Enslaved + Darkher + Svalbard
@ Islington Assembly Hall, London
November 24, 2017
Review by Torbjørn ‘Toby’ Jørsad
Photography by Thomas James Henry Saunders
Norwegian progressive black metallers ENSLAVED returned to London in November, in support of their newest opus E. With support from atmospheric gothic/black metal duo DARKHER and Bristol black metallers SVALBARD, fans eagerly defied the cold weather and made their way to the battlefield of the night, the Islington Assembly Hall. As the doors opened a little late, it was a nice contrast to enter the warm, grandiose assembly hall, greeted with Black Sabbath’s Masters of Reality playing over the PA.
Not long passes before the night’s first band enters, atmospheric/post-black metal act Svalbard. Taking their name from a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, the four-piece from Bristol proved themselves to be a prime example of what proper, modern black metal can achieve. Taking the raw, gritty sound from the 90s and wrapping it with shoegaze elements and post-metal influences, topped with dual vocals, the band impressed those dedicated few who showed up early.
Personally, their set was the highlight of the night. The constant shifting in structures, going from furious blastbeasts and aggressive tremolo riffs to melancholic and atmospheric breakdowns were highly entertaining, a notion I believe I shared with most who witnessed their set.
Their music nicely engulfs the venue and sounds quite massive, yet they manage exactly what many don’t – translating that hypnotizing and mind gazing atmospheric sound that makes their sub-genre of extreme metal so interesting onto the stage. Vocalists and guitarists Liam Phelan and Serena Cherry complement each other nicely, each adding their own touch to the music. Drummer Mark Lilley performs his duty in the back with meticulous precision, and bassist Adam Parrish is no different.
Cherry recalls seeing Enslaved in Bergen, Norway in 2006, and expresses her gratitude for having the opportunity to support them now, 11 years later. Despite a relatively low turnout, there is no denying that Svalbard delivered a hard hitting set, and they’re definitely a band to keep on the radar.
Up next were Darkher, a band consisting of wife and husband Jayn and Martin Wissenberg. They describe their music as “ghostly transmissions that sound like they were delivered by lost souls in the dead of night”, which I won’t dispute. Their sound is very balanced, with elements of doom mixed with soothing melancholic and atmospheric overtones.
Jayn’s vocals are the defining essence of the band (besides her extremely long, beautiful hair), nicely accompanied by her husbands slow and muddy guitar parts, at times played with a violin bow. Crowd interaction is kept to a minimum and the trio (they had a session drummer) smoothly transitions from one piece to another.
However, they didn’t seem to be all that well received by the audience that night, and hurriedly leave the stage after their 40 minutes in the spotlight are over.
There’s a nice buzz going in the now packed venue, culminating in massive cheers as the light’s go out, signaling the time is nigh for Norwegian Enslaved. Having recently released their 14th full-length album E, and toured the UK supporting Opeth, the London date was their first show as a headliner in the UK this year. Each member are greeted by the crowd as they enter the stage one by one, founding member and iconic guitarist Ivar Bjørnson perhaps a little more than the others.
Tearing into “Storm Son”, the 11-minute epic opening track to E, there is no doubt who people came out to see. Enslaved owns the audience from start to finish, with the all so charismatic bassist and vocalist Grutle Kjellson proving himself to be a greatly entertaining frontman. Lead guitarist Arve Isdal is a constant discharge of energy, and newest member Håkon Vinje does a fantastic job with keys and clean vocals.
The setlist spanned the band’s rich career, from their early beginnings as a viking themed black metal band, to their later more progressive style. “Return to Yggdrasil” is introduced as a song about “not being an asshole” as, ironically enough, the distinct stench of marijuana engulfs my immediate surroundings in the crowd.
The guys on stage are clearly enjoying themselves, while putting on quite an entertaining stage show. Music-wise, there are no complaints, and it’s nothing less than impressive how the band manages to keep several 10+ minute long tracks interesting in a live setting. Throughout their one and a half hour on stage, there is a constant sea of heads nodding along in unison to their mesmerizing rhythms and intricate melodies.
“Do you want something from the ugly 90s… when things happened?” Kjellson asks, cheekily referencing the church burnings, murders and other infamous acts tied to the first wave of Norwegian black metal. “We didn’t do any of that,” he assures us, garnering both laughs and cheers.
“Sacred Horse”, delivered with vigorous aggression and the menacing, cold touch only a Scandinavian band can conjure, becomes the last song of their regular set. After a few minutes of silence, drummer Cato Bekkevold returns to massive cheers, tearing into a rather impressive drum solo. The rest of the band eventually enters, and with “Allfǫðr Oðinn” and “Isa”, we are left to our own, processing the musical heathen ritual we just witnessed.
1. Storm Son
2. Roots of the Mountain
3. Return to Yggdrasil
4. The River’s Mouth
5. Convoys to Nothingness
7. One Thousand Years of Rain
8. Sacred Horse
9. Drum Solo
10. Allfǫðr Oðinn