I was at Roadburn 2015 to watchEnslaved play the set captured on the forthcoming Roadburn Live 2LP, set to release on April 22 through By Norse and Roadburn Records. They were fucking incredible. Really. It had been I think weeks since I saw them in the US and they still managed to blow me away. Dudes never fail. Roadburn Live draws on the proggy side of what they do, and yes, that’s awesome. Every year at Roadburn, I tell myself I get to buy one piece of vinyl to go with the usual swath of CDs. I think I know what it’s going to be this year.
They’ve got “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” streaming now and you can check it out at the bottom of the post if you think my reasoning is suspect. It isn’t.
The PR wire fills in the details where my spinning head can’t:
ENSLAVED To Release Roadburn Live 2XLP For Record Store Day, April 22nd; “Death In The Eyes Of Dawn” Premiered
Roadburn Live is ENSLAVED’s first official live album, a split release between Roadburn Records and By Norse Music. The album was recorded during one of band’s headlining shows at the renowned Roadburn Festival 2015, an edition curated by ENSLAVED’s guitar player Ivar Bjørnson.
Walter Hoeijmakers, Roadburn’s Artistic Director comments on the release: “It’s no secret that there’s a strong friendship between Roadburn and ENSLAVED. One of the most hard-hitting and progressive bands to come out of Norway, ENSLAVED has played a significant part in the festival’s history – both musically and antically. Not only has ENSLAVED been our artist in residence, bringing side-projects such as The Armageddon Concerto (the ENSLAVED/Shining collaboration), Dream Of An Opium Eater, and Trinacria to Roadburn, Ivar Bjørnson has also been our 2015 co-curator, along with Wardruna’s Einar Kvitrafn Selvik, resulting in Skuggsjá’s first ever performance outside of Norway. ENSLAVED’s 2015 performances were the pinnacle of this enduring and artistic friendship, and showcased the massive influence the band has had on both Roadburn and the (underground) metal scene for the past two decades. To have these shows captured on vinyl is a dream come true for me, and I truly hope it’s the same for anyone who was in attendance, or those who want to indulge themselves in the Northern magic of ENSLAVED.”
Roadburn Live will be available as limited and exclusive Record Store Day color editions and as Roadburn/ENSLAVED-Webshop Gold edition including the original A3 Roadburn poster and color stickers!
To celebrate the release, what better way than to hold a playback session with the members of Enslaved at the Roadburn Festival 2017. Becky Laverty of Roadburn Festival comments: “ENSLAVED and Roadburn share a history that is entwined and their 2015 performance on the main stage was such a fantastic milestone for both parties, that it makes perfect sense for the show to be released as a live album. As the album will be released during Roadburn 2017, it seemed fitting to invite attendees and the band alike to join us for a playback session at the festival as part of our popular side program.”
More information about the playback session to be revealed soon.
Roadburn Live also features a brilliant layout created by highly respected artist and Roadburn’s regular graphic designer Costin Chioreanu. The album was mixed by Iver Sandøy at Solslottet Studio and mastered by Jens Bogren (Kreator, Opeth, Sepultura) in Fascination Studios. It is also the last official release with Herbrand Larsen on keys and vocals.
After celebrating their twenty-five year anniversary in 2016 showcasing a majority of older material, Roadburn Live displays songs mainly from the “newer” and more progressive era of ENSLAVED’s career, with songs from “In Times,” “Riitiir,” “Isa,” “Below The Lights,” and “Monumension.” Featuring guest appearances of Einar Selvik (Wardruna), Aðalbjörn Tryggvason (Sólstafir), Per Wiberg (Opeth, Candlemass), and Menno Gootjes (Focus) on “Immigrant Song,” the first cover song by ENSLAVED to appear on any record ever.
Grutle Kjellson comments on the album: “I’m generally not a huge fan of live albums. I like to be present at a show, to grasp the energy of the band, and to witness the sometimes magical symbiosis that occurs between the band and the audience. I am, however, a huge fan of the Roadburn Festival! I consider this to be my all-time favorite, both as a musician and as a guest. Therefore, if everENSLAVED were to release a live album, it had to be from a Roadburn show! I hope you will enjoy listening to this piece of wax as much as we did recording it!”
Release date and format: April 22nd: Record Store Day limited color editions and Roadburn/ENSLAVED-Webshop gold edition. Standard vinyl, CD, and digital. More information soon!
Roadburn Live Track Listing: 1. Building With Fire 2. Death In The Eyes Of Dawn 3. In Times 4. Daylight 5. Convoys To Nothingness 6. As Fire Swept Clean The Earth 7. Isa 8. Immigrant Song* * Roadburn Live exclusive song originally by Led Zeppelin
I was lucky enough to see Enslaved guitarist Ivar Bjørnson perform a Bardspec set at Roadburn 2015 (review here), and it was an immersive experience to say the least. With flashlights on the side of his glasses and accompanied by his bandmate Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal, Bjørnson set about building a wash of exploratory drones and noisescapes that filled the darkened Stage01 at the 013 — since subsumed into the larger Green Room space — and gave a resoundingly progressive impression.
Given Bjørnson‘s ongoing relationship with the fest — he curated that year, along with Wardruna‘s Einar Selvik — it seems fitting that Roadburn should play a role in the release of Hydrogen, the debut recording from Bardspec, as well. Set for issue June 23 on By Norse, the full-length offering will be previewed at a listening session next month at Roadburn 2017.
The details for that, along with the Josh Graham (Neurosis, Kings Destroy) cover art, you can see below, courtesy of the PR wire:
BARDSPEC: Ambient Project Of Ivar Bjørnson (Enslaved, Skuggsjá) To Release Debut Album, Hydrogen, Via By Norse June 23rd
BARDSPEC is the ambient project/band led by Enslaved composer/guitarist Ivar Bjørnson. This June, By Norse will release the debut album Hydrogen. Having launched at Roadburn in 2015, BARDSPEC has since evolved into a fully-fledged band, with Steve Austin on guitars/effects, David Hall presenting the live visual aspect of the project, with the layout created by Josh Graham (Soundgarden, Neurosis, IIVII, etc.).
BARDSPEC combines stirring, hallucinatory synth-sounds with mercurial guitar effects and hypnotic rhythms that navigate illusory landscapes. Field recordings, and other found-sounds also drift and evaporate into the ether. Working intuitively with these elements and with sharpened senses, attuned to inner impulses, this is immersive music that can exist anywhere and anytime within the minds of the listener.
Whilst BARDSPEC might essentially be the same brain and personality making the music, compared to Enslaved, it is a widely different entity. Thematically and sonically, BARDSPEC is about minimizing, subtracting, and meditating upon the simplest essence of “things;” the single points exemplified through song titles like “Bone,” “Salt,” and so on, the basic elements and foundations that make up the whole. There is an element of “space” in the music and the artwork, as a representation of the inner workings of the mind and the subconscious.
Inspired by the German masters Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schultze, and Conrad Schnitzler in addition to contemporary ambient music like Norwegian one-man-band Biosphere and abstract modern electronic music like When (Norwegian also), as well as the electronic/industrial-driven metal like Godflesh. Ivar describes the appeal and trance-inducing aspects of such music to him, “I remember listening to Richard Burmer and his album Mosaic from 1984. I thought I fell asleep but I was in a semi-lucid state where I still registered music – but not much else. At the end of side A there’s an explosion so violent and extreme that I jumped two feet into the air and was totally shocked. The weird thing is, I couldn’t remember it being there. When I revisited the music again it was just a little ‘thud.’ I was just experiencing a trance so deep into the music that this deviation from the pattern and frequencies in the foregoing half hour of monotony totally shocked me. I loved it!”
Roadburn Festival plays host to a very special public listening session of Hydrogen by BARDSPEC, a chance for people to hear the album from start to finish in advance of the official release date. This event shall take place on April 21st. More information incoming on the Roadburn website.
Hydrogen Track Listing: 1. Intro – Deposition 2. Bone 3. Fire Tongue 4. Gamma 5. Salt 6. Teeth (bonus track)
Hydrogen shall be released on June 23rd across all formats. The six-panel CD digipak is available as limited first press to 1000 including bonus track “Teeth.” The double gatefold LP is limited to 500 black vinyl, and the digital format also including the bonus track.
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 14th, 2016 by JJ Koczan
Yeah, I know how it goes posting about Enslaved around here. I put something up about how the long-running Norwegian progressive black metallers are genius and how continuously innovative their sound is and blah blah blah and it falls completely flat. That was certainly the case when I reviewed their latest album, In Times (review here), last year. Well, whatever. I dig the crap out of the band and enjoy writing about them, so I’m not going to stop. They’ll release a compilation of material from 2010-2011 titled The Sleeping Gods – Thorn on Nov. 11 through ByNorse Music.
A few interesting things to note for anyone else who follows the band: ByNorse Music is definitely not Nuclear Blast, which has put out the last several Enslaved records. Whether that deal has ended or if this is a one-off or what, I don’t know, but it’s noteworthy all the same. Also, the title seems to draw from The Sleeping Gods, which was a Scion A/V EP released back in 2011, though whether the two will share any material between them is also unclear. My initial impression is no, since The Sleeping Gods – Thorn doesn’t seem to feature keyboardist/vocalist Herbrand Larsen, who is very much present in the aforementioned EP.
To those noteworthies, add the vinyl reissue of their first album, Vikingligr Veldi and the considerable round of touring Enslaved are about to do starting later this month, covering ground in Australia, Japan, Europe and the US, and yes, I feel completely justified in continuing to herald their brilliance. So there.
From the PR wire:
ENSLAVED To Release The Sleeping Gods – Thorn November 11th; To Issue Vikingligr Veldi On Vinyl For The First Time Ever
Norwegian progressive extreme metal icons ENSLAVED will release The Sleeping Gods – Thorn compilation this November via ByNorse Music. A full-length album comprised of rare material from 2010-2011, The Sleeping Gods – Thorn is a unique collection of experimental material connecting with the band’s early roots.
The seven tracks comprising The Sleeping Gods – Thorn originally appeared on extremely limited EPs between ENSLAVED’s Axioma Ethica Odini and Riitiir full-lengths and were recorded both in Solslottet Studio in Bergen, as well as the band members’ own studios and partly in the deep woods of Valevaag on the South Western Coast of Norway. Like the songs themselves, the production is a mix of old and new; high tech and no-tech – a mix of concepts that have been essential in achieving the signature sound ENSLAVED has become notorious for today. Members Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson co-produced the material together with long-time collaborator Iver Sandøy.
The album includes lyrics sung in Norwegian, English, and Old Norse, with themes centered on mythology and the esoteric side of the runes, as well as contrasting the Norse Ways as a polytheistic belief system to the monotheistic plague of the Big World Religions. The music nods respectfully to the wildly varying deities that make up the pantheon of inspiration for ENSLAVED, both “then” and “now.” There are traces of the proto black metal of Bathory, the classic rock and heavy metal of the ’70s and ’80s, the synthesized and sequenced masters of the ’70s, prog-rock, world/Norse folk music, Norwegian black metal of the ’90s, modern classical music, goth rock a la Fields Of The Nephilim, and much more.
Tying he package together are the extensive liner notes Kjellson and a beautiful new layout by Costin Chioreanu of Twilight 13 Media (Roadburn Festival, Opeth, Darkthrone, At The Gates, etc.) whose mesmerizing new illustrations display a unique symbiosis between two of our times’ most exciting visual and sonic artists.
The Sleeping Gods – Thorn will see release on November 11th on limited edition blue vinyl (webshop edition), black vinyl, digipak CD, and digitally via ByNorse Music. Preorders will start on September 30th.
The Sleeping Gods – Thorn Lineup: Ivar Bjørnson – guitar, synth Grutle Kjellson – vocals, bass Cato Bekkevold – drums Ice Dale – lead guitar
ENSLAVED will issue their debut full-length, the now legendary Vikingligr Veldi, on vinyl for the first time ever. Set for release on September 23rd, 2016 via By Norse Music, the limited 2xLP gatefold edition includes a stunning new layout design by Z. Bielak (Ghost, Mayhem etc.) as well as four brand new illustrations specially made for this groundbreaking offering. Additionally, the record has been respectfully remastered for vinyl by Iver Sandøy preserving every bit of its original dynamics.
ENSLAVED’s Vikingligr Veldi, initially released in 1994, was co-produced with the legendary Pytten (Immortal, Mayhem, Burzum, Emperor et al) in Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway. The album features lyrics in Icelandic, and is a tribute to the Norse landscape, history, and mythology. The songs match these themes with long, horizontal songscapes, dense atmospheres, and winds from the past.
“We have been waiting since the day we recorded it,” comments ENSLAVED’s Ivar Bjørnson, “and at last it is happening! It has been a challenging journey, and it has demanded a lot of patience and understanding from all parts involved. The day we held the finished product in our hands was as sacred a day for us as the day we finished recording it.”
Enslaved tour dates: Sep 29 Kiff Aarau, Switzerland Sep 30 Club Cann Stuttgart, Germany Oct 02 Essigfabrik Köln, Germany Oct 05 CROWBAR Fortitude Valley, Australia Oct 06 Prince Bandroom St.Kilda, Australia Oct 07 Manning Bar Sydney, Australia Oct 08 Loud Park 2016 Saitama Shi, Japan Oct 15 Lido Berlin, Germany Oct 16 Progresja Warsaw, Poland Oct 17 Firlej Wroclaw, Poland Oct 18 Nová Chmelnice Praha, Czech Republic Oct 19 Backstage Munich, Germany Oct 20 Szene Wien, Austria Oct 22 Club Rockstadt Brasov, Romania Oct 23 Dürer Kert Budapest, Hungary Oct 24 Kino Siska Ljubljana, Slovenia Oct 26 Bronson Ravenna, Italy Oct 27 Traffic Rome, Italy Oct 28 Circolo Colony Brescia, Italy Oct 29 Jas’rod Pennes Mirabeau, France Oct 30 Razzmatazz 2 Barcelona, Spain Oct 31 BUT Madrid, Spain Nov 02 METRONUM Toulouse, France Nov 03 Antipode Rennes, France Nov 04 Divan Du Monde Paris, France Nov 05 Damnation Festival Leeds, United Kingdom Nov 07 Neushoorn Leeuwarden, Netherlands Nov 08 013 Tilburg, Netherlands Nov 09 Musikzentrum Hannover, Germany Nov 10 Beatpol Dresden, Germany Nov 11 Metal Hammer Paradise Wangels, Germany Dec 10 Gramercy Theatre New York, NY
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 30th, 2015 by JJ Koczan
It was pretty clear as I stood and watched Skuggsjá‘s second performance ever at this year’s Roadburn back in April that the collaboration between Einar Selvik of Wardruna and Ivar Bjørnson of Enslaved was a genuinely special project. The experience of watching it proved likewise. I said at the time that I hoped the set would be released, as so many are, in the form of a Live at Roadburn offering, but failing that, I’ll take Skuggsjá signing to Season of Mist and releasing what seems to be a studio album instead. I mean, you know, that’s not exactly roughing it.
And by that I mean, it’s fantastic news that not only will Skuggsjá continue, but that it will begin an actual evolution as a band. The album — I don’t know how it could be anything but self-titled since it was the work from which the project took its name, but don’t quote me on that — will be out early in 2016, and it’s already jumped considerably toward the top of my most-anticipated list simply by existing.
Heads up on this one. You won’t want to miss it:
SKUGGSJÁ signs to Season of Mist
Season of Mist are proud to announce the signing of Norway’s SKUGGSJÁ. The band, led by Ivar Bjørnson (ENSLAVED) and Einar Selvik (WARDRUNA), will release their debut album worldwide in early 2016.
SKUGGSJÁ was originally conceived as a commissioned musical work written by Bjørnson and Selvik. The arrangement was performed by ENSLAVED and WARDRUNA in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution at the 2014 edition of Norway’s Eidsivablot festival.
The growing desire to present SKUGGSJÁ to a broader audience led Bjørnson and Selvik to headline Roadburn Festival 2015 and record a full album. Details regarding this debut release will be available soon.
Featuring a variety of Norway and Scandinavia’s oldest instruments, as well as poetry in Norse and Norwegian, SKUGGSJÁ tells the history of Norway and it’s people. SKUGGSJÁ is truly a fusion of Norway’s past and present both lyrically and musically.
Regarding the signing, SKUGGSJÁ comment:
“When we were asked to write a joined convert piece by the Eidsivablot festival for the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution, we both immediately saw the outline of something massive and important.
Our performance confirmed that this project should live on, develop and thrive. During 2015 we have performed the piece once more at the Roadburn festival, and have also discreetly slipped in and out of studios around Norway to record what is to become our debut album.
We are extremely proud of what we will present on this album. It has been quite a journey already for the two of us, but this where it really begins. We have created something that is bigger than its individual parts. Now we are excited to see what the world make out of our creation!”
All things good, Ivar & Einar
SKUGGSJÁ’s official line-up is: Ivar Bjørnson (ENSLAVED): vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards Einar Selvik (WARDRUNA): vocals, taglharpa, Kravik-lyre, goat-horn, birch-bark lure, bone-flute, percussion, electronics
The album will also feature contributions from the following musicians: Grutle Kjellson (ENSLAVED): vocals Lindy-Fay Hella (WARDRUNA): vocals Eilif Gundersen: birch bark lure Olav L. Mjelva: Harding fiddle Cato Bekkevold (ENSLAVED): drums
Posted in Reviews on April 23rd, 2015 by JJ Koczan
I’ll admit to being somewhat late in reviewing In Times, the 13th full-length and fourth through Nuclear Blast from Norwegian progressive black metallers Enslaved, but I ultimately don’t think that’s a bad thing. The album was released in March, following about two and a half years after 2012’s Riitiir (review here), and while it is immediately identifiable as Enslaved, it marks a couple of turns that become more apparent on repeat listens. For one, it is a stripping down of some of the grandiosity of Riitiir, the preceding 2010 outing, Axioma Ethica Odini (review here), and 2008’s Vertebrae. Comprised of six songs totaling a three-sided-LP’s 54 minutes, In Times is still plenty substantial, but clocks in a full 14 minutes shorter than its predecessor, and its songwriting feels less centered on the big-chorus methodology of songs like “Thoughts Like Hammers” or the stunning “Roots of the Mountain” from that offering. The tradeoff? In Times is tighter, more efficient, and carries forward the progression of the Bergen five-piece’s sound that has been ongoing since they made their debut with the Hordanes Land EP in 1993. It is a rare band who continues to offer something new each time out beyond three or four records, let alone 13, but while In Times pares down certain elements of Enslaved‘s sound, it’s also their most progressive outing to date, songs like “Nauthir Bleeding” and the 10-minute title-track directly marrying the extreme metal roots of their early work with the boldness of melody and expansive craftsmanship that has evolved in their sound over the last 14 or 15 years, going back to when 2000’s Mardraum: Beyond the Within and 2001’s Monumension set the genre-defying course they’d continue to follow throughout 2003’s Below the Lightsand the two subsequent landmarks, 2004’s Isa and 2006’s Ruun. And much to the credit of In Times, it’s not a case of black metal and melodic prog fighting it out in the band’s sound. Opener “Thurisaz Dreaming” — after a lull-you-into-a-false-sense-of-security couple of quiet seconds — explodes into ripping extremity, bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson‘s phlegmy rasp at the fore, but it’s not long before the gallop takes a turn and keyboardist Herbrand Larsen emerges with the clean vocals that have become a defining signature in Enslaved‘s approach.
The key? It works. It flows. I’ve said on multiple occasions before that Larsen‘s growth as a vocalist is among the pivotal elements — if not the pivotal element — in Enslaved‘s progression since he joined the band in 2004. That’s not to take anything away from the songwriting of the group as a whole, Kjellson, Larsen, guitarists Ivar Bjørnson and Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal, and drummer Cato Bekkevold, but in hindsight, Larsen‘s first parts offsetting Kjellson‘s raw-throated cackle and Bjørnson‘s periodic roars seem tentative compared to the confident mastery he shows throughout In Times, not just a backing presence, but a leader in the band, if one situated at the rear of the stage. He leads off second cut “Building with Fire,” nails the later chorus hook of the title-track as a defining moment of the album — Bekkevold‘s precision kick work and the tightness of the five of them in general certainly don’t hurt there, either — and there’s no sense of conflict between his and Kjellson‘s vocals. Each serves a purpose in the song and both make the other seem stronger. “Building with Fire” is one of several particularly triumphant moments throughout In Times, Isdal‘s solo as they push toward the midsection a reminder of just how many weapons they have in their arsenal, but one of the key aspects of the record is that it’s best taken as a whole, rather than as individual pieces. One doesn’t necessarily have to hear it front to back to appreciate the dynamic, but more than most of their other output, it feels geared toward an LP flow, and accordingly is tighter in its expressiveness in a way that meshes well with the crisp production. To look at the tracklist, with all but “In Times” itself hovering between eight and nine minutes long, one might expect a sort of staid process, the band pushing through routine execution of an established sound, but the truth is more complex and even within and between the first and second halves there are palpable differences in structure, “One Thousand Years of Rain” once again pushing the more blackened core forward while keeping a melodic underpinning in the keys and guitar of its verse and the vocals topping its chorus and post-midsection slowdown, a Viking-style chant arriving before the pickup of the song’s finale.
While on vinyl it requires a flip not only of sides but of actual platters, the transition between “One Thousand Years of Rain” and “Nauthir Bleeding” in a linear format — digital or CD — is one of the most telling moments of In Times‘ as-a-whole intent, the latter track something of a comedown that flows directly from the preceding extremity, gentle guitar noodling interspersed with miniature fits of aggression that gradually take hold after some sparse lines of vocals from Larsen and themselves prove hypnotic before Kjellson swirls in atop a signature gallop. It’s not as big a chorus as “In Times,” which follows, but the arrangement of the two vocalists, the progression of the guitars and keys, and the solid rhythmic foundation on which the melody plays out make “Nauthir Bleeding” an even more archetypal example of In Times‘ varied strengths. When it does arrive, “In Times” feels enough like a landing to earn its position as the title-track. An initial two minutes hypnotize with a repeated riff and some psychedelic-style swirling lead guitar, but a sudden cut to double-kick and Kjellson‘s screams snap the listener back to reality with the first verse. They cycle through twice and break into a melodic vocal highlight break that moves farther and farther out into finally deconstructing to drum thud, far-off guitar and whispered vocals, then, like the beginning of the song, it snaps back to a raging tumult, the band essentially toying with a sonic mismatch. “In Times” ends crashing and chanting rather than ripping, and while that might leave closer “Daylight” to feel like something of an afterthought, the chanted vocals and multifaceted shifts back and forth provide an underline to the point of the album as a whole, which seems to be that Enslaved aren’t a band that can be easily tagged by genre anymore, and that the creative pursuit at their center remains intact even as they approach a quarter-century’s duration. In Times ends by booking “Daylight” with the chants and stomping riff from its beginning following more twists and turns, and for a record as densely packed, pummeling and forward-thinking, its final reinforcement of structure only adds another layer by which one might appreciate its composition. I’ve said many times I’m a fan of the band I remain one, but I think even behind the sturdiest artiface of objectivity, it would be hard to call Enslaved‘s achievement here anything but significant. It’s been worth taking a little extra time to appreciate.
It was a misguided attempt at sleep that led me to bed after watching Coltsblood to round out my night. Didn’t work beyond the apparently standard three hours, which is what I’ve gotten give or take each night since Wednesday. When I lie down, my head hears parts of songs, David Eugene Edwards saying, “You don’t know me from Adam, down here in the lamp light,” or Sæþór Sæþórsson of Sólstafir‘s banjo in the back half of “Ótta,” among others. One day bleeds into the next. I dragged ass most of the afternoon and evening, to be perfectly honest, and given the tossing and turning I’ve just done and the fact that I’m up two hours before I set the alarm, I expect the trend to continue. Still, when you’re here, you have to keep going. There’s more to see and more to hear.
The weather, which had been gorgeous enough to boast some restorative effect of its own, has turned. I could just as easily call it “yesterday,” but for the purposes of review, I hope you’ll allow the editorial decision to keep current: “Today.” The weather turned today. As though it knew Undersmile, Urfaust, and Fields of the Nephilim were all on the bill and decided “enough of this sunny shit, let’s get down to business for real.” It cleared up later, but was still colder than it had been, and early in the afternoon, I looked outside at one point and saw waves of rain coming down. That was right after Coma Wall, which, you know, fair enough.
Playing as a five-piece with their usual two couples plus a cellist, the mostly-acoustic alter-ego of Undersmile started my day off at Stage01. I got there early, which you have to do, and I wasn’t the only one. Taz Corona-Brown, Olly Corona-Brown, Hel Sterne and Tom McKibbin, plus Tom Greenway on the cello spread out over the stage, McKibbin behind, pulling double-duty on drums and banjo. With Taz and Hel in dresses and quickly sliding into the sort of drawling dual vocals that are a trademark of both Coma Wall and Undersmile, there was a theatrical element to it, but the thickness of the atmosphere spoke for itself as they hit into “Summer” from their 2013 Wood & Wire split with, who else?, their other band. Off to the side of the stage, Olly sat on bass facing the others, kind of overseeing the whole thing with one leg crossed over the other. He looked managerial, but the low end filled the room well, and Coma Wall eased my way into the Roadburn Saturday better than I could’ve asked.
I’d still like to hear them take on “Rotten Apple” or “Don’t Follow” — something off Jar of Flies — which I think they’d nail in the vocals and really be able to darken the mood on, but wouldn’t you know they weren’t taking requests. Couldn’t argue, anyway. Over in the main hall, Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin were well into a live soundtrack to 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, which played on the big screen behind them, audio and all. I saw them here for a bit last year, and sure enough parts of the score were recognizable from that set as well as the movie. Like with Sólstafir‘s live soundtrack on Thursday, there were spaces without any music at all, but of course the difference is that Goblin also wrote the score originally, so to see them do it live to the film was something extra special.
Perhaps most impressive about it was the timing, which they nailed. Keeping pace to scene changes and the film’s quick cuts, they ran through various pieces and themes, the quick bursts for tension as everything goes to crap with all the zombies at the mall, the biker gang showing up and bringing Tom Savini, and so on. It’s been a while since I saw it, and I’d forgotten how many classic lines there are in the film, about Hell being full and the dead walking the earth, and “Operator dead, post abandoned.” There were some times where the balance of audio was lopsided one way or another — hard to match up a film and a live band on stage — but it smoothed out, and I can’t imagine it was many attendees’ first time seeing the movie. That said, I’ve never watched Suspiria, which Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin are scoring as part of the Afterburner, so who knows? When they were done, the four-piece came to the middle of the stage from their spread-out positions, two on one side, two on the other, the middle open to allow the eye to watch the movie, and took a bow. A few seconds before, the credits rolled past with their name listed as The Goblins. So be it.
Next up on the Main Stage was a second go for Enslaved. I tried before they went on to calculate in my head how many Enslaved-related sets there were this year in comparison to 2010, when they were the official artist-in-residence and did sets with offshoot projects like Trinacria and their collaboration with Shining. Between their set last night, the Skuggsjá collaboration with Wardruna that followed, guitarist Ivar Bjørnson ‘s BardSpec set and today, I think they might have 2010 beat. I’m not sure if Bjørnson curating with Wardruna‘s Einar “Kvitrafn” Selvik counts for double or anything — you’d have to get into percentages and it proved too much for my feeble brain to take. In any case, today’s Enslaved set focused much more on newer material. Fair after last night. The recently-issued In Times (review pending) featured heavily with “Thurisaz Dreaming,” “Building with Fire,” “In Times” and “Daylight,” but there was still room to dip back to 2001’s Monumension for “Convoys to Nothingness,” or 2003’s progressive turning point Below the Lights for “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth,” and a balance was struck between the older and newer.
Further distinguishing today from yesterday, though, were the guests. When they got to “Daylight,” bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson announced they’d be joined by Selvik, Aðalbjörn Tryggvason from Sólstafir and Per Wiberg, now in Candlemassbut known also for his work in Opeth and Spiritual Beggars. The three contributed on vocals at the beginning and end of the song, and Selvik came back out for a longer, soulful guest spot on “Convoys to Nothingness,” while Enslaved proper delivered again the kind of set that brought the crowd back from last night, “Isa” tossed in as a bonus and a cover of Led Zeppelin‘s “Immigrant Song” with more guest guitar included to add even more intrigue. It was not as intense as Friday had been, their newer material offering a more intricate but decidedly less raging style, but they handled it professionally, and seemed to be having as much fun as the audience while they ran through their second of the weekend’s two full sets. The Heads, who followed, are the official artists-in-residence this year, but Enslaved always seem to find welcome at Roadburn.
Particularly having missed The Heads when they played at Het Patronaat last night — Roadburn means hard choices — I knew I wanted to see them today. They were supposed to be here last year, and played in 2008, but with Walter doing live visuals and the four-piece of lead guitarist Paul Allen, guitarist/vocalist Simon Price, bassist Hugo Morgan and drummer Wayne Maskell (the latter three who played as Kandodo on Thursday and joined forces with Loop‘s Robert Hampson at Het Patronaat), it was unmissable. A righteous set boasted jam-laden takes on “Gnu,” “Legavaan Satellite,” “U33” and “Spliff Riff,” the effect positively molten as they enacted space rock supremacy and handed Roadburn its ass over the course of 75 minutes. For me, they were the day’s hypnotic highlight, and I don’t think I was the only one. The crowd cheered as they went into and out of jams, builds paying off and starting anew. As I stood in the back and watched, next two me, two dudes were arguing in German and a third turned around and told them, in accented English, “Please, no politics while The Heads are on.” All laughed. Peace on Earth and goodwill to all Roadburners.
As with Kandodo the other night, The Heads‘ set made me want to head over to the merch area and go, “Just give me everything,” though they have enough live albums over there that to try it and I’d be broke(r) in no time flat. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from them, knowing records like Everybody Knows We Got Nowhere, which was just recently reissued, At Last and their 1995 debut, Relaxing With…, but they were molten on stage, one song bleeding into the next in a consuming entirety that, even after they’d long since gone, kept the crowd howling. It was fucking awesome. I don’t know how many times I’ll get to see The Heads in my life, but I’m not likely to forget the first, in any case, and if I take nothing else away from Roadburn this year, I’ll take a new touchstone for heavy psych live performance. “It’s good, but is it The Heads good?” will prove a hard standard for most to meet.
Over in the Green Room, Black Anvil were finishing up a punishing set and I watched for a minute through the door as they pummeled away. Undersmile were on next in there, and I’ve been following them since their split with Caretaker in 2011 (review here), so I didn’t want to miss it. They have a new full-length out called Anhedonia, and while I’m a little heartbroken at not having heard it — I loved 2012’s lung-filling debut LP, Narwhal (review here), and thought I had a pretty good relationship with the band — it still seemed prudent to show up early for a dose of their grueling, claustrophobic-but-melodically-brilliant doom, especially as a crushing companion piece to Coma Wall earlier in the day, a sort of bookend with the same lineup minus Greenway‘s cello. They were heavy enough to feel the sound in your chest. I give McKibbin credit for being able to push the tones of Hel, Taz and Olly along, even at such a lumbering pace. By the sound alone, it seems like a task more suited to the crane outside working on the addition to the 013, but the drums do drive Undersmile‘s material forward, and they packed out the Green Room to the point where even the space to watch through the door was full. I felt equal parts lucky to see them, bummed I haven’t heard the new album, and glad I showed up early while they were setting up. It was quite an emotional rollercoaster. Maybe that’s why I had to come back to the hotel and go to sleep afterwards.
Or maybe I was just rendered unconscious by fucking Coltsblood who — holy shit — took Stage01, removed all its fillings and performed a root canal with a safety pin. It was fucking ridiculous. Hyperbole-worthy madness that even H.P. Lovecraft himself would stare at and be like, “Damn, that’s horrifying.” I watched the final few minutes of synth-heavy proggers Zoltan before the UK trio of bassist/vocalist John McNulty, guitarist Jemma McNulty and drummer Jay Plested (also of Black Magician, who played Het Patronaat at Roadburn 2013) went on, but god damn. Even before they started, as Jemma checked her guitar and John ran the line on his bass, you knew it was going to be filthy. Their 2014 full-length debut, Into the Unfathomable Abyss (review here), seemed all the more aptly named as they got underway, and even though John had some technical trouble early on, they shared a bottle of mead on stage and absolutely laid waste to the smaller of the rooms at the 013. I say in full knowledge of John‘s prior association with the band that they were the heaviest thing I’ve seen in that space since Conan made their Roadburn debut there in 2012. They were unbelievable.
And it became quite clear that they’ve earned some loyalty of fanbase as well. The front of Stage01 was crowded with UK types, one of whom took on the solemn duty of making sure that Coltsblood‘s incense (of which I was markedly downwind) stayed lit. Another dude next to me alerted John when the sound guy called for him to start checking his bass. This is a band that people are obviously taking very seriously. The deathly rumble of their extreme, dark, sludgy doom made earplugs a futile exercise, and especially in a one-two with Undersmile, they justified that reaction. With John shouting and growling into the mic while Plested slammed away behind and Jemma, entranced, riffed out a viscous, oil-thick morass, it made sense. I’d want to keep the incense lit too.
By the time I split out from Stage01, the air had more or less been driven out of the room. It was hot, sweaty, smelly — Roadburn means fart clouds — and suitably oppressive. Outside smelled like french fry grease from the food tent, but even that seemed like fresh air. I made my way back to the hotel and started to sort pictures out and get everything ready to review, but noticed after a few minutes that my head was down on the table and I couldn’t seem to pick it back up. I stared up at the laptop monitor for a little bit and decided to crawl into bed.
Wasn’t a crawl. More of a lurch. Either way, about three and a half hours later, I gave up the ghost and decided the middle of the night would be a perfect time to recount the day’s varying destructive encounters. Tomorrow — Sunday, which now that it’s after 06.00, I’m about ready to call the new “today” — is the Afterburner, also plenty busy with Lo-Pan and Abrahma and Argus and Bongripper, Anathema and The Golden Grass. Work on the final issue of the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch starts in about four hours and it will be here and gone before I know it. At least that’s how it usually seems to go.
The curated day is a Roadburn tradition going back to David Tibet of Current 93, who was the fest’s first curator in 2008. This year, the hallowed duty was bestowed on Enslaved guitarist Ivar Bjørnson and Wardruna multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Einar “Kvitrafn” Selvik, and their day took on the title “Houses of the Holistic.” I don’t know who picked what individual band for what stage, or if the two agreed on everything or what the situation was, but I know the results were pretty magical, particularly on the Main Stage, which hosted — in order — Virus, Sólstafir, Fields of the Nephilim, Warduna and Enslaved, who joined forces for the final set of the evening to perform Skuggsjá, a Norse-minded work originally commissioned to honor the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution and first performed at the Eidsivablot festival last fall. To my knowledge, Roadburn 2015 is the second time it’s ever been played in public.
I did some wandering, as one will, but the day started with Virus, who played Roadburn in 2012 and were among the most talked-about bands that year. I knew I didn’t want to miss them again, so I got to the main hall well in time for their start, which unfolded quickly in a technically intricate post-black metal from the lineup of guitarist Carl-Michael “Czral” Eide, bassist Petter “Plenem” Berntsen and drummer Einar Sjursø. They came highly recommended, and while I heard The Black Flux, their second album, when it was released in 2008, that was also seven years ago and it seemed reasonable to expect they would’ve progressed even further along their dissonant path. Sure enough, while they dipped back to their debut, 2003’s Carheart, for “Be Elevator,” it was the material from 2011’s The Agent that Shapes the Desert that most stood out to me, “Chromium Sun,” which appeared early in the set, and “Dead Cities of Syria,” which followed soon after, as well as the new song that served as their closer, “Rogue Fossils,” which Eide teased as being included in their to-be-recorded fourth record, calling it “atonal.”
A challenging start to the day, but Virus‘ avant twists weren’t impossible to track. “Rogue Fossils” was downright catchy,” and the turns of “Lost Peacocks” from The Black Flux weren’t so sharp as to go off the rails. Obviously that’s a credit to the trio, whose sound is individualized enough that it could only have grown organically. If you were to start a band and say, “Okay, we’re going to sound like this,” wherein “this” is Virus, it would fall flat. Some things just need to grow on their own. It was an impressive showing, but I also wanted to catch Ivar Bjørnson‘s ambient project, BardSpec, which was making its debut on Stage01, the smallest of the rooms at the 013. Easy enough to wander over, and I managed the rare feat of getting in before it was too packed and found Bjørnson‘s experimental side in full display, a table set up on the stage with mixing boards, guitars — Enslaved‘s Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal sat in on guitar, and I mean “sat” literally; he was behind the table, largely hidden from view, sitting on a monitor wedge — a laptop and no doubt two or three other swirl-making doodads obstructed from view.
Decked out in a shirt the homemade-seeming designs of which reacted with the blacklights in the room to look like they were glowing in the dark and glasses with lights in them, Bjørnson soundscaped and built on waves of drone from Isdal‘s guitar, manipulating a live mix while video played on the screen behind. Formative, maybe, but ambitious, and Enslaved bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson showed up to watch as well. With a primary focus on atmospherics, it was maybe more of something you’d put and close your eyes to than something to watch on stage, but I almost always find the live creation of droning sounds interesting, to think of that as part of a performance. I stayed for a while and went back and forth to watch Virus finish their set, waiting for Icelandic four-piece Sólstafir to take the Main Stage, which they did — in force, by storm, or however else you want to say it. Like Virus, they played in 2012 and were much heralded, though they also played yesterday doing the live soundtrack to the Icelandic film Hrafninn Flýgur (“Flight of the Raven“), so either way, the Roadburn crowd was familiar with their wares.
Even after playing yesterday, though, Sólstafir drew what was at that point the biggest crowd I’d seen so far at the Main Stage. There were many Sólstafir shirts in the audience, and it didn’t take long for the band — who’ve had the same lineup since the turn of the century with guitarist/vocalist Aðalbjörn Tryggvason, guitarist Sæþór Maríus Sæþórsson, bassist Svavar Austman and drummer Guðmundur Óli Pálmason — to demonstrate how they earned such loyalty. Supporting last year’s fifth LP, Ótta (review here), they played “Dagmál,” album-opener “Lágnætti” and the title-track right off the bat, Tryggvason a consummate, emotive and charismatic frontman, wielding an e-bow for his guitar as if it was powered by his heart, but the whole band just dead on, through and through. I had been looking forward to seeing them for a while, and they more than justified the anticipation. The ending of “Ótta” alone was worth standing there, but I stayed put for just about the entire set and was treated to “Kukl” and the title-cut from 2011’s double-album, Svartir Sandar, as well as “Rismál” from Ótta, which was a highlight, and “Goddess of the Ages” from 2009’s Köld.
The latter showed off some blackened roots, but there was strong sense of performance running through the whole set, and as far back as Sólstafir dipped into their catalog, that tied the show together. A dynamic band, strong in mood and consistent in their songwriting, they also held down that stage, no questions whatsoever. In their energy and their presence, they owned it. Another album or two to follow-up Ótta and I would not at all be surprised to find Sólstafir return to Roadburn in a couple years even higher on the bill. I won’t get to see them on their US tour, which begins April 22 (dates here), but at least now I know what I’m missing. I can’t imagine what they’d be like in a smaller space — Reggies in Chicago, Red 7 in Austin, etc. — if Tryggvason would go into the crowd as he did for “Goddess of the Ages” before climbing back on stage to end out with more e-bow. They’re something special, and I got the vibe from their set that they’d likely be something special whatever the context in which one happened to be seeing them.
There was a break in between Sólstafir and Fields of the Nephilim, so I shuffled over to the merch area and picked up a couple odds and ends — mostly Live at Roadburn releases; Papir, Papermoon, Sula Bassana, and I had my eye on a YOB, The Unreal Never Lived Live at Roadburn 2012 LP that I might have to make mine on the morrow — and ran back to the hotel to drop off the goods, getting back in time for the legendary UK goth rockers to hit the Main Stage, carrying with them a host of classics I’m woefully out of my depth discussing, having never really followed vocalist Carl McCoy or the band. They were something unknown to me, which has an appeal on its own, and particularly following Sólstafir, it was easy to read a Fields of the Nephilim influence in retrospect, in headwear and style. I never gothdanced, but there were some shimmying shoulders to be seen for “Dawnrazor,” “Moonchild” and others, though with Dutch prog legends Focus shortly on in the Green Room, the Main Stage attendance thinned out noticeably, Fields of the Nephilim having gone on about 15 minutes late. They’re back tomorrow as the headliners on the Main Stage.
As I understand it, that’s because Walter is a huge fan, which is probably the best reason you’re ever going to see a band playing Roadburn. They don’t have a new record out, they’re not touring, but they’re here doing two sets because Walter, who is the head, figurehead and face of the festival, loves them. Who could argue? I’m not sure I’m a convert, but it gave me a chance to get some dinner, watch Focus through the door for a bit — I’d done similar with Icelandic black metallers Svartidauði earlier, and found them satisfyingly ripping — and still get back in time for the start of Wardruna, about whom I had zero preconceptions. Before they went on, two tiers were added to the stage, making room for the Norwegian outfit’s range of percussion, vocalists, and so on.
Very much led by Selvik — he was the only one on the lowest level of the stage while they played — they were nonetheless an orchestra. Atmospheres so thick you could swim in them, harmonies rang out in Norwegian, telling Viking tales of a history to which I can’t relate but set me off wondering what it might be like to be from a place with a traditionally homogeneous culture; how it might be to have a “team” in terms of nationality. Americans divide. That’s what we do. I don’t have any experience with a history like that into which Wardruna seemed to be tapping, Selvik with a variety of traditional instruments at hand. It’s easy to respect it, and the performance, if you’ll pardon my saying, was splendid. Soulful, rich, immersive and as complex and beautiful as anything I’ve heard at Roadburn in my seven trips here. But even “Americana” discounts entire portions of my nation’s population, so outside the language barrier, I had a bit of cultural wall standing between me and Wardruna‘s Viking paeans, though by the time they got around to the memorable dirge “Helvegen” from 2013’s Runaljod – Yggdrasil, I was ready to set sail on whatever hand-carved ship they might’ve had parked outside the 013. One could almost hear the lapping waves of the Norwegian Sea.
Over in the Green Room, it was a different kind of traditionalism playing out. Oslo-based trio Tombstones riffed loud, riffed early and riffed often — their tones a dense, earplug-vibrating lumber that grooved on vicious roll. I knew I liked that band from 2013’s Red Skies and Dead Eyes (review here), but I didn’t realize quite how much I liked that band. Guitarist Bjørn-Viggo Godtland and bassist Ole Christian Helstad shared vocal duties atop their own punishing low-tone and drummer Markus Støle‘s swinging crash, and with a hooded statue of Death on either side of the stage, they played some material I didn’t recognize — might be new? — but slammed home their sonic tonnage as though it was a thing to be directly hammered into the assembled skulls before them and headbanged with true doomly fuckall abandon. I hadn’t seen a band be heavy like that all day, so Tombstones were more than welcome, and the savage heft likewise. They were an act I was very, very glad to have seen at Roadburn.
Coming out of their set, I felt I had a better understanding of what they were about. Not that the album didn’t paint a coherent picture, but to actually see Tombstones made me better appreciate the intensity of their approach. “Intensity” would prove an operative word back in the main hall as well, with Enslaved getting ready to go on. Drummer Cato Bekkevold — buried, as ever, behind his kit — and keyboardist/vocalist Herbrand Larsen had already had their gear positioned in the back row, the highest of Wardruna‘s tiers, in anticipation of the Skuggsjá set still to come, but this was a special gig as well. Dubbed “House of Northern Gods,” it found Bjørnson, Kjellson and Isdal down front of the stage, leading the way through a setlist spanning all the way back to 1993’s Hordanes Land EP, with “Allf?ðr Oðinn” one of the several cuts chosen to represent Norse deities or their archetypes as the band tore through their discography with spoken samples between each song, and runes appearing and disappearing behind them on the Main Stage projection screen along with animations by the artist Costin Chioreanu.
No doubt there were many in attendance who’ve seen Enslaved more than I have, but I’ve seen Enslaved six or seven times by now — including at Roadburn — and this was hands-down the best show I’ve ever watched them give. Also the best setlist. For how tight they were, for the fact that after opening with “Frøyas Smykke” from 2000’s Mardraum (Beyond the Within), they launched into “Fusion of Sense and Earth” from 2006’s Ruun. Kjellson‘s rasp was in top form, and all five of them were raging full-on. It was, yes, intense, and it only became more so as “Fenris” from 1994’s Frost led into the more chorus-centered “The Watcher,” the closer from 2008’s Vertebrae, a one-two that brought to mind not only Enslaved‘s intended focus on Norse mythology for the set, but the progression they’ve undertaken in their 24 years together. For his part, Larsen now sounds better live singing the clean parts on a song like “The Watcher” or “Path to Vanir,” which followed, than he sounded in the studio when they were recorded, his confidence and prowess as a vocalist an ever-increasing factor in Enslaved‘s growth.
Put it this way: I saw Enslaved in New York about three weeks ago. Not only did I stay put for the entirety of their “House of Northern Gods” set, but I’m planning on watching them again tomorrow as well. They wrapped by bringing out an acoustic guitar for “Axioma,” which seemed intended to serve as a transition to Skuggsjá, though there was a changeover necessary and one of Selvik‘s stringed instruments had some technical trouble, so there was an added delay there too, the members of Enslaved and Wardruna both on stage at their appointed start time of 00.15, or thereabouts, but not actually getting going until after 00.30.
When they did start, Skuggsjá was both modern and deeply rooted. With Bjørnson and Selvik at the front of the stage, and a total of 11 people participating, they blended elements from both bands as well as some experimentalism and grand choruses into something beautiful and unique unto itself. I’m keeping my fingers crossed it gets released as a Live at Roadburn album, because it deserves it. To describe the bare parts doesn’t really do justice to what was happening on stage. It was a moving late-night performance that, knowing it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance, I was glad to stick around and see.
With the second day down, there’s still plenty of Roadburn 2015 to come. More tomorrow, but until then, there are some more pics as well after the jump.
Posted in Reviews on March 23rd, 2015 by JJ Koczan
Driving the four-plus hours from Massachusetts to NYC to see Enslaved, YOB, Witch Mountain and Ecstatic Vision on Saturday wasn’t the practical choice, but it was the only choice. True, three of the four would be much, much closer to me this week, but to catch them in a bigger room and with Witch Mountain wasn’t an opportunity I wanted to miss. I left much earlier than I needed to, leaving as little as humanly possible to chance in terms of sitting in traffic, stressing out, etc. Turned out to be one of the easier rides south that I’ve had.
A positive omen? Maybe. I had time to hit Academy Records before the the show, which was a rare pleasure, and plenty of opportunity to catch my breath before doors to Gramercy Theatre opened. Last time I was there was for Pentagram, Kings Destroy, Bang and Blood Ceremony, and as ambivalent as I was at being back in Manhattan itself, it would prove to be a night surrounded by old friends, laughs and good vibes. More than anything, that made trip worthwhile.
But there was a show on as well, and a killer one at that. An early start for a packed night had Witch Mountain on at 7:30, and here’s how it went from there:
A couple new faces in Portland’s scene-preceding four-piece, Witch Mountain. Very new, as it happened. As in, this was their second show. Led by founding guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nate Carson, the band had played Pittsburgh the evening prior, and that was the first gig with newcomer vocalist Kayla Dixon and bassist Justin Brown (also of Lamprey). Night two of the band’s Mk. III lineup was a short set, but they made the most of it and showcased the potential for continued growth. Dixon had a distinctly metallic presence as frontwoman, and the entire band, Brown included, seemed to relish the opportunity to have a bigger stage on which to unfurl their doom. Again, their time was brief, but “Psycho Animundi” from last year’s Mobile of Angels (review here) more than ably demonstrated Dixon‘s vocal range, while “Veil of the Forgotten” and particularly the end of “Shelter” from 2012’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) thrust into an almost power metal presentation, already edging up to the boundaries of a shifting personality for the band. Especially for it being night two, it was an encouraging sight. I’d expect over time Witch Mountain will loosen up further in presence as they continue to tighten sonically, but I felt fortunate to see that process at its beginning.
Of the four bands on the bill, I wondered most about how Ecstatic Vision‘s sound would translate to the spaciousness of Gramercy Theatre. The Philly three-piece would hardly be the first act in history to play space rock in a high-ceiling room, but for their being a newer band despite the experience of guitarist/vocalist Doug Sabolik and drummer Jordan Crouse in A Life Once Lost, it was a point of curiosity. Some of Sabolik‘s flourish, the chimes on his mic stand and melodica, weren’t as prevalent as they had been when I saw the band open for YOB at the Saint Vitus Bar in December (review here), but they did well all the same, and bassist Michael Connor‘s tone came through the house clear and warm in kind. Their custom lighting, the rope lights around the drums, strobe, and so on, left Connor more or less out of the equation, and that seemed to create some imbalance on stage, but unless you happened to be the black metal purists positioned in front of me as I watched Estatic Vision space out on encompassing, fluid psychedelic jams, there was little to argue with as they warmed up and settled into their engaging vibe. They still don’t have much recorded but are expected to make a debut sometime later this year on Relapse. Still worth keeping an eye on.
Would YOB do “Marrow” in that room? Yes, they would. Three of the four cuts from last year’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here) — also my pick for the best album of 2014 — were aired, with opening duo “In Our Blood” and the scorching “Nothing to Win” leading to the aforementioned 19-minute record-closer, which was followed in turn by the title-track of their 2011 sixth album, Atma (review here), the Eugene, Oregon, three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and drummer Travis Foster crisp in their delivery but not at all dead-eyed in the here’s-another-show way one might expect after their having spent the better part of the last three weeks on the road. The run with Enslaved ends this week, but YOB will continue to tour their way back west before returning in May to the East Coast for Maryland Deathfest in Baltimore. In New York, their response showed a considerable crossover response from the clearly-there-for-Enslaved contingent, particularly as the culmination of “Marrow” hit and they followed it by the gallop-laden “Atma,” which seemed all the more furious in comparison. I’ve seen YOB at least five times in the last 12 months and have yet to come out of a set without any regrets. Foster‘s snare was loud in the house mix, but so was everything else, so, you know, it kind of worked itself out. Every accolade YOB gets, they earn. I know they did that European stint last year with Pallbearer, and that was a month-plus on the road, but it’s still a change to think of YOB as a touring band after their years of keeping shows limited. While I wonder what the rest of 2015 will hold for them, I also couldn’t help but notice how sustainable and decidedly un-worn they looked on stage, like they could just keep going. I doubt they’d have met any complaints if they had.
Last time I saw Enslaved in New York was early 2013. They played the Bowery Ballroom (review here), which is a not-insignificant space in itself, but not as sizable as the Gramercy, and I think it says something about the long-running Norwegian outfit’s growing US fanbase that their return to Manhattan would be in a larger venue. They’re supporting the release of their 13th full-length, In Times (review forthcoming) on Nuclear Blast, but new material or old, they had the room on their side from the word go. Bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson joked with the crowd between songs, and by the time they got down to playing the title-track from In Times laughingly promised the crowd that it would be the last new song they played. For what it’s worth, I didn’t notice much of a change in reception for recent or older material. Sure, a song like “The Watcher” from 2008’s Vertebrae, with its mega-chorus, or a by-now staple like “Ruun” from the 2006 LP of the same name is bound to get a response, but “Thurisaz Dreaming” and “Building with Fire” sat well alongside those and “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” from 2012’s RIITIIR (review here), and wherever the band headed, the crowd went along. Of course, their stage presentation was air-tight, Kjellson holding down a frontman role flanked on either side by guitarists Ivar Bjørnson and Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal, while keyboardist/vocalist Herbrand Larsen made a case for up-front featuring of his own with stellar command of the clean-sung parts — I saw Enslaved for the first time eight years ago at SXSW, and I’d mark Larsen‘s growth as a vocalist among the foremost catalysts enabling their musical progression in that time; that growth was, I’ll note, already underway for several years by then — and drummer Cato Bekkevold sat swallowed up by his expansive kit surrounding. They came out one at a time to start their set and for the encore, and each time Bekkevold sat down, he disappeared. Good for a laugh, but he also used that whole drumset, and flawlessly. Their encore was “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth” from 2003’s Below the Lights, “Fenris” from 1994’s sophomore outing, Frost, and the title-cut from 2004’s landmark Isa, and when it was over, there was nothing left for the audience to do but leave, having so thoroughly been handed its ass on a platter by the five-piece, whose reach seems only to continue growing with time.
If you want the short version, the show was a win, but what made it even better was seeing old friends throughout the night and catching up, and that was something that continued even as security started shuffling people out of the downstairs lounge. On my way back north on Sunday, it was the memories of good times and good music that seemed to make the trip shorter, both thoroughly appreciated.
Speaking of old friends, this review is dedicated to Loana dP Valencia of Nuclear Blast, alongside whom it has been my complete and utter pleasure to work for the last decade.