Review: High on Fire + Enslaved – Limelight 2, Belfast

It’s not often you get two headliners for the price of one but two full-length sets from two bands who are leaders in their respective genres is one way to pack the house out.

After Enslaved’s short but memorable set with Opeth last year, a return to Belfast as headliners in their own right was expected at some stage in 2018. On this occasion, a co-headline tour alongside American heavy metal outfit High on Fire brought the Norwegian five-piece back to Ormeau Avenue, this time to entertain Limelight 2.

With a slightly more forgiving allocation of seventy-five minutes, the band managed to display material from six of their albums, including a healthy segment of that dedicated to the earliest part of their career. Sadly for an extremely instrumental driven act, the sound in the Limelight 2 didn’t accommodate the intricacies of guitarists Ivar Bjornson and Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal. However recent material such as “Roots of the Mountain” and “Storm Son” was still received with an emphatic reaction.

Despite the recent change in personnel, the musicianship on display was as tight as ever with new boys Iver Sandøy and Håkon Vinje seamlessly fitting into the legendary setup. If any pressure was on the newer members to step up, the familiar self-depreciating wit and dry banter of frontman Grutle Kjellson was sure to take the heat off.

Jumping into the archive, a lesson in Norse and Viking mythology came in the shape of “Isöders dronning” and “Jotunblod” from 1994 album Frost. The black metal epics of their youth are a far call from their more recent progressive efforts but are still received with the appreciation they deserve. Newer material such as “Sacred Horse” encapsulates just where the band are at the minute, layering relentless guitars with intense keyboards and mixing harsh vocals among clean choir-like chanting.

Closing out with “Allfǫðr Oðinn” from their debut EP Hordanes Land was another treat for the Enslaved fans of old. Another half hour of material would have been welcomed but now it was time for a face melting guitar masterclass.

High on Fire are no strangers to Belfast either. With a performance in the Limelight 2 three years ago and two shows with Metallica in the Odyssey back in 2010, the band have seen both ends of the spectrum when it comes to Belfast’s music venues. Although a straight up no frills act, they’re following is huge with frontman Matt Pike’s legendary status as Sleep guitarist certainly contributing. With that said, High on Fire is no side project and eight highly regarded albums in eighteen years is a testament to that.

Despite a large portion of the venue clearly showing their allegiance to Enslaved, the numbers stayed on for the night’s co-headliner. It’s hard to do much else than stand there and nod your head to relentless riffage of HOF. Much like Enslaved, the sound came across rather muddy but a keen enough ear could tell exactly what was going on.

With Pike’s more than familiar “taps aff” approach to playing live, the band stormed through a set of more recent material. Early features were “Carcosa” and “The Black Plot” from 2015’s Luminiferous and “Fertile Green” from 2012’s De Vermis Mysteriis.

The obvious but hard not to mention similarities to Motorhead become all that much more prominent in the flesh. The gravelly vocals of Pike and the raw swagger are just the tip of the iceberg but with that said, they aren’t imitators either. At times Black Sabbath is the band that comes through, and more recent material bears a resemblance to the aforementioned Sleep.

With the warmth of the venue gauged by just how sweaty Pike’s tattooed torso was, the temperature really rose on the penultimate song of the night, the eight-minute epic; “Snakes for the Divine”. The relentless efforts of drummer Des Kensel and bassist Jeff Matz clearly depicted just how much noise a three-piece can make.

Touring in support of the recently released Electric Messiah, the first three tracks of the album made the cut, with “Steps of the Ziggurat”, Spewn from the Earth” both featuring and the self-titled “Electric Messiah” to close the set out. It’s hard to comprehend how the efforts on display are a nightly occurrence for Pike and co.