Live : ENSLAVED with VALHALL at Parkteateret

Enslaved proved their worth at the concert at the venue Parkteateret in Oslo on Thursday September 30th. This concert was only their fourth on their Axioma Ethica Odini world tour and they seemed eager to blow minds. They have been around for almost twenty years and may have put on some years, but it doesn’t show—it’s inspiring to see these legends give it their best and deliver a set packed full of incendiary black metal.

The Parkteateret club is a small venue in Grünerløkka—a hip part of  Oslo. It was built as the neighbourhood cinema and still looks the part; the floor leans towards the stage, which turns the club into an intimate amphitheatre. The place was almost packed, but it was still no more than about 200 people getting ready to see Enslaved explode on the stage. The crowd was a great indication on the band’s impressive metal sound. Goth divas, hardcore punks, rock chix, black metal purists and the guy next door all blended together in front of the stage, waiting to be blown away.

However, Valhall was their support band and I was eager to see them, because a friend of mine had read that the band’s drummer was the legendary Fenriz, founder of Darkthrone! That turned out to be just the first hoax of the set, since Fenriz hadn’t played with the band since they recorded a demo in 1987! So, what was this band all about? It all began as a sloppy rehearsal with a vocalist that mumbled, songs that were substandard stoner rock, with titles as “Stoner” and “Easy Rider” and, finally, close to no interaction on stage or with their audience. Very disappointing.

After this dismal set, it could only get better, and better it surely would get. Enslaved went on stage one by one and received welcoming greetings from the audience. They didn’t waste any time and opened with the powerful combo Ethica Odini and Raidho. The sound was loud, tight and the band was at their peak, but Grutle Kjellson wasn’t pleased. The crowd felt limp and passive and he, giant frontman as he is, commandeered the crowd onto the battlefield by comparing the audience to the crowd at a concert with Norwegian Henning Kvitnes. Soon the crowd had fired up and a pleased Kjellson led the band through songs from not only recent releases as Vertebrae, Ruun and Isa, but also older gems from Monumension and Blodhevn. Even though these songs are from quite different eras of the band’s history, they managed to keep their sound very consistent. Although they sometimes raged into pure blastbeating darkness, the overall sound was a mesmerising psychedelic stew of progressive and traditional metal.

I’ve read that Enslaved‘s creative songwriting skills is a combination of democracy and dictatorship, and this was also evident in the way the band interacted on stage. While there’s no doubt that Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle Kjellson is the definitive frontman in the band, neither member is too afraid of the spotlight. Cato Bekkevold was almost completely hidden behind the drum set, but he was still very visible in the sound, grounding the band with his incredible beats. Lead guitarist Ice Dale showed off his technical flair both left and right of the stage and helped Grutle in his quest of firing up the audience. Herbrand Larsen delivered tasty keyboard licks throughout the concert, but more importantly his clean vocals supplied Enslaved with a counterpart to Grutles demonic roar. Ivar Bjørnson was the quiet conductor on the side of the stage: setting up riffs, themes, and walls of blackened guitars. In the middle of this cacophony, Grutle Kjellson roared, screamed, laughed, threatened and played bass like a man possessed. It’s always great to see frontmen balance good-humoured banter with rabid screams, all the while summoning Odin with fierce musicianship. Incredible!

I felt ripped through catharsis when I exited the club after the gig—the band’s music both fueled and bled me at the same time. The fusion of Enslaved‘s black metal roots with the recent year’s twist of progressive metal is a mind-expanding experience in concert. The band is on tour now and will hit the states in November. If you want to see the great black hope of metal in 2010, go see them!

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