MANHATTAN, NY—A warm December night made coat check unnecessary at Irving Plaza for the oddly-matched bill of Between The Buried and Me and Enslaved. On paper, it was a sensible combination of progressive metal acts, but in practice, the disparity between Enslaved’s Norwegian Viking attitude and BTBAM’s American math-metalcore made a given crowd-goers allegiance plain on sight.
If you dedicated more than four minutes on your facial hair that morning, you were there for BTBAM. Otherwise, Enslaved.
The band took to the stage during a sample of Malcolm McDowell’s famous description of the Korova Milk Bar from A Clockwork Orange, with some notable giddiness from frontman Grutle Kjellson. Opening with the adrenaline-fueled “Fusion of Sense and Earth” off 2006’s Ruun, the Norwegian five-piece confidently commanded their faction of the crowd. If “Fusion of Sense and Earth” isn’t going to get a potential fan into this set, it’s possible nothing might.
The set focused primarily on Enslaved’s material records over the last eight years or so, though notably absent were any songs from 2010’s Axioma Ethica Odini. Vertebrae was unique in that two tracks, “Ground” and “The Watcher,” were performed back-to-back with the band’s trademark ferocity and precision. Nearly every song in the set got the Viking chant encouragement, mostly from keyboardist and vocalist Herbrand Larsen, perched stage left just behind guitarist Arve Isdal.
Although, if you didn’t know the members of Enslaved, you could be easily confused; Kjellson intentionally, and playfully, introduced the band members incorrectly, naming Larsen “Dave from Intronaut [an opening act that evening],” for example. The humor was lost on some of the crowd, clearly unfamiliar with the band’s “downloading” of a sheep several years ago in protest of music piracy in their home country. The between-song banter was jocular, but you had to be in on the joke.
Being main support, however, there was not much time between songs. Enslaved’s tendency to write songs well past the eight minute mark made their set feel short, and in total the band was able to pull off only six songs. “Death in The Eyes of Dawn” thundered along as the second song of the set and highlighted Kjellson’s continued improvement on his clean vocals and harmonization with Larson. The album they’re supporting this time around, 2015’s In Times, contributed “Building With Fire” to the set.
One unexpected twist; the band’s closing song was not “Isa,” off the 2004 album of the same name. Even Kjellson had to tell the crowd they weren’t getting it over several fans chanting for it. Instead, “Convoys To Nothingness,” featuring more of the aforementioned vocal harmonies than its original recording, from 2001’s Monumension closed out the evening for Norway’s heady metal warriors.