On February 11, 2013, the night before Enslaved received their seventh Norwegian Grammy nomination, I had the pleasure of seeing them perform in Seattle at a bar called The Highline, which is rapidly becoming my favorite place in town to hear live metal. Somehow, despite its very small size, it’s booking some really amazing tours. It’s a clean, cozy, comfortable place with cool people working there (Dylan Desmond from Bell Witch was behind the bar this night, and I’m pretty sure I saw his bandmate Arian Guerra helping out, too), and they make some good cocktails.
Enslaved weren’t the only draw for what turned out to be a jam-packed audience. Three bands who had breakout years in 2012 were also along for the ride: Arkansas’s Pallbearer was the direct support, preceded by Ancient VVisdom from my hometown of Austin and Atlanta’s Royal Thunder.
I was somewhat familiar with Ancient VVisdom’s music (having featured them in this post at the end of 2011), but I must be the only metal blogger in creation to have missed Pallbearer’s critically acclaimed 2012 album Sorrow and Extinction, and I think I’ve previously heard a grand total of one song by Royal Thunder. So yeah, I was pretty much there for Enslaved.
Nevertheless, I and my friends got to the Highline early enough to grab places to sit on a raised area that runs down the left side of the floor against the wall. We were so far forward that we were almost — but not quite — on the side of the stage, as you’ll see from the angle of the photos I took. And yes, I’m sorry to tell you that this review, as usual, will include a lot of my amateur concert pics.
The music of Ancient VVisdom isn’t exactly right down the middle of the plate for my musical tastes, which tend to run in heavier, more extreme directions. But there’s something about their somber but catchy folk-influenced music combined with cleanly-voiced Satanic lyrics that I enjoy. I even found myself chanting along,“Hail to thee, Lord Lucifer/I sing praises to thee/and I suffer no longer”, during the band’s rendition of “The Opposition” from A Godlike Inferno.
They’re also interesting to watch — the drummer plays kettle drums standing up throughout the set, one of the guitarists riffs on nothing but acoustic guitar, and the vocalist uses a chain as a musical instrument.
Prosthetic has just released a new Ancient VVisdom album named Deathlike. I’ve decided I need to check it out.
This band opened a lot of eyes with their 2012 debut album on Relapse Records, CVI. Once again, theirs is a style of music that’s pretty far outside my usual listening space, much more in the vein of doomy, bluesy, non-sludgy, Southern-style rock and ballads than metal. The songs include long stretches of very subdued music, punctuated by accelerated rhythms and jangling throw-back riffs, courtesy of guitarist Josh Weaver (who constantly bounces and lurches back and forth so frenetically that I couldn’t get one photo of him in action that wasn’t just a blur).
The real star of this show is vocalist/bassist Mlny Parsonz (the band performed as a 3-piece though I know they were a quartet at one point). Her voice has a rough, husky quality and she delivers quite a variety of sounds, from low, sultry phrasings to blow-the-roof-off wails. She also seems thoroughly invested in the music, almost to the point of being swallowed up by it, off in her own world.
I admit that by the time Royal Thunder was finished, I was really hungry for something heavy as fuck. I got my wish.
My first clue about what was coming was when guys started stacking amps up on both sides of the stage in big towers.
And when the band started playing, I thought the building was going to collapse. I’m afraid I had no idea what songs the band were playing since I haven’t heard but one track from Sorrow and Extinction, but I was pretty well knocked flat by the effect. The low end is massive, sludgy, and fuzzed-out to the point that it jars your fillings. And against that mountainous foundation, Brett Campbell works magic with his spiraling, reverberating, sometimes psychedelic lead guitar work, which is higher-pitched than the background groan and almost clean in its tone.
The music is often quite slow (it is a kind of throw-back doom after all), but when it gets going, it’s like a steamroller. Really pulverizing and crushing, yet elevated by those contrasting guitars and by Campbell’s clean, soaring vocals — what I could hear of them.
It may have been my sideways angle on the stage, but I couldn’t hear Campbell’s vocals distinctly. They came through a little better when I joined the crowd on the floor after meeting a friend outside to hand off a ticket — but by that point the audience was so jammed that there was no way I could get back to my vantage point near the stage until after the set ended.
The loss of my perch and its clear sight-lines during most of this set also explains why I have very few passable photos.
Pallbearer’s music in a live setting has a narcotic, hypnotic quality and a lot of bone-rattling power in addition to some transcendent melodies. No doubt, I’ll be listening to Sorrow and Extinction now.
Recently the Australian band Portal posted a link on their Facebook page to my review of their new album, in which I mentioned that I hadn’t listened to any of their releases before Swarth. A commenter asked how I could be a “music journalist” if that album had been my introduction to the band. That made me smile — because, fuck, I’m no music journalist. I’m a fan with a hobby.
And I have to admit that when I saw the members of Enslaved come out just before their set and have a seat on the stage right in front of me while the last-minute set-up work was being done, I turned into a complete and utter fanboy. I’m afraid I’m unable to think about their performance with much objectivity. To my addled brain, it was if legends had become flesh before my eyes. And when they took the stage, I wanted to give them a standing ovation just for tuning up.
It was a great set. I was struck all over again by how interesting and complex their compositions are, and by how masterfully they blend together changes in mood and emotion, joining magnetic melodies with pitch-black intensity and galvanizing energy.
Obviously, they’ve been at this game a long time (especially long for the two original founding members), and the many years of experience showed in their performances (which were air-tight) and their stage presence (which was charismatic, to a man). I was on the side of the stage closest to Ivar Bjørnson, and he came across like a big friendly bear, his impressive beard bristling red in the tint of the spotlight. Dude can really play some guitar, too.
Grutle Kjellson is a genial frontman, talkative and welcoming between songs but scalding in his distinctive harsh vocals. Also on my side of the stage was drummer Cato Bekkevold, though I was so transfixed by Kjellson and Bjørnson that I’m afraid I didn’t study what he was doing as intently as I might have.
Ice Dale and Herbrand Larsen were on the far side, and I didn’t get many good views of them (except when Isdal very briefly traded places with Bjørnson). Because of my location, his guitar performances came across more submerged in the mix than would have been ideal. I really want to know how that dude stays in such great shape.
Larsen’s clean vocals were in great shape, too. One of the real joys of the set was the vocal variety, with Larsen, Kjellson, and Bjørnson all contributing, and all of them so different from each other.
Nor surprisingly, the set list was heavy with songs from 2012’s Riitiir — and they played my favorites, “Roots of the Mountain” and “Thoughts Like Hammers”, in addition to the title track and “Materal”. But the set also included tracks from earlier albums such as “Ethica Odini”, “The Watcher”, “Ruun”, and “Convoys to Nothingness”. I don’t have all their songs committed to memory, but I’m also pretty sure they even played a song from their 1993 EP Hordanes Land.
In short, I loved every minute of Enslaved, and I left the venue with a huge fuckin’ smile on my face.
Even my camera got really excited during the set. I think it had an orgasm just as I took this next pic.
And in this one, my camera caught Grutle having an out-of-body experience.