When I found out what By Norse was I could hardly believe I was lucky enough to be living in the same city it would be coming too. Two of the most potent acts in heavy pagan music were coming together to perform some of their most exciting music and give us a glimpse into their careers of the sort we might never otherwise have gotten. Wardruna and Enslaved are sacred names in some circles and this was an opportunity to truly appreciate all that they have to offer and bask in once in a lifetime performances. One of the first events to be put on by By Norse I got the impression from the organizers that they were over the moon with what had been accomplished this weekend. As for the fans, I think that everyone left in utter awe and deeper in love with the endless magic of Enslaved than ever before.
For an event that centered around black metal bands and pagan music they could not have had a more elegant opening. An intimate gathering in the gorgeous Norwegian consulate in Manhattan saw speeches from Einar Selvik the mastermind behind Wardruna and By Norse CEO Simon Füllemann introducing the event we would soon all be entranced in. A veritable who's who of the metal industry stood by as Einar, in his gentle unassuming but highly passionate way spoke about his vision for the weekend and then showcased some of his music. There is something surreal about standing in a penthouse in a very nice Manhattan neighborhood and watching a man who flew in from across the ocean mere hours ago performing millennia old melodies on traditional instruments. Einar is not just a master of his craft but a veritable spokesman for a time that many have forgotten. He hinted at all that was to come, and yet none of us could truly anticipate what was going to happen.
The first official show of the weekend happened at the Scandinavia House, a few blocks down. In a beautiful performance space (Which provided a nice break from the usual dingy bars that define our music) Einar came on with an improvised presentation, showcasing his instruments, music and lecturing about his creative process. If we hadn't been informed otherwise I don't think we ever would have guessed that Enslaved were running almost ten hours late! The passion with which he speaks and the stories he tells about the creation of his art are fascinating and the performances entrancing. For myself this was in many ways an ideal scenario. I had long been curious to find out more about Einar's work, and hearing it straight from the metaphorical horses mouth was a true pleasure.
Ivar Bjornson made it in time though to present us with a condensed BardSpec set – one of my most highly anticipated aspects of the soiree. For the uninitiated BardSpec is a ambient noise project created by Enslaved's rhythm guitarist Ivar Bjornson. This particular set was a improvised collaboration between himself and Kevin Hufnagel of the almighty Gorguts. It was entrancing, highly musical throbs intertwining with Hufnagel's tasteful guitar playing. Meanwhile, the visuals were simply gorgeous, adding an almost heavenly element to the performance. This was pure music at it's finest, it didn't matter that Bjornson and Hufnagel had only met in person for the first time five minutes prior to going on, nor did it matter that they could only play for a portion of the originally allotted time. For those of us in attendance BardSpec was captivating and I don't think we could be any more excited for the record Bjornson is releasing with the project next year.
The next day would see what many might think of as the main event, a unique double set from Enslaved entitled "Then and Now" as well as a teaser of the bands upcoming biopic, and a live painting of the bands set as well as a showcasing of artist Kim Holm's work. Suffice to say, the mission of the By Norse project to transcend art forms was in full force. The biopic itself seems incredibly promising, humble, illuminating and hinting at a bold future for the band. One might think it was almost too much, yet as with everything else in By Norse the evening was extremely well executed and left me wanting more. By Norse is defined by its grace which makes an event which has a bit of everything into a monumental occasion that speaks to the reach of By Norse and their partner company, AISA. This is what heavy metal should be about, not tacky performances or dick waving awards shows, but seamless enhancements upon the art form.
Of course what you really want to hear about is the Enslaved show – and let me assure you, it was glorious. The "Then" set was a perfectly curated glimpse at everything that made the band pioneers in the scene twenty five years ago. It was a stunning reminder of how out there the band must have seemed relative to their peers in groups like Immortal and Mayhem. This transitioned beautifully into the "Now" set which showed us why Enslaved have made a name for themselves not just as a definitive black metal band but as musical pioneers of the sort that most of us could only dream of one day emulating. The performance was capped off by Enslaved inviting the members of Skuggsa on to perform a song – a rare treat and one that realistically won't be repeated in this country anytime soon. An especially emotional set as it was longtime keyboardist Herbrand Larsen's final American show with the band (And second to last ever) it ended perfectly with an encore that encapsulated with two songs, "As Fire Swept Clean The Earth" and "One Thousand Years Of Rain" all that Enslaved have come to represent. THIS was why five hundred people had gathered to see Enslaved – they are simply that good.
And so the soiree, and the event, came to an end. Enslaved proved once again that they are the one and only, the greatest ever and the band who could take over the world. This is a band who stand for far more than many of us realize and a band who have never been afraid to challenge preconceptions of what black metal should be. By Norse is a unique and beautiful event – a monument to what black metal has become whilst standing by its demented and transcendent roots. A blend of old and new, past, present and future this was a can't miss event and one that reminds us that black metal is life.