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Minnesotans were in for a Nordic one-two treat this Wednesday as Insomnium and Enslaved rolled through the Varsity Theater, marking the first return of each band to North American shores since the pandemic hit back in 2020. Each band (with excellent support from New York City’s Black Anvil) also released an album earlier this year (Anno 1696 for Insomnium and Heimdal for Enslaved) and paired up for a combination of the some of the best black metal and melodic death metal has to offer all in one sweet tour lineup.

Black Anvil opened the show with a bang, the band crowded up to the front of the stage to make space for Enslaved & Insomnium’s stage gear, meaning audience members got an up close and personal experience of the veteran New Yorker’s unique combination of raw, black intensity and their defining melodic edge that sets them apart. Their opening set set the mood for the night - intense, hearts on their sleeves, and completely unapologetic. They cruised their way through roughly half an hour of excellent black metal tunes, leaving listeners a bit darker than when the show began.

Insomnium took the stage next - the Finnish legends are a special band for me. Outside of simply being one of my favorite bands to listen to, they also were the very first band I photographed in a large venue. This show was also the first time they have made back to my area since that show due to the cancellations of the Pandemic. In my mind, Insomnium have been the pinnacle of Melodic Death metal pretty much since their inception, and they bring that unparalleled excellence to their live performances. Their combination of latent folk elements and powerful, emotive songwriting has set them apart for the entire time they have existed as a band. The band released new album Anno 1696 earlier this year - based on a short story written by sadly absent Ville Friman - and set out to tour almost immediately on the material. Their set opened with the first track off of that album (the eponymous titled "1696") and lead directly into the second song off that album ("White Christ"). With a nod to old time fans, they left the new material behind briefly for an incredible live rendition of ""While We Sleep. The rest of the set was a delightful mix of new and old - longtime Insomnium fans made some intense noise when the opening piano notes of "The Gale lead into Mortal Share". They weaved into and out of "Anno 1696" and closed with a few tracks off of Heart Like A Grave, their 2019 release. All in all another fantastic performance by this band, and one I look forward to seeing again (hopefully much sooner).

Finally Enslaved took the stage - a band I had long been hoping to see (and photograph) for a very, very long time! Their combination of progressive and psychedelic soundscapes with black metal has always made them stand out, and it’s blade they’ve been refining the edge of since 2004’s Isa, nearly perfected on Axioma Ethica Odini, and continually pushing and developing in interesting ways. Their latest release - Heimdal - came out just over a month ago and continues their 3 decade streak of never releasing a bad album. You’d think that Enslaved would be motivated to hit the stage and play new track after new track - but not the case! Ivar Bjørnson - primary composer and songwriter - sadly could not attend this tour, so the Nords took to the stage as a four piece, with Grutle Kjellson leading the charge and screaming like a madman almost immediately as the opening notes to "Jettegryta" - off their previous album, Utgard - an album they would return to with their next song before veering wildly into their ancient back catalog and staying there for awhile (a few cuts off of Isa, and two(!) tracks off of Below the Lights including an incredible rendition of "Havenless". They did also play a few songs off of Heimdal, however they mostly hung out in their back catalogue - a treat for fans new and old alike.

Altogether - there is not a more perfect pairing of metal bands out there, and you would be making a mistake if you missed out on this tour! There’s still quite a few tour dates left so grab a ticket!

Joseph Dunst

Photojournalist - Minneapolis  

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