Enslaved have to offer a reasonable account of themselves in around 40 minutes tonight, so a five-song set is all we’re getting, with much of the intro to new track Storm Son trimmed off. Undeterred, they present a potted history of their career – which, like Opeth’s, has become more and more prog. For those who don’t know, frontman Grutle Kjellson describes their sound as “100 per cent Norwegian hard rock and also some Swedish folk rock.”
Roots Of The Mountain (from 2012’s RIITIIR) is a tour de force as they power into a set that sometimes feels like well-controlled jamming. The River’s Mouth follows, from latest album E, and is introduced as “a Rod Stewart cover”! One Thousand Years Of Rain (from 2015’s In Times) comes before another high point in Sacred Horse, also from E – so-called, claims Kjellson, because it’s easy to remember.
The sound has been somewhat overblown and some subtleties have been lost in the mix, with new keyboardist Håkon Vinje suffering most from the imbalance, but when they take their bow, and Kjellson pretends he’s about to throw his bass into the crowd, Enslaved have delivered at all levels.
The Barrowland has a reputation for being home to a responsive audience. Sadly that’s not massively in evidence, with Enslaved receiving a polite but detached reaction. And it’s surprising that Opeth, while giving a powerful and adept performance, get a similar response. That’s despite Mikael Åkerfeldt’s outfit having put a little bit of everything into their 10-track setlist.
“It must be a confusing experience to see us,” he says at one point, referring to the fact that, here at least, fans still don’t seem to know what to make of the band’s movement away from death metal towards prog. The show starts with Sorceress, the title track from their latest 2016 album, before proceeding through Ghost Of Perdition (2005’s Ghost Reveries), Demon Of The Fall (1998’s My Arms, Your Hearse), The Wilde Flowers (Sorceress) and Windowpane (from 2002’s Damnation).
In that time they offer a blend of growled and clean vocals, dynamic riffing and subtle melodic passages, genuinely brow-blasting thrust and awe-inspiring beauty, and appear to be happy while taking every twist and turn. Drummer Martin Axenrot seems to be having the gig of his life, always on top of everything, even if bassist Martín Méndez shows a little doubt at times.
Åkerfeldt remains quirky and chatty, even against a determined strain of heckling. Told to “Tune your fucking guitar!” he replies: “I am! It has to be perfect for you.”
He tells another hater: “I can’t understand your accent, so take the piss all you want.”
Responding to a demand to “Play the heavy things!” he simply replies: “No!”
And yet, they do. By the time Opeth play Häxprocess from 2011’s Heritage – the album that caused the fan rift – the band have already explained through the medium of sound why they mattered so much in the past, and matter so much now. “We started touring for this record before it was released and people didn’t know the songs,” Åkerfeldt says of the 2011 record. “They also didn’t like the songs!”
Next comes some white-knuckle action: we’re treated to Moon Above, Sun Below (from 2014’s Pale Communion), which the band have only attempted once before. “We played it last night, but there will be less hiccups this time,” Åkerfeldt predicts, and it’s another triumph, propelled by Axenrot’s rhythmic confidence.
Next comes Hessian Peel from 2008’s Watershed, on the bench since 2013, and delivered despite the admission that it was “difficult”. That’s followed by the title track from Blackwater Park, not heard live since 2014. “We were supposed to play it last night but we chickened out – oh, it was technical difficulties,” Mikael Åkerfeldt says with trademark cheeky expression.
They’ve proved everything that needed proving amid a relatively minimal but inspired lighting display (especially when it strobes in time with some of the most complex rhythms) and a sound that’s vastly improved from Enslaved’s set.
“You sure you want more?” Åkerfeldt asks before the encore, and it’s difficult to ignore the fact that, while rabbles of conversation have been heard over the quieter moments, the sight of one solitary crowdsurfer during encore Deliverance (and isn’t that the kind of thing they wanted?) is saddening.
It’s an awe-inspiring show where even the weariest of reviewers hasn’t thought once about heading off early. It’s to be hoped that many of those who gave the bands a lukewarm response will later realise just what a hot ticket they had all along.