High On Fire + Enslaved @ The Mill, Digbeth – Friday 12 October 2018


Witnessed by Jason Guest

The last time Enslaved was here was just under a year ago with the mighty Opeth. And like then, their appearance on stage is given the type of welcome a band of such progressive power and musical capability deserves. Displaying the breadth of the band’s musicianship and their atmospheric heft, the band cast a dark web over the audience from beginning to end. Opening with the 9-minute ‘Roots of the Mountain’ from 2012’s excellent RIITIIR is a choice decision, the audience being taken on the first of tonight’s epic musical forays into darkness and wonder. With the title track of 2006’s Ruun’s time-skipping riffs, mesmerising harmony vocals and dynamic depth to follow, the band drag us deeper into the fire before casting us high into the sky with the enthralling ‘Storm Son’ from their latests album, 2017’s E.

Three tracks – and about 25 minutes in – Enslaved are owning both venue and crowd. It’s back to 1994 for the fierce black metal might of ‘Isöders Dronning’ quickly followed by ‘Havenless’ from 2003’s Below the Lights and then forward to 2017 for the majestic power of ‘Sacred Horse’. And what better way to complete their set than by going all the way back to 1994 for ‘Jotunblood’ and to their 1993 debut EP Hordanes Land for the darkly brutal ‘Allfǫðr Oðinn’? In tonight’s set, the sheer breadth and depth and limitless scope of the band’s musical prowess is on full display. This is a band that has not once let genre boundaries or associations define them. Enslaved are masters of their instruments, of their music, and of their craft. Outstanding.

Set List:

  1. Roots of the Mountain
  2. Ruun
  3. Storm Son
  4. Isöders Dronning
  5. Havenless
  6. Sacred Horse
  7. Jotunblood
  8. Allfǫðr Oðinn

During Enslaved’s set, High On Fire’s unassuming Matt Pike was seen making his way through the crowd and heading backstage. When he next appears, it’s on stage, shirtless, tattoos on show, and brandishing his Gibson Les Paul, a very different persona to that seen but moments ago. ‘Sons of Thunder’ opens proceedings, Pike’s beautiful guitar intro soon giving way to the loudest gig ever. Seriously, everything is cranked right up to 11. And yet everything is clear, nothing is distorted beyond recognition or differentiation. Des Kensel’s drums sound fierce and are as clear as they are pummelling. You’d think that Jeff Matz’z distorted bass would disappear into murk but it’s sharper than a freshly cut diamond. Pike’s guitar has got elephant bollocks, his riffs are weighted, his leads are smooth and simple yet bear a sophistication in their idiosyncrasy, but every note is clear and cutting. All the better for Pike’s glass-gargling vocals.

‘The Black Plot’, ‘Carcosa’, ‘Fertile Green’ and the remarkable ‘Rumours of War’ are heavy as hell and threatening to bring the walls down. And if it’s not the music then it’ll be the waves of heads being banged that’ll do so. ‘Slave the Hive’ kicks in and band and crowd are one sweaty, sweltering and swelling beast. Two tracks from latest Electric Messiah – ‘Steps of the Ziggurat’ and ‘Spewn From the Earth’ – make themselves known and the crowd swallow them whole, the new material welcomed by the insatiable mob sweating the place up. ‘Fury Whip’ – ahem – whips up a fury before Pike gives the guitar a bit of a tickle for the intro to ‘Snakes For The Divine’ and then slams into the track’s all-consuming heaviness. Closing with the Lemmy-worhipping ‘Electric Messiah’, High on Fire leave the place standing. Barely. You get the impression that one wrong note and this whole place will crumble to dust. Shame that because The Mill is a really good venue.

Set list:

  1. Sons of Thunder
  2. The Black Plot
  3. Carcosa
  4. Fertile Green
  5. Rumours of War
  6. Slave The Hive
  7. Steps of Ziggurat
  8. Spewn From The Earth
  9. Fury Whip
  10. Snakes For The Divine
  11. Electric Messiah