Norwegian progressive extreme metal band Enslaved celebrated their career with a virtual concert event, with an extended line-up. Featuring Bergen’s prog rock band Shaman Elephant, the big band had two drum kits, two keyboard rigs, three guitars and two basses, which made for an even fuller sound than usual. The day chosen was the Winter Solstice, December 21st, a very auspicious time for new beginnings, looking forward to brighter times ahead, hopefully leaving behind lockdowns and virtual shows.
“The Otherworldly Big Band Experience” begins with an interview segment of singer/bassist Grutle Kjellson, keyboardist/vocalist Håkon Vinje and drummer Iver Sandøy by Harald Fossberg ̶ “living legend”, as credited. “Conformity has never been our thing. (…) Fuck the consequences, let’s just do it!”, Grutle says before the music begins to flow. Cut to the extended band on a soundstage in Bergen, slightly smoky atmosphere, in shades of grey and blue. “Ruun II- The Epitaph” sets the tone for the performance, the track from recently released “Caravans to the Outer Worlds” performed, as a play with shadows fills the backdrop.
“Bounded by Allegiance” is followed by guitarist Ivar Bjørnson’s interview, who characterizes Enslaved as a multidimensional space, constantly expanding, where the unexpected becomes the expected. “Don’t think about it. Just go with it!”, his exact words as “Sequence” follows. The images on the backdrop, perfectly synced with the music, echo the mythological side of their craft. The moody “Caravans to the Outer Worlds” take us all on a journey to other realms, transporting the viewer’s mind to another reality. Now, it is Ice Dale’s turn to be interviewed, telling us that he originally wanted to be a drummer, but then got a guitar from his dad. He gets up from the interview chair straight to the set, where the band is ready, as he attacks “Havenless” on the guitar, the pounding of the bass drum as a heartbeat, all singing in unison, which provide for one of the most memorable moments of the whole venture, alongside the big band version of “Slaget i Skogen Bortenfor” which follows. An epic rendition of a truly epic song. Another segment of Grutle’s interview comes after that monumental track, in his words, the “most primitive song”. “What else is there” is then beautifully sung, and the grand finale with “Hiindsiight” brings us the most stunning visuals yet, a kaleidoscopic and psychedelic inner journey.
Enslaved’s career is well represented in the sadly short setlist (one could’ve used a few more songs…) and the perfect balance between interviews and performance, pervaded by Ivar’s musical interludes in between, over the song titles, provide for a delightful virtual concert experience. The video editing is on point, keeping the band in evidence, highlighting the great musicianship displayed, not letting the stunning visuals in the backdrop distract from the actual musical performance. The image is perfectly colour graded and the cinematography is beautiful, bringing us moments worthy of Fellini, showing a bit of behind the scenes and how the magic is made, even as the performance goes on. The camera crew and the whole soundstage portrayed, with a flowing circular camera move, not unlike Fassbinder’s famous shot at the beginning of his 1973 masterpiece “Martha”. The sound quality and mixing are extremely good, and the overall performance is fantastic, as the new arrangements for the big band are astonishing.
Norse Mythology and imagery has permeated Enslaved’s music from their early days, a very clear thematic and conceptual brand of extreme metal. The mind knows no boundaries, and neither does their art: it begins with music, but surpasses it, climbing into the realm of visuals and a more holistic approach to the whole concert experience, as is clear in this virtual concert.
Enslaved’s “The Otherworldly Big Band Experience” managed to bring us the unexpected once again, taking the viewer on a journey through the mind: a perfect way to spend the Winter Solstice.