In Times In Northern Europe (With ENSLAVED As The Soundtrack)
November 29, 2016, a year ago
Recent travels in northern and central Europe coincidentally concluded with the taking in of two favorite activities on the same night: a hockey game (HC Sparta Praha vs. HC Energie Karlovy Vary at Prague’s O2 Arena) and an Enslaved live display at Prague’s Klub Nová Chmelnice. Through the entirety of the travels, the Enslaved show was top of mind, and each of the following cities was seen through the lens of whatever Enslaved song was coming up for air in the ol’ brain while wandering through these amazing lands. As a result, the following spilled ink links Enslaved’s without-parallel sound to the grandeur of Reykjavik, Bergen, Oslo, Copenhagen and Prague.
REYKJAVIK, ICELAND – “Roots Of The Mountain”
Iceland, a country of only 330,000 citizens, is a study of contrasts, as its capital city of Reykjavik is a modern and vibrant urban centre while its countryside is filled with natural splendour and uniqueness at every turn. Laugavegur Street in downtown Reykjavik is a fantastic urban artery, and it intersects with Frakkastigur Street, which leads to the famed Hallgrímskirkja Church (an almost overwhelming feat of architecture). Similarly, but in a completely different context, rural Iceland is, at many moments, simply unbelievable: from glaciers and black sand beaches that feel like black metal backdrops, to waterfalls and villages that are, literally, over the hills and far away, Iceland’s south coast is a surreal experience. Iceland’s duality had me consistently thinking of Enslaved’s “Roots of the Mountain”, the track a real middle-ground between the band’s black metal beginnings and its progressive latter-day leanings. Only one question nagged: is the track’s soaring chorus reflective of Reykjavik’s charisma or rural Iceland’s absurdly stunning natural habitat?
BERGEN, NORWAY – “Svarte Vidder”
Though it’s Norway’s biggest cultural export, second wave black metal is surprisingly absent from the Norwegian landscape. Nothing, other than posters and picture discs in record stores, would indicate that this is where the sound began. This scribe even met a traveller in Bergen who had assumed that he would see Norwegians in corpsepaint on the street – such is the mythical hold of the country on the metal’s collective consciousness. Bergen, Norway’s second city, is home to Bryggen, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Bryggen’s waterfront is the stuff of Nordic dreams, the architecture traditionally Scandinavian (i.e. postcard perfect). One can only imagine what a picturesque sight Bryggen must be in the middle of winter. Bergen also boasts its Fløibanen, a railway that climbs up an inclined cliff, leading to stunning views of the cityscape from Mount Fløyen, especially at dusk. A walk through the forest at the top of Mount Fløyen was obligatory, and Enslaved’s classic “Svarte Vidder” was accompaniment. This is, after all, Enslaved’s hometown.
OSLO, NORWAY – “Daudningekvida”
Oslo is an impressive place for many reasons, not the least of which is its smart urban planning. As Norway is one of the planet’s richest countries its capital city is expanding rapidly, and major construction projects are found on seemingly every corner in the city centre. However, as opposed to hastily creating disorganized districts with towers that don’t positively contribute to their surrounding areas, Oslo’s development has been both respectful of its neighborhoods and historical sites, with most of the development occurring in spaces of the city where it makes sense. Along with Stockholm, in neighboring Sweden, Oslo is now one of my favorite cities, and visits to Karl Johans Gate, the monumental Oslo City Hall, the Nobel Peace Center, and the Oslo Opera House (including a unique walk on its roof) make me want to visit again. With the Enslaved show now only days away, major attention turned to Enslaved’s “Daudningekvida”, one of the band’s most dynamic and inspired songs. Like Oslo itself, the song has upward momentum and massive energy, even if the Norwegian lyrics make understanding its subject matter impossible. Given Oslo’s impact, learning Norwegian might be next on the priority list…
COPENHAGEN, DENMARK – “Forsaken”
Leaving Oslo made it feel like no other city could compare, but Copenhagen did not disappoint. Home to the iconic Nyhavn and its colourful rows of 17th and 18th century houses on the waterfront, Copenhagen is truly a site to be seen. Strøget Street, in the city centre, is energetic and beautiful, with imposing cathedral spires soaring up from seemingly all directions. As well, Copenhagen’s impressive cycling lanes encourage cycling and walking, which allows the tourist to take in city’s impressive landscape and lively vitality. “Forsaken”’s striking intro felt like a summation of the architecture and sophistication of Copenhagen, a city that one can’t recommend enough.
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - “Convoys To Nothingness”
Prague’s architecture is overwhelming for a tourist, as each street and corner offers yet another remarkable building or setting to take in. And Prague resonates fully with metal fans as most of its architecture is dark and gothic, setting a truly dramatic tone - especially at night. Prague is one of Europe’s most visited cities and with good reason: especially noteworthy are the Charles Bridge, the St. Vitus Cathedral, and the Power Tower (one of the original city gates), and “Convoys To Nothingness” and its spires-at-nightfall initial moments was played over again in Prague.
After several days of sightseeing it was finally time for the Enslaved show, and the Norwegians did not disappoint. Beginning with “Roots Of The Mountain” – the trip coming full circle, as the track had been top of mind back in Reykjavik – and then moving to “Ruun”, “Building With Fire” and “One Thousand Years Of Rain”, Enslaved performed with confidence, conviction and a true sense of self, bridging the divide between new and old material with the ease of a band that readily acknowledges both of its identities. Deep tracks from Frost and Hordanes Land impressed fans of Enslaved’s more traditionally black metal material, culminating in a set that was aware of, and deferential to, Enslaved’s past, while also boding well for the future.
In Times, indeed!