(An NCS fan who we’ll call Barbarian Mike turned in this guest review of the presentation of DECIBEL Magazine’s 2018 tour in Seattle, Washington, on March 6, 2018.)
Whether you consider yourself a fan or not, it’s impossible to deny the status and reverence Enslaved has earned within the community of heavy music. Over a span of 27-years and 14 studio albums – barring live-show DVD’s, splits, and demos – it’s hard to imagine any band as capable as this one in maintaining a passionate fan base and consistently sold-out live performances.
In spite of this success, Enslaved are a band who don’t rest on their laurels, or coast on their hits of yesteryear. In fact, they appear to be continually invigorated by the challenge of creating something new, to pursue new ideas and sounds. It only makes sense that they would headline one of the bigger tours within heavy music – the DECIBEL Magazine 2018 Tour. Needless to say, I was excited to attend the event at Seattle’s own El Corazon.
Make no mistake – I am a big fan of Enslaved – but how the fuck could I pass up seeing Wolves in the Throne Room, Myrkur, and Khemmis sharing the stage as well?
The Denver natives, Khemmis, took the stage as the first act and they crushed. I’ve been a fan since I stumbled upon a YouTube stream of their 2015 debut Absolution. While it wasn’t a perfect release, it displayed the promise of a band who would later refine their sound with their sophomore effort Hunted.
For those who enjoy the expansive, wall-of-sound sensibilities of Pallbearer, but desire something a little faster, heavier, and with more groove to it, Khemmis are a band you’ll want to hear. I digress, but I’d also feel silly not mentioning that drummer Zach Coleman is the head brewer of Denver-based TRVE Brewing Company. Fuck yes to beer and metal.
Did I mention they crushed? Those fortunate enough to arrive on time witnessed an absolutely back-breaking assault of punchy, up-tempo doom-rock. Khemmis played a mix of music from both of their albums, but surprised the crowd with a single called “Isolation” off their new album, which they plan to release through 20 Buck Spin in the summer of 2018. But the heavy, groove-laden mood of the room changed as soon as Khemmis performed their last song and the next act took to the stage.
I walked into this show with little exposure to the Danish artist Myrkur. In fact, I had only heard snippets of her music via Bandcamp and I knew that Kristoffer Rygg of Ulver fame produced her album M. Aside from those details, I was entering her performance blind.
She can be best described as a hodge-podge of Nordic folk music mixed with a smattering of black metal instrumentation, accompanied by trancelike ambient soundscapes thrown into the mix. I admit that I regret not diving into her music sooner because she put on a hell of a show.
There was quite a lot of smoke on stage, so it was difficult to get clear pictures, but the band members stepped on stage hooded, with their faces painted with blackened ash. It was as if I had become a witness to some long-lost pagan ritual. Myrkur’s vocals could be ethereal and mystical in one moment and in another she could be shrieking, like a banshee in the darkest woods. Her haunting voice was the perfect complement to the furious and Ulver-esque atmospheric created by some solid guitar work.
Wolves in the Throne Room
For those of you who have attended a Wolves in the Throne Room performance, you’ll understand that it’s an experience unlike anything other. These Washington natives know how to put on one hell of a fucking show.
The lights dimmed as smoke billowed throughout the venue. The eerie sound of dripping water echoed for moments before the sound of waves crashing against rock blasted over the PA. Soon to follow was the smell of burning sage. Suddenly, someone stepped on stage and began to blow puffs of smoke into the audience, and the atmosphere of the room immediately changed. The smell triggered thoughts of being in the woods, standing beneath a night sky blanketed by stars, with the surroundings lit by the soft flicker of firelight. I felt something old, something primal, stirring within me and I was absolutely enthralled.
That eeriness was quickly shattered by the fury that Wolves in the Throne Room brought to the evening by opening with the first track of their newest album, Thrice Woven. The Weaver brothers shrieked, trading vocal duties as smoke spewed, the drums beat mercilessly upon the audience, and we responded in kind by thrashing, as if taking part in some kind of ritual.
Everything about Wolves in the Throne Room’s performance felt like a deliberate attempt to invoke a sense of time and place where man lived on the land and revered it; a time when ancient gods and spirits ruled our imaginations. While I have immensely enjoyed their studio releases, I truly believe they are musicians that one must behold in person to truly appreciate their music.
Enslaved didn’t disappoint. “Storm Son”, the first track of their most recent album (simply named E), was like a grenade tossed into the crowd; the audience erupted in shouts and a swirling of bodies as bassist and vocalist Grutle Kjellson incited the onslaught, throwing his hands and signaling for chaos as he looked about with devilish intent. He signaled for the fans to join him in the chorus. I squeezed my way in as close to the stage as possible, in spite of the mass of people moshing about.
From the blackened Viking metal of 1994’s Vikingligr veldi to 2012’s prog epic Riitiir, Enslaved played a nice mixture of songs from their discography, even taking time to acknowledge that their most recent addition to the band, keyboardist and clean vocalist Håkon Vinje, is younger than the band itself.
They looked like they were having a blast, guitarist and vocalist Ivar Bjørnson and Grutle sharing duties of bantering with the crowd while simultaneously poking fun at one another. These lighter moments were quickly swept away as Enslaved lulled the audience into a trance with dreamlike keyboards and clean guitar picking before lunging, teeth bared, ready to tear out our throats.
As a long-time fan of most of these bands – and a newly converted fan of Myrkur – I feel fortunate to have witnessed performances from musicians who exude so much passion and love for their craft that it shows in their work. I hate getting schmaltzy, but it’s inspiring as a musician and fellow creative to know that there are bands out there who push the boundaries of creativity. It brings a tear to my eye. Well, a bloody one.