Enslaved @ Union Scene, Drammen

Torsdag 21.oktober 2021

Enslaved are on the road with their «Big Band Tour 2021» featuring Shaman Elephant, in support of their recently released «Caravans to the Outer Worlds» EP, and so we took a trip down to Union Scene at Drammen to take part in the Viking rituals.

Enslaved are fearless in their musical direction and tonight in their stage presentation.  They appeared as a nine-piece big band, taking on the manpower of Shaman Elephant, who had also provided support with a brief set beforehand.

The only thing that was missing were the spitting braziers standing around the auditorium, because it would have been well done by torch light, by fire.  In the darkened space, they immediately conjured atmosphere with strange ambient sounds, long notes, neither wails nor strings, the sound spilling out of the dark into the audience. Then the lights come up on the backline, two drum kits and two keyboards, the men standing frozen like effigies, following by the five-piece front line, greeted by brief, affectionate cheers from the audience.  A few waves from the band, but otherwise just the sounds, the rumbling, the howling.

They started with «Ruun II», a pair of acoustic guitars used almost like percussion, leading the rhythm of the piece, while Ivar Bjørnson on electric guitar gradually added more and more edge.  The piece continued to build, still just instrumental, no drums, slowly working its spell on the crowd.  When the drums did come in, they were followed by the vocals from front man and bass player Grutle Kjellson, almost a chant, low, rich and powerful.  When the song came to an end, the crowd were enchanted.

There was no talking after the song, no introduction, no greeting, just more ambient noise, this time more like the wind, a thinner sound, but underpinned by a deep rumbling, like distant machinery or the shifting of the earth.  And this was how it continued from piece to piece.  It was apparent then, if not before, that this was not an ordinary concert. Rather, it is a journey or a ritual, full of allusion, atmosphere and mythic force.

The big band sound worked well for this. The second number, «Bounded by Allegiance» showed this, as much as any other piece they played tonight, the two bass guitars and the two drumkits making a huge sound but also creating more dynamic possibilities. «Sequence» was next, which typical of many of tonight’s pieces, is made up of a number of different musical ideas and motifs. This episodic musical style is something normally associated with progressive rock, like Porcupine Tree or Marillion.  Enslaved are clearly very comfortable with this now, and rightly have been labelled as «progressive», and they pulled it off with ease in this live context, even with the larger band.  This also gave lead guitarist Arve «Ice Dale» Isdal his first opportunity for a stand-out solo.

«Caravans to the Outer Worlds» also benefited from the extra musicians on stage.  This is a dark, relentless piece, fast, full of complex drumming from Iver Sandøy. He had to deploy all this talents in this piece, with three different styles of playing, from the shuffle beat at the start, through the black metal panic of the central passages, to the more open, musical playing of the final chanting sections, even singing lead vocals while playing some of the more challenging patterns of the evening. This new piece got a big cheer from the audience – they were obviously delighted to have a chance to hear the new music live, and in a kind of context.

One of the more remarkable aspects of the performance was how, apart from two tracks off «Caravans….», each piece was from a different album.  It was as if the band had tried to find a narrative thread running through their own music, like Pictures in an Exhibition by Mussorgsky. It was something like the evocation of a way of life, glimpses of the past, as in the lyrics of «Slaget i Skogen Bortenfor» or «Havenless» with its Holstian martial driving rhythm, the sound of oars beating the water, the band standing with their arms out-stretched, singing in unison, only Isdal keeping the music going.

Håkon Vinje’s keyboard had provided much of the atmosphere throughout the evening, creating the ambient sound and brisk string arpeggios, and though he didn’t get as many vocal opportunities as he often does, he had a lead vocal on the Röyksopp cover «What Else Is There?», before leading the music on the last number, «Hiindsiight», supported by Isdal’s humming, wailing guitar, the notes drawn out as if by a bow.

Then came the haunting ensemble vocals –
«Hindsight into the present
The twos of time in harmony
The bear dreaming while
Hunting prey-flesh while dreaming…
We will be again..

The moment had passed, the trance was broken, and this brief visitation, this performance of a piece of Viking race memory, was concluded.  All there was to do was to cheer, to applaud the confidence – and the magic. 6/6

Tekst: Alex Maines
Foto: Anne-Marie Forker