Few metal bands -- or groups in any genre -- boasting two-decade-plus careers can rival ENSLAVED'S reputation for consistently dazzling experimentation. Since their formation in 1991, they’ve grown from skuzzy second-wave black metal to intricate, hi-def prog metal, as represented by last year’s excellent RIITIIR (Nuclear Blast).
The Norwegian five-piece proved how well the disparate eras of their sound mesh together during a condensed, yet career-spanning, set at the Sinclair Thursday night. Traditional black metal blastbeats and bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson’s feral snarl took turns with synth-laced, psychedelic guitar detours. The melancholy surge of “The Watcher” cleared the way for the elemental, deliberate stomp of RIITIIR opener “Thoughts Like Hammers,” while “Ethica Odini,” the best performance of the night, whipped up a heroic Viking march. Most surprising was a throwback to 1992’s Yggdrasill demo, “Allfaðr Oðinn,” a lean thrasher that got the mosh pit churning.
All this subgenre-hopping certainly calls for some serious musicianship, but Enslaved aren’t a band to stare down their fretboards like your average prog rocker. Tricky dual-guitar interplay certainly didn’t stop guitarist Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal from swinging his low-slung Les Paul and strutting around bare-chested in laced-up leather pants — just give him a top hat, and he’s Scandinavia’s own Slash. And Kjellson was intensely charismatic at the mic stand, his foot planted on a monitor, a Thor-like frontman who doesn’t need corpsepaint to hold the audience’s attention.
Other standout moments included keyboardist/vocalist Herbrand Larsen’s mellotron comedown at the end of “Convoys to Nothingness” and the elegiac bends on Isdal’s closing solo to “Ethica Odini.” Besides a few inaudible vocal passages, the stellar mix highlighted the band’s nuances, from drummer Cato Bekkevold’s precise double-bass runs to the rough grain of Kjellson’s buzzy bass tone.
Unfortunately, a delayed setup forced Enslaved to end their performance early. But despite the absence of songs from previous setlists this tour, such as “Roots of the Mountain” (a sublime RIITIIR track packing a stadium-ready chorus) and a cover of “Immigrant Song,” it was hard to be upset with such a solid show.
Little Rock, Arkansas, metallers PALLBEARER provided direct support, playing much of last year’s universally-acclaimed Sorrow and Extinction (Profound Lore). Though their rumbling, lurching doom riffs were hypnotizing and occasionally majestic, the mix smothered Brett Campbell’s piercing wail, easily the band’s most distinctive feature on record.
RELATED: Pallbearer survive Extinction, February 20, 2013