December 14, 2016 Enslaved Celebrate 25 Years At Gramercy Theatre, NYC 12-10-16
A double helping of Norse ‘Viking’ Metal is a treat for any occasion, but when it is accompanied by an entire symposium of cultural and artistic exposition, the anticipation is ratcheted up even higher. Celebrating 25 years of existence, Enslaved chose to grace their fans with a very unusual program of entertainment. A program as exclusive as it was unique, the event took place in London in the U.K. back in March, and would conclude with only one more stop, that being New York’s Gramercy Theatre in Manhattan on Saturday December the 10th.
By Norse, a collaborative celebration of Norse heritage, was organized by Ivar Bjørnson along with Einar Selvik (Fimbuljod Productions, Wardruna) and Simon Fülleman (All Independent Service Alliance). Bjørnson just happens to be the founding guitarist of Enslaved, a band that, ever since exploding out of Bergen, Norway a quarter century ago, has become one of the world’s foremost Progressive Extreme Metal bands with a Norse bent. Together, these iconic preservers of Nordic tradition teamed up to present an in-depth look at the inspiration, rune craft, instruments, and feelings behind the music of Wardruna. This event took place a day earlier on Friday, December 9th, at Scandinavia House, an apt location for such a showcase. Following Selvik’s presentation of spoken word and singing, Bjørnson himself took the stage for a visual and audio journey into Bardspec, with the help of Kevin Hufnagel (Gorguts) and Steve Austin (Today Is the Day).
Most in attendance of this sold-out event were eagerly waiting to join the hordes of Enslaved fans over at Gramercy Theatre. The night, suitably cold outside, began with an art exhibition by Kim Holm, who would also be painting live action impressions of Enslaved to be sold after the show. Following that was a panel on stage featuring the band, which was hosted by Grimposium, the company behind a 25 year documentary about everything Enslaved.
Once this concluded, fans milling around catching up and having some drinks had only to wait before the lights dimmed and the band of the hour took the stage. Word had spread that Enslaved would be performing two full sets; the first comprised only of older material. As much as their later material has enthralled and grown their fan base, old-school devotees yearn for the vicious, heady early era of Enslaved with naked ferocity. Attend any of their shows and fans of a host of disparate nationalities and tongues can be heard bellowing the old song titles in between numbers. Often, their cries go unheeded, as any band with a discography as amazing and numerous as the one Enslaved boasts makes it hard to choose a please-all set-list. Tonight though, the hall crackled with excitement. Tonight, every old-schooler’s wishes were going to be more than granted.
Introducing the title-track to 1997’s Eld, the band gave life to more classics than one could shake an ax at, each pause between songs rattling the walls of the hall with cheers. After a blistering rendition of “Allfadr Odinn,” the band jumped up to the obscure and delicious 2001 Monumension album to play “Convoys to Nothingness.” Trippy, heavy, and dense, the song set the stage for something truly special.
Joining the band on stage was none other than Einar Selvik himself, flanking Kjellson after exchanging a suitably Norse bro-hug. Together, they performed the enchanting “Havenless” with its complicated, harmonizing clean vocal chant leading the way. This was a truly special moment in the canon of Enslaved, a band who plays through The States quite often. While they are always special to see, this special guest flavored magnificence will last in the minds of those who bore witness to it for a lifetime.
Following an intermission, Enslaved returned for a set including “Roots of the Mountain” from 2012’s RIITIIR, the title-track to 2006’s Ruun, and the wondrous “Return to Yggdrasil” from that same amazing album. Fans took an equally as rapt, if a bit more subdued approach to watching the spectacle. Newer Enslaved is rife with progressive flavor, heavy and dense and yearning, and it was exciting to see the differences between the older material and the new played back to back in the same night.
Alas, there would be one more special treat on this magical night. Rejoining the band on stage once more was Einar Selvik, this time bringing a massive curved horn onto the stage with him. Selvik and Enslaved founding Guitarist Ivar Bjørnson collaborated on a suite of songs inspired by a celebration of the Norwegian constitution called Skuggsjá – A Piece For Mind & Mirror. The album marries the traditional Folk music of Selvik’s band Wardruna with some of the more modern Pagan Metal sounds exemplified by that contemporary genre. Tonight, both Enslaved and Einar Selvik would perform the hypnotic song “Bøn Om Ending, Bøn Om Byrjing,” to the absolute delight of all.
Following a brief moment, Enslaved returned to perform “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth,” the opening track off 2003’s Below The Lights, before taking a bow and exiting for the night. There is no doubt that this 25th anniversary celebration of Enslaved would go down as one of the most exclusive, special, once in a lifetime experiences long-time fans of this Norse progressive unit would ever experience. Outside in the chilly Manhattan night, people partaking in Santa-con could be seen everywhere in the street, dressed like old St. Nick. The fans exiting Gramercy Theatre, however, knew the only real magic, had just been performed behind them.Photo credit: Zenae Zukowski