Live Reviews

Review: Svalbard, Darkher and Enslaved at Islington Assembly Hall, London

Enslaved

The temperature had taken a massive drop throughout the day, by night it was cold, so cold and the pale blue lights streaking up the Islington Assembly Hall walls made it somehow feel colder — quite fitting considering the main act are Norwegian. Once inside though, it felt almost tropical in comparison.

The hall started to get busy and the merch stand was under attack with Enslaved fans throwing their money at the staff for an Enslaved tour shirt, myself included – I am a big fan of the Norwegian metal scene and Enslaved are legends in that regard.

The first support act, Svalbard, are named after a Norwegian archipelago between Norway and the North Pole and are a hardcore punk band, however they have some black metal influences and it shows in their music with some fast guitars and drums as well as some shrieking and guttural vocals. The energy was great but at this point only around 100 people in the hall to greet them, but it warmed the crowd up and that was the point. Lead singer Serena Cherry made reference to travelling to Hole in the Sky Festival in Bergen to see Enslaved back in 2006 and now considered it a great honour to support them on this tour.

After some rearranging of the stage, the next band appeared, Darkher. This is a three-piece formed of Jayn H. Wissenberg (vocals), her husband Martin T. Wissenberg (guitars) and drummer Christopher Smith (drums). I was blown away by this band, the first song was soul piercing with its doom-laden riffs, guitars played using a musical bow, orchestral vocals and a heavy paced drum beat… this reminded me of a metal take on alt-rock band Portishead — not to take anything away from Darkher however, they are one of my new favourite bands to listen too. The crowd really enjoyed this band and they were very Atmospheric.

It felt like an age waiting for Enslaved to come on. The techs were organising the stage as Black Sabbath played in the background to keep everyone busy. One by one the band emerged on stage to a cheering crowd… The first track to be played was ‘Storm Son’ from the new album E, it was great, heavy and progressive at the same time with lighting used in perfect synergy to create a lightning storm effect followed on by ‘Roots of the Mountain’ from RIITIIR and ‘Return to Yggdrasil’ going back to a blacker metal sound. Guitarist and backing vocalist Ivar Bjornson started a chant, “oi, oi, oi,” supported by the crowd.

Next up was another track from the new album, ‘The Rivers Mouth’. A bouncing anthem which got the crowds heads banging to the rhythm, while Bjornson lay down a grinding rhythm which the fans watched in amazement.

The band played a couple of old school Norwegian black metal tracks and lead singer Grutle Kjellson referred to the controversies surrounding the scene in the mid 90’s involving church burnings and the infamous murders, by saying, “we didn’t do any of that stuff, we were too drunk’’ – just to be clear, it is well documented that Enslaved were not involved.

Following the old school section, Ivar swaps guitars for a more progressive sound and Grutle makes a joke about his next band to be called ‘Outer Hebrides’ in jest to Svalbard’s band name.

The next song ‘A Thousand Years of Rain’ came after Grutle introduced the band members with great comedic effect saying Cato Bekkevold has been on the drums since 1482, Bjornson has been with the band since 1991, guitarist Arve Isdal still can’t afford a shirt (always plays live in skin), “tiny, little red fruit,” in reference to Keyboardist Hakon Vinge and then Ivar took the opportunity to say ‘’last and least, bass, vocals and diplomatic failures,” about Kjellson.

The last song was another hit from their new album entitled ‘Sacred Horse’ which the crowd really enjoyed, and the band left the stage… the traditional, “encore!” rang out from the fans and they were treated to a great drum solo from Bekkevold before the band re-emerged once again for a black metal assault.

Enslaved don’t play in the UK very often but they are one of the original 90’s black metal bands who have changed their sound from album to album and are legendary to all who are familiar with the Norwegian metal scene. I look forward to the next time we cross paths…

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