And so to Camden. Good Friday, the warmest spring day in London for absolutely ages and, in the bowels of dark north London, some metal, the kind of which your mother has warned you about. The return of Enslaved to the capital has been widely anticipated- it’s a sell out and there are touts everywhere, buying up any spares that might be available.
Now, I’m no gig slouch, leaving things until the very last minute to get into a venue but , seriously, a 7.20pm start for Romanian outfit Negura Bunget was a scheduling nonsense. Fortunately for the band, most metal fans aren’t gig slouches either and they were justifiably treated to a near full venue who warmed to their take on black metal enormously.
There is something very special about what Negura Bunget are doing- as a visual spectacle, they aren’t anything to write home about. There aren’t any egocentric guitarists throwing shapes, vocalists seeking adoration or call and response sing-a-long chanting. On the contrary, being at a Negura Bunget gig is all about drinking in and absorbing their extraordinary, hypnotic music. Vocalist and percussionist Ageru Pamantului stands, Rasputin-like in the shadows of the stage, orchestrating much of the aural proceedings. There is a hushed, church-like reverence (perhaps appropriate for Good Friday) for the soundscapes produced by the band- brutal black metal passages interspersed with longer, atmospheric musical interludes and fused with an undercurrent of more traditional folk rhythms- we get xylophone, folk drums and, bizarrely, an eight foot woodwind pipe. It’s simply a brilliant, genre-defying spectacle that deservedly gets a warm response from the knowledgeable and respectful Underworld crowd.
Following a brief interlude where there’s enough time to buy an overpriced lager, the house lights dim, the crowd roars approvingly and Enslaved join the proceedings. It’s remarkable to think that the band have been doing this for pretty much twenty years now but they are smack bang in the middle of a creative and artistic purple patch that any band would be proud of. Kicking things off with the trinity of Axioma, Ethica Odini and Raidho is not just smart thinking, it’s rapidly becoming obligatory. It gets everyone in a good mood- there’s a circle pit formed to my right, a sea of headbanging to my left and a band grinning like loons front and centre. All of this assisted- credit where its due-some exceptional sound: crisp, clean, loud enough but never distracting from the sheer power that Enslaved deliver.
For Enslaved tonight, there was a relaxed sense of purpose, a “we know we are brilliant but we don’t have anything to prove anymore”. A brilliant rendition of Giants is a particular personal highlight but, honestly, we are spoilt for choice: Return to Yggdrasil, Ground and Fusion of Sense and Earth are all received like long lost friends. Long time fans might have a small gripe that the set list is weighted to more recent work but I think this is taking churlishness to a new level of pernickity. There’s some lovely band-audience banter- the band seem completely at ease with their place in the metal pantheon and they are clearly thoroughly enjoying themselves on this tour.
As are we.
The encores of Ruun and Slaget i Skogen bortenfor are, to judge from the cacophonous roar of approval from the crowd, wise choices.
In a flash then, it’s over and the band disappear backstage, to finish their Coronas, safe in the knowledge that their work here is, for now, done. As the curfew spilled the Underworld crowd onto the crowded streets of Camden, there was universal agreement-this had been a very Good Friday indeed.