossing. Slightly brighter than all the other songs performed, The Crossing was a fitting finale to this whirlwind Enslaved experience. 

Except that it wasn’t! I have seldom seen more ecstatic fans than at this Enslaved show, and their roaring for more resulted in not one, but two encore songs and a sweet drum solo! Isa and As Fire Swept Clean the Earth drove home the show with iconic Enslaved ruthlessness and transcendence. I am spellbound and totally re-addicted to Enslaved, who delivered a marathon double-set in a show that was far, far from purely a retrospective.