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Enslaved / Skuggsja / Wardruna (live at By Norse)

Wardruna live at By Norse 2016The Coronet, London
19 March 2016

Saturday night in Elephant and Castle and the queue is round the block. Almost literally. Due to the sad state of the beloved Shepherds Bush Empire, tonight’s entry in the mythic By Norse canon has been shifted to The Coronet, a converted cinema and nightclub whose security conditions for entry are of the stringent type that works just fine if you’re a club and people are showing up five or six at a time, but tends to grind to a (really fucking cold) halt if you’re putting on a gig and the whole crowd have shown up at once.

As a result, Wardruna delay their start time by half an hour, though they’re still already halfway through their set of traditionally-based ritual Norse music by the time I get in. Fortunately, as a woman behind me in the queue points out, a crowd composed of “pagans, metalheads and people who just generally like Vikings” is a pleasant crowd to be stuck in.

Wardruna live at By Norse 2016

Not grokking the layout of the place, I hit the bar (where some people are carefully pouring their freshly-served pints into drinking horns) and head for high ground to try to catch sight of the stage, but end up crammed into a tiny walkway, and consequently can’t see shit. For the first ten minutes or so this is immensely frustrating, and my efforts at jumping up and down and standing on tiptoes to see the band aren’t really helping.

Wardruna live at By Norse 2016

Finally, I give up and close my eyes, and this is when Wardruna become magical. I can almost smell the cooking fires as they proceed with their Nordic devotions, mantric deerskin drums and tagelharpe (made by the band, apparently) underpinning eerily harmonised chants and exclamations. On one level it’s intensely moving and spiritual; on a more prosaic one it reminds me of the titular band in Rob Zombie‘s under-rated The Lords Of Salem.

Enslaved live at By Norse 2016

By the time Enslaved take the stage to the opening moments of A Clockwork Orange I’ve figured out this whole where to stand thing, and am front and centre for their metal onslaught. They’ve been playing every night during the By Norse shenanigans, each set showcasing a different era from their 25-year career. Tonight they are playing their most recent stuff, and they are a lot of fun. Indeed, far more fun than any band calling themselves Enslaved have any right to be, really. One minute they’re cranking out blastbeats and histrionic vocals in a mad crossover of black and operatic metal which is occasionally reminiscent of Emperor, the next they’re being grateful that we came and very self-effacing about it.

Enslaved live at By Norse 2016

It’s a bit like the dichotomy of seeing Slayer, except instead of tempering their musical intensity with surf-dude exhortations to enjoy yourself, they temper it with Scandinavian politeness. And exhortations to enjoy yourself. From terrifying metal beasts to guys who’d gladly help you with your shopping on the way to the pub. It’s all very engaging and likeable, but makes an odd fit with the horns-in-the-air balls-out METAL of their material.

Skuggsja live at By Norse 2016

It’s a dialectical night, really — thesis in the form of Wadruna’s meditative mood music and antithesis in the form of Enslaved’s brutal riff attack form the synthesis that is Skuggsja as both bands combine to present a “tribute” of sorts to the Norwegian constitution, which has now had 200 years of enshrining Christianity over the country’s native traditions. Obviously a lot is lost in (lack of) translation — I mean, I have literally no clue what they’re on about at any point (though I am aware this is my fault for not knowing more languages) — but musically it’s majestic. Some songs are more metal-based, some lean heavier on the Wardruna sound, but Skuggsja is at its best when all the musicians on stage are providing the driving force, multiple vocalists, drumkit alongside Viking-style percussion, ancient strings joining heavy riffing.

It’s genuinely, epically epic in the most epic sense of the word “epic” (which now looks odd because I’ve said it so many times); sweeping, majestic music to end a wonderful night of extremes and contradictions. Now I wish I’d been there all weekend.

-Words: Justin Farrington-
-Pictures: Dave Pettit-

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