"Enslaved still sound as explosive as they did when they started." Enslaved, Svalbard and Wayfarer contort black metal into startling new forms at stunning London show

At a rammed Islington Assembly Hall, a bill headed by viking explorers Enslaved pushes black metal into new, fascinating soundscapes

Enslaved and Svalbard on stage
(Image: © Getty Images)

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Did M. Night Shyamalan put together this tour package? Because all three of the bands who’ll siege London’s Islington Assembly Hall tonight play black metal with a twist! From Enslaved’s prog/black explorations down to the Wild West detours of Wayfarer, genre constraints are not on the guestlist, and this 900-capacity club is filled early by crowds hungry for sonic deviations.

In that vein, Wayfarer are the perfect first course. The four-piece caught a plane from Colorado to open this tour, but they’re more infatuated by steam trains and other images from turn-of-the-20th-century USA. It’s a fascination that infests their music as well: this evening’s songs, most taken from last year’s American Gothic, flaunt a twanging guitar style usually reserved for westerns and Ennio Morricone scores. Factor in the grooving drums and throaty death metal vocals and some may challenge if this lot are black metal at all. The correct response, of course, is who cares? They’re still heavy and innovative as fuck.

Next, Svalbard contrast black metal’s rage with the sensitivity of shoegaze. It’s a juxtaposition that – on such magnificent records as When I Die, Will I Get Better? and 2023’s The Weight Of The Mask – makes for gorgeous yet cathartic songs. Tonight, however, the fury is fully present, standouts like Clickbait snarling “Fuck off!” at full force, whereas the mix muddies the Bristolians’ shimmering guitar tone. Singer/guitarist Serena Cherry is able to pull beauty from the sonic quagmire during Open Wound, with her vocals being suitably melodic, tender and fluttery. But, beyond that, this is a showcase where white-knuckle intensity overwhelms emotional vulnerability.

When it comes to experimenting with black metal’s DNA, Enslaved are the kings. As far back as their 1994 debut Vikingligr Veldi, the Norwegians were pushing against the genre’s conventions with synths, Old Norse lyrics and enormous suites. 30 years later, the vikings spearheaded by guitarist Ivar Bjørnson and bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson are promoting album number 16, entitled Heimdal, which ventured into styles as far-flung as thrash, krautrock and space rock. That brutal dynamism is on show instantly, with opener Kingdom charging from extreme metal verses to more graceful, meditative choruses. Forest Dweller dabbles in groove and acoustic territories, before Congelia has its abrasive riffing tempered by violins from guest performer Jo Quail.

Though cuts from Heimdal and 2020 predecessor Utgard dominate the set’s first half, Enslaved then pilot their longship to more nostalgic material. Frost and Loke are far more direct black metal bludgeonings, but Allfǫðr Oðinn (from the 1992 Yggdrasill EP) reiterates via its contorting riffs that this a band who’ve always had a progressive worldview. Enslaved’s lifelong voyage to stand out from their genre continues unabated, and they still sound as explosive as they did when they started.

Enslaved setlist – Islington Assembly Hall, London, March 6

Forest Dweller
(featuring Jo Quail)
The Dead Stare

Allfǫðr Oðinn

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.