The 24th of November truly was Black Friday at the Islington Assembly Hall. However, whereas for most of the country this day symbolises a shopping-fuelled celebration of consumerism, it took a different meaning at this beautiful London venue as progressive black metal veterans Enslaved brought their tour in support of their 14th album, titled simply E.
The night’s proceedings were opened by Bristol act Svalbard, who impressed the still gathering crowds. Svalbard showcased the best of what the modern black metal scene has to offer, intertwining the traditional frenzy of tremolo riffs and blast beats with epic passages of shoegaze-y melodies and fierce punk-infused verses. Constantly exchanging guitar melodies and shrieks were the talented duo of Serena Cherry and Liam Phelan, and drummer Mark Lilley proved an absolute powerhouse with his intricate drum lines propelling the music forwards.
Second was another English act, the duo Darkher fronted by wife and husband Jayn and Martin Wissenberg. Their music is an atmospheric and sensual style of gothic rock, the songs building up slowly until they explode in a heavy breakdown of pounding drums and wailing guitars. Jayn’s beautiful voice can reach haunting heights and infused the music with even more mystery, while Martin’s violin bow extracted deeply dark backgrounds from his guitar.
Introduced by the rural Norse soundscape that opens their new album, Enslaved entered into the almost 11-minute epic ‘Storm Son’. The song is a great example of their varied approach, opening with a soft acoustic passage, transitioning into a groovy post-metal verse and a prog-psychedelia fuelled chorus, only to explode into pure black metal frenzy in its second part. Songs from their new album were very well received, and stood proudly next to the classics of their extensive discography – lead single ‘The River’s Mouth’ hits particularly hard with its killer guitar harmonies and double kick drums.
The guitar trio at the front emanate great energy from the stage, furiously tremolo-picking as one and banging their long Viking hairs in unison. Tonight also saw the London debut of the band’s new keyboard player and clean singer Håkon Vinje who capably filled the large shoes of his predecessor. His keyboard talents shone particularly in the psychedelic riffage of the new album cut ‘Sacred Horse’, but his cleans could get a little lost under the instrumental wall of sound.
The setlist provides a good overview of Enslaved’s rich history, and they didn’t shy away from playing many of their notably long songs. The several 10+ minute cuts by no means dragged on – a particular highlight was ‘Vetrarnótt’ (Winternight) from their 1994 debut Vikingligr Veldi. During the encore, we were treated to a drum solo which made clear that drummer Cato Bekkevold could have gone on playing with the same intensity for many more hours. The evening was closed by ‘Allfǫðr Oðinn’ and fan favourite ‘Isa’, and the Norse quintet left the stage under the applause of the Islington crowd.
Tonight was a fantastic showcase of how varied black metal can be, both by veterans Enslaved and new hopes Svalbard and Darkher. In a scene that to the outside world is known only as a caricature of its stereotypes, bands like them continue to push the limits of the genre and achieve new heights by intertwining the bleak and the beautiful.
Roots of the Mountain
Return to Yggdrasil
The River’s Mouth
Convoys to Nothingness
One Thousand Years of Rain