The metal legends of Enslaved paid a visit to Scotland's largest city on November 11, playing a set focusing upon their latest release _Vertebrae_ in the intimate venue of the Ivory Blacks, Glasgow. They were initially booked alongside folklorish Taiwanese black metal act Cthonic and German black metal group Secrets of the Moon, neither of whom were able to appear. Not to completely knock their efforts, but the replacement bands Krakow and Audrey Horne could not have been more misplaced.
I had no idea what to make of Audrey Horne's sound until I looked them up and found them commonly referred to as "post-grunge", or hard, melodic rock. This was particularly baffling as Ice Dale is apparently half of the guitars for this act. I've nothing against him shaking up the black metal routine, but this is a very unusual sound to emerge from the depths of Norway. The musicianship was solid, but the vocals were of this rather annoying hardcore caliber, so be warned against that if you don't enjoy the "core" stylings.
On the other hand, the show's first opener (which probably should have gone directly before Enslaved, being the only other metal act present) was fantastic. Alba Gu Brath, or "Scotland Forever", is all about the battle metal. They're young, but their vocalist is on his game and the members are already working well with keyboards and other elements to flavor their folk tendencies. Their band name also apparently refers to the five members of the Alba clan, "The Blue Men of the Minch", for those who enjoy a nerdy dose of historical metal. "Dryads" and "Bannockburn" were notably memorable choices from the Alba Gu Brath performance.
The Enslaved set was pretty much a showcasing of _Vertebrae_, so thankfully, it's quite a good album. Songs outside of it were just classics and crowd-pleasers, as they only had about an hour to play around with. "Clouds" was the well-chosen opener, driving the crowd in into a head banging frenzy of strident guitars offsetting diverse vocals, cascading into an eerie finale.
This initial energy was captured and encapsulated in "Fusion of Sense and Earth", a repetitive and almost droning track set to odd visuals in the background, which made a surprisingly good addition to a setlist that predictably featured several of the self-titled tracks from major albums. The recent _Ruun_ saw a good bit of playtime, although Enslaved tried to stagger their setlist so the _Vertebrae_ songs were spread out.
Picking up the pace again with the new album, "New Dawn" brought fists into the air before fading into soft chants of the chorus and Grutle Kjellson's death growls. "Ruun" was played just in time to satisfy the collective appetite for a classic, in particular allowing the vocals and percussion to burst through more than is typical for their style.
"As Fire Swept Clean the Earth" from the epic _Below the Lights_ was received with great excitement, unfortunately being the only track from this album to get some live time. The persistent use of harsh vocals with excellent riffing kept the crowd focused, though perhaps this song wasn't quite up to studio quality.
We were all ready and willing for the transition forward in time as "Ground" and "To the Coast" were played, and the former particularly seemed to lighten the atmosphere; the chorus laden with melodious sections and catchy little riffs, and a wandering sort of metal jam that broke up for Enslaved's characteristically beautiful interweaving of death vocals with a clean backing sound. "To the Coast" brought a more legendary sound to these Vikings, a depressing quality to the music that was used to segue into "Eld": old-school, frantic, and much more violent than what the listeners had been experiencing that evening.
"Allfadr Odin", from their earliest demo, was the surprise song, and perhaps the only mosh-able offering, as the members of Enslaved assuredly changed this direction after the _Yggdrasil_ days. "The Watcher" was chosen as the closer to wind things down, which it did perhaps too effectively. Thankfully, Enslaved only departed from the stage long enough to hear a few cries for an encore before returning to perform "Isa", which was fabulous, with every person in the room screeching the chorus back at the band.
Apart from some overly obnoxious people and drunken fist-fights (at an Enslaved show, of all places), their set was incredibly satisfying and their playlist clung tenaciously to my memory. They generally seemed to make a good executive decision in avoiding popular yet down tempo, ambient offerings from _Monumension_, for example. Enslaved fans, be sure to check out the new material before you go see the group live on their European tour, which ends on December 20. You won't regret the time you spend on _Vertebrae_, though. Alba Gu Brath are certainly up-and-comers to keep an eye on, and if you can struggle through the rest of the openers, Enslaved will deliver a show worthy of their long and critically acclaimed legacy.