Enslaved have been around for close to three decades playing their brand of Pagan influenced, blackened and progressive tinged death metal. In all those years they have never released an official live album, until now that is. Serving as a chance to sample the band in a live setting without needing to leave the comfort of your own home, Roadburn Live is a showpiece for the Nordic rockers. This album is something any longtime fan has been waiting for and they will surely want to experience it for themselves. Unfortunately, owning a physical copy could be tough since this is a limited edition pressing and will not be available forever, so moving fast on this collectors item is essential.
Enslaved aren’t restricted by self-imposed limitations and are always treading new paths out on most of their releases. Sometimes the road less travelled is the route that leads to greater places and more meaningful discoveries and this is evident with Enslaved’s catalogue. I guarantee the brisk opening moments of “Building With Fire” will only captivate you as it riffs off into epic landscapes of Nordic frost. Since the early raw beginnings of the band they have increased their scope of influence and increasingly employ both progressive and folks elements to craft a unique sound to call their own.
Roadburn Live finds the band captured during a stellar performance at one of their headlining shows from the 2015 edition of the Roadburn Festival. Roadburn Live records seldom disappoint and provide insight into a more stripped down version of songs that we are often familiar with from the studio recordings. It’s exciting to negate some of the redundancy you expect to get when enjoying a live album. Because live songs are invariably performed without studio trickery we are able to see all of Enslaved’s minor blemishes bleed through. The delicate breaking crunch of the clean toned guitars that ring out around the 6:30 mark of “In Times” is a perfect example of the beneficial impact of these subtleties.
The editing of this recording is spot on even though it’s a live recording. The trailing ends of feedback or crowd cheers you might expect have mostly been clipped away and cleaned up to make this collection of songs feel more like an unpolished studio album. In all honesty, a lot of the black metal acts that founded the scene 30 some odd years ago don’t have recordings this crisp and full sounding. You can define every note of the treble heavy guitars and the bass plods at a perfect mix, the drums march along and cut through the strings. The vocals of Grutle Kjellson ride on top, slightly louder than you might find on a studio album. The louder vocals and occasional mid-song crowd cheering may be the only real clue that is a compilation of live tracks.
“Daylight” anchors the middle point of the performance and it is undoubtedly one of the standout tracks from Roadburn Live. I have always admired Enslaved’s use of progressive and psychedelic elements within their songwriting and the serene mid-passage found in “Daylight” capitalizes on this strength. Enlisting the help of three distinct guest vocalists, whose names I will admit I had a hard time understanding, the band rounds out its lineup for this bulldozer of a track. The choral elements really add something special to an already massive sounding ensemble.
When the song “Isa” starts it takes me a moment to collect myself as this is a longtime favourite of mine. It marks a point earlier in the band’s career when they decided to shift from their black metal roots to a more polished and experimental collective. For longtime fans of the band this may be an important piece to have as it is the final official release from Enslaved with Herbrand Larsen playing keys and lending vocals. A member of the band since the release of the acclaimed “Isa” he parted ways with them in 2015 shortly after the performance this show.
The Enslaved Roadburn Live album was capably mixed by Iver Sandøy at Solslottet Studio and later mastered by Jens Bogren (Kreator, Opeth, Sepultura) in Fascination Studios and it really shows. Having quality post-production when working with a live album of any genre is so important. Thankfully nothing is too compressed or cleaned up allowing for a nice layer of grit on top of the already immense sound of the band. No one wants to have a messy or noisy sounding recording that makes listening to it a struggle; yet too much spit and polish can also kill the visceral energy of a live release. Luckily this isn’t Borgen’s first walk in the park and he masterfully crafts a rich tone from the source tapes.
In summary, Enslaved Roadburn Live is a top notch representation of the band, both recorded and as a live act. This release should satiate longtime fans who have never had the honour of catching Enslaved in a live setting and want something extraordinary. The whole package wraps up nicely when the band asks the crowd if they are ok with an encore song, rather the declaring an intention to play one. Enslaved then shares with the cheering crowd that they will be playing a cover and not an original song; what follows is the heaviest, most psyched out version of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” that you’ve ever heard in your life. A fitting end for an album that invites you out of the comforts of your own confines and into the mystical world of Enslaved, if only for a single night.