Enslaved and Solstafir in Melbourne 2018 (Melbourne, VIC)

1 September 2018 at Max Watts

Melbournes metal masses gathered in the particuarly gloomy evening outside of Max Watts House of Music, but the typical banter was somewhat low-key; almost as if everyone was silently preparing themselves for what was to come.

This subdued air however was rapidly dispelled by flowing libations and the eruption of the opening band Âme Noire. Like a rising tide of blackened death, the burgeoning audience was drawn in to an especially animate performance. Playing their new EP “The Tree That Bears Rotten Fruit” in its entirity was an awesome spectacle to behold from these up-and-comers.

From the wicked gesticulations of vocalist Alex Hill, to the tight technical drummer of Aaron Hernyak – Âme Noire is a band to keep your eye on very closely for the foreseeable future.

A personal highlight of the evening arrived after a long change over, something in all my years in the  industry I’ve never experienced: a not so routine soundcheck that melded into beautifully expressive preshow music chanted in Icelandic. Sólstafir were about to hit the stage in epic fashion.

Any high expectations were utterly surpassed within moments of Sólstafir’s signature sound fusing with the atmosphere. Elemental, visceral and unconstrained are but a few of the words that came to mind whilst soaking in the ambient majesty of their track Ótta, from their fifth album of the same title. Aðalbjörn “Addi” Tryggvason’s deeply engaging performance was further tempered by his humble and down-to-earth banter, which raised more than a few laughs from the audience.

Much as fans have come to know from Sólstafir’s albums, elaborate applications of great vocal control and soulful, progressive instrumental melodies truly capture a special ambience; capturing a faithful sonic image of their beautiful homeland of Iceland, and the crashing waves that embraces it’s stony shores.

As the journey through their set came to a close, Addi shared an anecdote that would be a crime not to put down! Addi was kind enough to share some hilarious ‘secrets’ with the audience, one of which being that at the age of 17 he wrote the first Sólstafir album sitting on his mother’s sofa – whilst watching his favourite show, “Neighbours”. Spit takes and laughter aplenty when this penny dropped! It was awesome to see such an exceptional band being so candid.

The final round of preshow music faded with the house lights, signalling the imminent arrival of the almighty headliner Enslaved. The true masters of Norwegian progressive black metal opened their set with the weight of a neutron star; pulling in the crowd with one great surge forward. Legendary frontman Gruntle Kjellson hailed the crowd with a baleful scream, wielding his bass like a certain
mighty hammer of gods. Having an incredible career spanning 27 years, you could sincerely hear the strata of evolution in every song, almost as if you were moving through every era of the band alongside Grutle and Ivar.

Latest addition to the band, keys player Håkon Vinje (whom Grutle joked is one year younger than the band itself!) introduces a new layer of vocal harmony to Enslaved’s sound – creating an amalgam of Nordic chant and sustained modal movements, which were truly captivating. Diving into 1994’s “Frost” was a massive highlight that saw hardcore fans frothing at the mouth and throwing the horns. The compositional depth and complexity of their later tracks bares the hallmarks of a broad palette of influences – which gave the audience an even more progressively rich and rounded experience.  Personally, this jumped out at me when Ivar slipped into the introduction for ‘Storm Son’ – it really took the crowd on a journey downward coming off the back of a diversely more intense track.

Nothing but positive remarks with the curtain call from the crowd, this will be a night to remember for a long time.

Line-up: Enslaved, Solstafir, Ame Noir

Reviewer: Nat Harmer
Photocredits: Ellie Hayden