Enslaved: Spring Rites European Tour at the Underworld, Camden, London; March 21st, 2013

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A cold wind blew across Camden, as a long queue of fans, newcomers and hipsters lined up outside the Underworld venue on Thursday night. While not unheard of for the venue to accommodate large crowds, this was however an issue for the night, as the rising popularity of Winterfylleth (added to the pre-existing, mainstream notoriety of Enslaved) made for an audience atmosphere akin to a sardine tin effect for much of the show, later on.

Following a change in the gig’s line up with the departure of Dutch metalcore act Magnacult, Reading-based Ancient Ascendant were first on the bill, when they came up just fifteen minutes after the Underworld opened its doors that night. The group began with the entirety of their latest EP release “Into The Dark”. It reflected the record’s own linear growth from clean, technically played guitar riffs (likely an influence from the modern trend of “technical” death metal) with opening track ‘The Veil‘, onwards to the sudden change in atmosphere by ‘Under Ancient Stone‘; a song which sounds as if it would sit perfectly well in fellow supporting act Winterfylleth’s own discography as any other current “English heritage black metal” band’s material. This isn’t to dismiss Ancient Ascendant’s skills at all, in that by the time they reach this particular song, the better of their musical abilities come to play, as a raw energy finally takes place for the remainder of their set and the band leave the previously clinical route behind for one of emotion and intensely strung melodies.
    It’s only fitting that they also chose this point to perform a cover of Bathory’s ‘Flash of the Silver Hammer‘.

Yet in contrast to the inclusive mood for Ancient Ascendant, the mood for the eagerly awaited Winterfylleth changed as many people were unable to even see the band play from their own respective releases. Likely due to the fact of “atmospheric black metal” (or as some would argue, “post-black metal”) music finding unexpected audiences amoung the hipster crowd, this meant that several people were blocked from the balconies of the venue, as well as the (immense enough) pit before the stage itself. Catching even a glimpse in person of frontman Chris Naughton howling along ‘The Fields of Reckoning‘, ‘The Threnody of Triumph‘ and relatively controversial track ‘Defending the Realm‘ was largely impossible, owing to this audience’s thick entrapment of each potential viewing spot.

Mercifully, this did change soon before the headliners of the evening, Enslaved, finally came onstage to an excited crowd. Chanting in tune with recorded lines of old Norse, lead singer and bassist Grutle Kjellson gave a welcoming flourish to everyone who came to watch the band in London, which he openly declared to be Enslaved’s “second home”. The combination of quasi-rituals and outright friendliness helped set the mood for what was to be a thoroughly fun, engaged performance to come from the band, particularly in starting with the title track of their latest effort, ‘Riitir‘. Showcasing the greater progressive (rock) side of their sound, the song’s dark funk lines helped offer newcomers a prime example of the band’s current stage of their musical evolution.  
    With the ongoing success of their recent albums in the public eye, not of least recent awards in the wider music scene of their native Norway, Enslaved didn’t exactly let this success get to their heads at the Underworld. In between a slew of good-humoured banter between themselves and the crowd, Kjellson and co-founder Ivar Bjørnson exchanged jokes and gleeful remarks from the stage, while occasionally expressing their fondness of British culture (namely Welsh jokes, and the historical comedy “Blackadder”). For those who came along to watch the band for the first time, this lent to a very fun, laid back atmosphere through the final hours of the show. Add to the fact that the first half of the setlist featured recent songs from their back catalogue, such as ‘Ruun‘, ‘The Watcher‘ and ‘Ethica Odini‘, and it was clear that Enslaved chose to be as accessible as possible to potential newcomers to their fanbase.
    When bands rise to gain more mainstream recognition and acclaim, it’s not unheard of for them to completely ignore their older material in favour of more “acceptable” sounds. Yet in the case for Enslaved, tonight was declared a special occasion for the group based on their return to London. Reiterating the claim that the city was their “second home”, Kjellson announced that he and his cohorts would reach far back into their discography to play a song from one of their first demos – ‘Allffa∂r O∂inn‘. It was a reminder that, for Grutle and Ivar (if not their newer bandmates), Enslaved was such an involved part of their lives that it would have been unfair to brush over their own musical beginnings. Even more so than to ignore their own influences, as this raw, intense style was then used to help close the show with Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song‘.

         Soon, the well known track ‘Isa‘ was aired out to keep not just the crowd at the Underworld – but also the likes of Winterfylleth and Ancient Ascendant involved with the good spirits of the hour, with the instruction to raise up their arms for the chorus of the song. 
    
If there was one true negative, however, it came not from either of the bands that played but – yet again – the audience themselves. Namely, younger members of the crowd who stood out from seasoned concertgoers and metalheads in their naive eagerness to slamdance throughout Enslaved’s entire setlist that night. Bizarreness aside, since atmospheric black metal mixed with Pink Floyd riffs is hardly ideal for stereotypical “nu metal” behaviour, it also made for an immense lack of consideration and knowledge about what was actually acceptable in the pit section at most metal shows.

 

Photo taken by Susanne “Sinmara” Erbida, 2013

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