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Enslaved @ USF Verftet, Bergen

We at NRM took a little trip to Bergen to see – no, to experience «Heimhug», the launch event for Enslaved’s new record, «Heimdal».

Friday, 3 March 2023

We at NRM took a little trip to Bergen to see – no, to experience «Heimhug», the launch event for Enslaved’s new record, «Heimdal», which consisted of a Q&A, film screenings of «The Otherworldly Big Band Experience» and cellist Jo Quail’s «The Cartographer Live at Roadburn 2022», a meet-and-greet with the band, an exhibition of photos related to the album, and of course the release concert. And, yes, a black lager beer, «Heimhug», not so bitter with distinct malt notes… but I digress.

First, we stopped by for the Q&A with Grutle Kjellson (vox, bass) and Ivar Bjørnson (songwriter, guitarist), required for those who want to understand the background to the album. They spoke as one would expect – clear, sophisticated, funny, fascinating and fascinated in equal measure. They talked about Norse history, Heimdal’s symbolism in myth and their work from the very beginning with «Yggdrasill» and its role as a symbol for mass communication. This story behind the music was on the walls too, with photos taken by Kjellson of the ancient landscape near Etne next to the album’s haunting, ambiguous cover image.

But interesting as it was, it wasn’t the main thing. No, the main thing was the music.

«Are there any foreigners here?» asked Kjellson after the first number, «Jettegryta» from the 2020 release «Utgard». «Not that that’s a problem – just, should I speak in Norwegian? [cheers] English? [the undersigned cheered] Welsh?» Whatever it was Kjellson then said in Welsh, he settled on English for the benefit of the fans who had travelled from outside Norway and the undersigned. So, in keeping with his choice, når man er på Heimhug’n, vel….

It was to be an intense and warm set, cutting across the history of the band, across their own journey through Norse time and a kind of musical time laid out by their growth as musicians. We would also be treated to some very special guests.  «Jettegryta» had eased the band in nicely and got the crowd into the rhythm of the show, and also gave Arve Isdal his first of several high-energy guitar solos, an essential part of the Enslaved live experience. Next came «Homebound» from the same album, which gave the band time to warm up their trademark duet and ensemble vocals, with Iver Sandøy (drums) and Håkon Vinje (keys) leading or joining Kjellson from time to time throughout the show, when he wasn’t growling like a man channelling ancient viking spirits. Sandøy’s ability to sing vocals while playing complex patterns always impresses. Pausing for breath after «Ruun» («Ruun», 2006), Kjellson explained that the concert was to support the release of the «Heimdal» album, and then mischievously asked «Would you like to hear a song from the Heimdal album?» The response was a huge cheer, and band played «Caravans to the Outer Worlds», already well-known from the 2021 EP. We would hear five tracks out of seven, a decent offering for sure. Before we heard another, they took us back to the days of «Yggdrasill» for «Allfadr Odinn», the simplest piece in the set, but a huge fan favourite and with a massive impact on the atmosphere in the crowd, who were headbanging and raising their arms.

The first half of the two-part set was rounded off by the complex piece «Kingdom» from the new record. With its driving rhythm and Ivar Bjørnson’s howling, weaving guitar lines, this ought to become a staple for the band. No doubt the band have rehearsed, but this tricky piece already sounded extremely polished. Bjørnson, though the band’s main songwriter, seems happy enough for Kjellson and Isdal to steal the limelight, but as on this piece, he played well throughout, with an excellent solo on «Allfadr Odinn» as well as his usual articulate and edgy guitar parts.

After a fifteen minute break, which Kjellson advised us to use to look at the merch stand, drink more Heimhug beer, and «be kind to each other, or something», we arrived at the beginning of the cycle, which is also the end of the cycle, fittingly – the three-part piece «Heimdal».  The band were joined by Einar Selvik (vox, horn) and Eilif Gundersen (birchwood lur, bronze lur) from Warduna, the resounding bellow of the birchwood lur appropriately summoning the crowd back for part two of the set. Cellist Jo Quail, who had given an excellent, vital and varied performance as support, came on for «Congelia» and «Forest Dweller» from the new record, adding tense percussive patterns and aching lyrical melodies, and even playing a duet with Bjørnson’s guitar. The reception for «Allfadr Odinn» had shown that there were plenty of hard-core fans attending, so no disappointment to hear «The River’s Mouth» («E», 2017) and «The Dead Stare» («Below the Lights», 2003), accompanied by Lindy-Fay Hella (vox) and Inge Joakim Rypdal (guitar), who each added visceral vocal and guitar performances, Hella drifting around behind her mic, shouting and wailing like a banshee when not singing, while Rypdal got similar sounds out of his guitar, whether bending back in a frantic solo or crouched over his effects. The band obviously enjoyed these two pieces and the crowd agreed. The concert closed with the atmospheric «Sequence» from «Utgard», with Jonas Særsten from Shamen Elephant standing next to Vinje at the keyboards, while he laid down soundscapes and that captivating descending motif with typical delicacy. Then, at last, the essential «Havenless». Kjellson called the guest artists, «brothers and sisters» one and all, back to the stage to form a choir for the chant to close the ritual, their arms raised. When the final yell died away it was immediately taken up and returned as a massive cheer from the crowd.  It had been outstanding, a near flawless performance of considerable technical difficulty, played with as much heart as skill and with a sensitivity to the tone of the music, by turns raw and lyrical. Notwithstanding Kjellson’s charismatic engagement with the audience and the kaleidoscopic forest visuals, the fact is that, with Enslaved, the music speaks for itself. 5/6 (We have interviewed Enslaved for the next issue – subscribe here!)

Text: Alex Maines
Photography: Anne-Marie Forker