By Avinash Mittur
February 8th 2013, Troubadour, Los Angeles, CA: For the past few weeks Norway’s most technically accomplished black metal act, Enslaved, have been hopping their way around North America with what can only be described as an oddball line up, and last Friday they paid a visit to the Troubadour in West Hollywood. This “Winter Rite 2013″ tour has featured truly an eclectic mix of bands: the dark and haunting rock of Ancient VVisdom, Royal Thunder’s soulful blues rock, Pallbearer’s unrelentingly heavy doom metal and of course, Enslaved, who have managed to turn heads for decades with their brazenly progressive black metal. For fans into a wide variety of styles of heavy music, this night could have potentially been amazing. For others there to see only one band, it might have been extremely scattershot. Enslaved fans were guaranteed a great time however. Despite this utterly random lineup, Enslaved’s outstanding set was enough to justify spending this freezing Friday night at the Troubadour.
Sadly, due to the slow line to enter the venue and my interview with Joseph from Pallbearer, I was forced to miss Ancient VVisdom‘s set. I will give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they gave the audience a fine performance. The bill was all over the place with or without them regardless, so Ancient VVisdom’s presence at the show was most likely a benefit to the show as a whole.
I did however managed to catch all of Royal Thunder‘s set. Though the band displays a psychedelic, heavy blues rock sound, they’ve found themselves playing metal shows both times I’ve seen them. This time, guitarist Josh Coleman appeared to be absent from the band. The last time I saw the band, it was at a Scion A/V showcase event where they opened for Exhumed- their performance was strong, but they were on a bill that they simply didn’t fit on. This time however, Royal Thunder were contributing to an already very random bill and seemed to have enjoyed a much warmer reception than the last time around. As before Mlny’s towering vocal performance was the highlight of the set. The lady can wail like no other, and hearing her sing is nothing less than awesome. However, Josh’s absence dulled some of the guitar power in the band- his Les Paul-fueled riffing was sorely missed and made the songs markedly less heavy than their album counterparts. That being said, Royal Thunder’s set was still a very good one, and any fan of classic rock and early bluesy heavy metal would do best to pick up their album CVI and see them live if they get the chance.
Little Rock, AR’s Pallbearer was the next band to take the tiny stage. Out of the bands I saw, these guys were easily the most divisive when it came to their music. Their long, drawn out and very slow songs are certainly an acquired taste. For those who do have a thing for Pallbearer though, this performance was a great one. Brett Campbell and Devin Holt produced a true wall of noise with their guitars- fans like myself who love the band’s mammoth riffing and their meaty harmonies were elated, other attendees were more than likely pretty bored. Brett’s vocals were also relatively inaudible, which was truly unfortunate given that he’s one of the more melodic vocalists in the doom metal genre. The band performed their songs loudly and perfectly- for a doom metal band in Pallbearer’s style, that’s really all a fan could ask for when it comes to the performance.
Last up was Enslaved, the act that most of the sold out crowd had obviously come to see. To say they tore the roof off the Troubadour would be a gross understatement. Bassist and lead growler Grutle Kjellson was a frontman full of charisma and energy, constantly answering fans’ crazy cheers and wearing a huge smile on his face for the whole set. Guitarist Ice Dale was easily the most hyper member of Enslaved as he would stroll back and forth across the stage frequently, and have fun with Grutle and keyboardist Herbrand Larsen when he got near them. The energy and passion displayed by Grutle and Ice Dale really made the whole set a true treat for the eyes; these dudes were total badasses and they knew it. Poor Ivar Bjornson ran into guitar issues throughout the first half of the set however. Whether this was due to those problems or not, Ivar remained planted in his spot during the show- luckily the activity and enthusiasm from Grutle and Ice Dale more than made up for it. It’s also worth noting that the sound was stellar for the entire set- Ice Dale and Ivar’s breaks and melodies were audibly distinct from one another and Grutle and Herbrand’s vocals were always clear.
Praise has to be given to Enslaved for the way they structured their set. The band opted to play their most recent material first, and gradually worked backwards through their history while throwing in a song from their newest record, RIITIIR, here and there. It made for a set that made the crowd go crazier and crazier as time went on, even though the songs were all of uniformly great quality. Even the drum solo was mercifully brief, and seemed more intended to get the audience going into a “hey, hey, hey!” chant rather than suck time. Out of the new songs played, ‘Roots of the Mountain’ and ‘Thoughts Like Hammers’ easily drew the biggest cheers. ‘Roots of the Mountain’ especially saw some fantastic singing from Herbrand, who gave an ace performance for the full hour and fifty minutes. The most fun came when Enslaved decided to bust out one of their oldest songs, ‘Alfadr Odiin’ however. This old school black metal track sent the crowd into a frenzy (and my head into a frighteningly high rate of oscillation)- listening to the terribly recorded studio version at home after the show was a disappointing experience compared to the awesome rendition I heard live, even if the original is supposedly more “kvlt” or whatever the kids say these days.
Without a doubt, the most intriguing aspect of Enslaved’s set had to have been their cover of ‘Immigrant Song’. It takes some serious cojones to cover Led Zeppelin, and for the most part the band’s take on the song was a killer one. Given the viking subject matter, it was an even better fit for the show as a whole. I wasn’t entirely convinced when it came to the song’s drawn out and extended ending, but hearing Led Zeppelin given a black metal makeover was surprisingly cool. After what might be the shortest encore break I’ve ever seen, the band finished off their show with a pair of fan-favorites, ‘Isa’ and ‘Fenris’. They capped off a marathon set that only seemed to get better and better as the night went on.
Enslaved Set List:
3. The Watcher
4. Thoughts Like Hammers
5. Ethica Odini
6. Roots of the Mountain
8. Convoys to Nothingness
9. As Fire Swept Clean the Earth
10. Allfadr Odiin
11. Immigrant Song
As lame as this may sound, I came to this show completely unknown to Enslaved’s music. I wanted to have a fresh impression of the band as a live unit without any sort of bias as a fan or a non-fan, and the result was that I was floored (after buying a copy of RIITIIR at the merch booth and listening to it at home, said flooring doubled in intensity). This set wasn’t merely how a band makes its fans happy, this was also an exercise in how to win over the first time listener and make them have an amazing time. Yes, the bill was all over the place and chances are most folks only enjoyed one or two of the bands. If one of those bands was Enslaved, then this was nothing short of one hell of a show. Great sound, a smart set list and a truly outstanding performance all added up to a show I won’t be forgetting any time soon.