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ENSLAVED / WINTERFYLLETH / ANCIENT ASCENDENT @ NQ LIVE, MANCHESTER 14/03/13 - REVIEW BY ANDY BARNES

The vagaries around popularity within the world we live always confuse me, none more so than with music.  Now I know the arts are totally idiosyncratic, but how a band the sheer immensity of Enslaved can play shows the size of NQ Live (with absolutely no disrespect intended to a brilliant venue and supporter of extreme music in Manchester) while the likes of Machinehead, Trivium and Slipknot appear in U.K arenas is totally beyond my comprehension. Over their twenty two year, and twelve studio album history, Enslaved have maintained the position of an astoundingly inventive metal force to be reckoned with. Life began in deepest, darkest Black domains, before progressive tones manifested, song structures becoming longer, more complex, even incorporating Norwegian traditional folk components on occasion. On bemoaning their perceived general UK appeal however, the opportunity to witness the sheer might of Enslaved in this basement venue just too good an opportunity to miss, although apologies must go to Ancient Ascendant who’s set I missed due to a late arrival. A quick report gleaned from Paul Sadler of local prog metal outfit Spires, suggested the band struggled on the technical front....hopefully as they traverse Britain with the headliners, technology will prove less problematic.

In the main support slot tonight are Manchester’s own Pagan / Black metal outfit, Winterfylleth a band who appeared on my radar last year just prior an appearance at Damnation Festival in Leeds, their ‘Threnody of Triumph’ album grabbing me roughly by the scruff of the neck, demanding regular, aural attention. Now I’m sure it’s not just me (or perhaps it is…..) but generally I find Black Metal quite relaxing, a sheer mass of sound, droning guitars and consistently pummelling drums providing solace and divinity away from life’s every day stresses and strains. The dimly lit confines of NQ appeared to suit Winterfylleth perfectly and within a sub-genre full to the brim of theatricals, the anti-image of the four piece becomes an image focused purely on the music rather visual hyperbole. Something however doesn’t quite work for me tonight……all begins well, the initial onslaught a seething slash across the face, “The Swart Raven” in particular, clawing frantically at the jugular.  As the set progresses, nuances and shifts appear lost amongst the pillars and low ceilinged recesses although my position front, right of stage probably didn’t help, further back, perhaps all much clearer.  Winterfylleth require space for their majesty to unfurl and soar, this evening suggested a stifling effect, all sounding slightly similar.  No doubting their general pedigree though and I’ll be back for more sooner rather than later.  Note to self, take a more reserved, central position next time.

If the initial appearance of Winterfylleth proves somewhat confusing, no such concern over Enslaved. Conjure personal images of how a Norwegian Metal band should look, the five members walking individually on stage tonight, won’t be dissimilar.  There are beards, there are tattoos, there are leathers, long blond flowing locks and stripped to waist exhibitionism before a note played in anger.  Enslaved the epitome of Viking Metal, this a Nordic invasion welcomed by all present, enraptured within a Mancunian Valhalla, the facial expressions of vocalist / bassist  Grutle Kjellson repelling all boarders as they open with the title track from the latest album ‘Riitiir”.  

The majority of tonight’s set centres around latter albums, “Thoughts Like Hammers,” “Roots of the Mountain” and “Materal” also from ‘Riitiir’ showcasing the latest material, alongside an absolute chest caving version of  “Ethica Odini” taken from 2010’s ‘Axioma Ethica Odini.”  Perhaps this to the chagrin of some, certainly one after a shout mid set of “Play something I like.”  While Enslaved would also benefit from additional expanse to fully project epic, progressive tones, they don’t suffer in the same way as Winterfylleth, structurally, far more diversity manifests, I quiver with metallic delight as the strains of “Convoys to Nothingness,” opening track from the hugely experimental “Monumension” album fills the air.

Tonight’s crowd shows a certain reverence initially to the Nordic giants.  With no security in site, I expect more movement overhead towards the stage, although the animated majority tending towards exercise of the neck muscles and swirling of hair, just a solitary crowd surfer in the early stages finding himself stood surprisingly close to Grutle, before swiftly retreating into the mass of sweating bodies. Bravery emerges towards the set end, spurred by the staple cover of Led Zep’s “Immigrant Song” and an especially well received encore of “Isa” although by this time, road crew have assumed security duties and potentially infiltrators are unceremoniously despatched back from whence they came with a hearty shove.

Tonight, a brutal example of exactly how Progressive Metal should be, gargantuan slabs of power blasted full force at intense volume levels, interspersed with intricate passages and deft playing.  Enslaved proving the best bands mature like oak aged malt whisky......the taste becomes smoother, but still kicks like a mutha fucker as and when required.

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Review and videos by Andy Barnes
Images by Mike Gatiss - http://gig-shots.com
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