Live Review: Enslaved, Pallbearer, Royal Thunder and Ancient VVisdom in Manhattan, 02.22.13

Work kept me late, but as soon as I could, I hauled ass into Manhattan and got downtown to Bowery Ballroom. Parking right across the street from the venue was nothing short of a miracle — it’s embarrassing how much time I think about traffic and parking as relates to going to shows — but I still missed a decent portion of Austin, Texas, natives Ancient VVisdom‘s set opening for Royal Thunder, Pallbearer and Norwegian progressive black metal stalwarts, Enslaved. When I got there, the shenanigans were already well under way.

And I do mean shenanigans. It was the last night of the tour and all four bands had been on the road for a solid month together, so at times it felt less like a show and more like a blowout, but though the crowd hadn’t actually spent a month on the road with Enslaved (ah, to dream), the lighthearted atmosphere was infectious. When I walked in, Ancient VVisdom had been invaded by Enslaved drummer Cato Bekkevold and keyboardist Herbrand Larsen, who were holding up signs with synonyms for the band’s name. My favorite was “Early Medieval Know-How,” but then, I’ve always been a sucker for linguistic humor.

That continued throughout the night, culminating in a free-for-all late into Enslaved‘s set, but there was actually some music played as well. Though I’ve heard their stuff and certainly seen their name around the last few years, I’d never actually seen Ancient VVisdom before, and from the stand-up drums/percussion to frontman Nathan Opposition‘s charismatic delivery, what I saw of their time intrigued. On a basic level, they’re playing metal, but blending acoustic and electric guitar, they revel in a folkish tradition that adjusts the form. I don’t know how much I missed, but I wouldn’t shy away from seeing them again sometime if the occasion should arise.

A quick changeover and Royal Thunder were underway. I probably didn’t give enough attention to the Atlanta natives’ 2012 Relapse Records debut, CVI, but I was glad to finally get the chance to see them, having missed their roll-through with Pallbearer last year. Royal Thunder and Ancient VVisdom would keep on for another week after the Enslaved tour ended, so they were still well into the business end of a show, playing a crisp, tight set of tracks from CVI that culminated in the extended moodiness of “Blue,” which was hypnotic enough to convince me I need to buy the album and dig in further.

They performed as a trio, bassist/vocalist/eschewer-of-vowels Mlny Parsonz, founding guitarist Josh Weaver and drummer Evan DiPrima, and brought a subdued progressive sense to the show, not entirely unaware of their own pop leanings when they came up, but actively avoiding simpler approaches in favor of a headier take while making the complex sound easy. My impression might have been totally different had I spent more significant time with the album, but at very least seeing them made me want to rectify that situation. When they were done, “Blue” having exhausted its course, I wondered how much of Ancient VVisdom I’d actually missed, since the first two of the four bands had blasted through so quickly. It wasn’t yet 10PM by my Casio (yeah, that’s right), and the night was half over. I’d gotten word beforehand that Enslaved were due at about 10:45, so Pallbearer still had a decent amount of room to work with.

No doubt there were a few in the crowd who thought of the gig as a Pallbearer show with Enslaved headlining, and though I wasn’t one of them — sorry, my heart belongs to Norway — such was the level of impact of Pallbearer‘s Profound Lore debut, Sorrow and Extinction (review here), when it hit last year. The Little Rock, Arkansas, four-piece have been through a couple times since then and their NYC fanbase seems only to have grown since I caught them at a packed-out St. Vitus bar last spring. No secret why, with the viscosity of their tones, psychedelic flourish and mournful emotionality.

I stood in front of guitarist/vocalist Brett Campbell, who did well in balancing the melancholy of the songs with a sense that he still wanted to be playing them. Might’ve helped that on the other side of the stage, guitarist Devin Holt and bassist Joseph D. Rowland (interview here) were having a contest to see who could headbang hardest, or that drummer Mark Lierly kept such propulsive time, but though Pallbearer‘s music is inherently contemplative, regretful and lumbering, they weren’t boring to watch as they played it. Even Campbell, who was hardly thrashing around, gave a physical sense of performance to what he played, and it went a long way. The end-of-tour pranking continued when Enslaved bassist Grutle Kjellson came out wearing a Mastodon shirt with a giant fake joint and proceeded to play paddleball by Lierly‘s kit. The band did about as well as one could hope in holding it together.

From what I could see, the room was more or less full by the time Pallbearer started, and the crowd was as interesting a blend as the lineup of acts playing. Metal dudes, rockers and doomers might occupy roughly the same subcultural niche, but I’ll be damned if you could pick out who was who in the audience at Bowery Ballroom. All things considered, everybody got along well enough while Pallbearer wrapped with an unnamed new song that was long, heavy and bleak, making a solid follow-up to Sorrow and Extinction highlight “An Offering of Grief,” the rise and crash of which is nothing if not tidal. Presumably they’d been playing it the whole tour — which would make it decidedly less new from their perspective — but it should say something that even after the reception of their last album, they still believed enough in the strength of their latest work to end with it.

My intent had been at some point during the week prior to give myself an Enslaved refresher, running through the last four or five albums in their catalog in preparation for seeing them for the first time in I don’t know how long — they last came through NYC with Dimmu Borgir in 2011 and I arrived at Terminal 5 just as they were announcing the last song in their set as the title-track to 2004′s Isa; I also missed them at Roadburn in 2010 — but time didn’t permit such luxuries. Not that I don’t know those records, just that Enslaved have a dozen and I’d been immersed in the most recent of them, last year’s Riitiir (review here), to exclusion of everything else and Vertebrae (2008) and Ruun (2006) were ripe for a revisit. Forget it. I don’t have to justify my pre-show rituals to anyone. Point is, I wanted to listen to more Enslaved last week than I actually did. It’s kind of a common affliction for me.

Early into their time, Kjellson said that on the tour they’d been beset by blizzards, power outages and a number of other obstacles to cut them short, but on the last night, they were doing a full set, and they followed through. Most of the material was from their Nuclear Blast era — the last three albums: Riitiir, 2010′s Axioma Ethica Odini (review here) and Vertebrae — but earlier material was sprinkled throughout, beginning with the title cut from Ruun, with followed “Riitiir” at the very start of the setlist. The intricate, proggy rhythm patterning was welcomed by the crowd, well familiar with its twists and turns, and leading to the grand chorus of “The Watcher,” Enslaved did well immediately to show the diversity in their sound more than 20 years on from their beginnings.

If anything was missing, it was “Fusion of Sense and Earth” from Ruun, but the varying textures of “Ruun” and “The Watcher” covered a lot of ground, guitarists Ivar Bjørnson and Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal creating a wash of distortion through which Larsen‘s clean vocals and Kjellson‘s signature rasp cut with little difficulty. When “The Watcher” gave way to “Thoughts Like Hammers,” the Royal Thunder crew came out dressed in a Halloween costume holding up a sign that said “Thor Likes Hammers,” and that was a good bit of fun to go along with the Riitiir opener, though whichever dude it was — nothing against him — hardly made for an attractive valkyrie. “Ethica Odini” led to Riirtiir highlight “Roots of the Mountain,” which alone was worth the drive into Manhattan, and though by then more people had come out on stage — some in their underwear, Royal Thunder‘s Weaver spitting beer on the crowd — Enslaved played through it all coolly.

Bekkevold led the way into “Materal” from the new album, and the shenanigans subsided for a time, though the energy in Enslaved‘s set was consistent throughout. After “Roots of the Mountain,” and more particularly after having beer spit on me, I headed toward the back to watch the rest of the show from a fuller vantage, and while I never considered “Materal” one of Riitiir‘s more engaging tracks, it was different from everything else Enslaved played, and made a good setup for their dip more than a decade back to 2001′s Monumension for “Convoys to Nothingness” and even further to 1993′s Hordanes Land EP for “Slaget I Skogen Bortenfor,” which Kjellson seemed to note would probably be lost on the crowd but clearly enjoyed playing nonetheless. Their regular set capped with a cover of Led Zeppelin‘s “Immigrant Song,” arranged as Kjellson noted, by Ice Dale — and that’s pretty much when all hell broke loose.

In addition to a joke from Bjørnson and a few words from Ice Dale making fun of Kjellson, the bassist also opined while drinking that cognac was France’s only contribution to world cuisine — good for a laugh and a toast from the crowd, whose spirits were likewise high — “Immigrant Song” brought forth members of Ancient VVisdom, Royal Thunder and Pallbearer all, who took to the stage for a brodown the likes of which I’ve rarely seen at a gig. Weaver jumped on Bjørnson‘s back as the band jammed out, and Pallbearer‘s Campbell hit up a Robert Plant falsetto while “sharing” Larsen‘s mic. The chicanery continued on and I don’t think Enslaved were fooling anyone when they took a bow and left the stage, though they were gone a while, presumably doing pre-encore shots. Time well spent and hooch well earned.

“Fenris” from 1994′s Frost and the title-track of 2004′s Isa — “One more short one,” said Kjellson — made for a substantial encore, the raw raging of the former leading to the still-brutal hook of the latter, and when the show and their month-long North American tour was over, Enslaved took a boozy bow and split. Lights came up, house music came on, and I shuffled my way out of the Bowery Ballroom with everyone else who’d stuck it out through the encore, maybe not feeling the same sense of job-well-done accomplishment as the bands, but at very least feeling lucky to have been able to catch the final night of a tour that was clearly so special to everyone involved.

Extra pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

Ancient VVisdom

Royal Thunder

Pallbearer

Enslaved

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