ArcturusIt’s mental out there, trying to stop and have a quiet pint in the pub before the show was an impossibility as some classy boss has treated about 50 of his braying staff to their turkey nosebags in the Moons by the venue. Abandoning that idea it was a relief to pop into the Academy early and get some much needed breathing space as people started coming in. This was going to be my first live encounter with The Bogs Of Aughiska and having loved their albums I was looking forward to both catching them live and intrigued about the audiences reaction. The duo create an instant atmosphere with heavy feedback and heavy layers of drone, standing there over banks of peddles and a keyboard, wearing balaclavas, white shirts and black ties. Behind them a black and white canvas showed bleak scenes of Ireland and we were immediately taken to a different zone. It was one that was both uncomfortable but warming too especially due to the vocal samples from Irish tale weaver Eddie Lenahan. Landscapes were barren as castles and the sea caught us visually and finding myself right next to the speaker I could not resist but to press myself against and ride the sonic waves. The drones built and were absorbed and when I finally got the chance to observe the audience they too seemed in a somewhat shamanic state, caught up in the mystical vibe and drenched in the atmosphere. A sudden surge of noise and shrieking vocals brought levels up and hellishly to the boil before more haunting strains and that placating voice of Eddie calmed us down for the final segment. I was glad to have seen this first on a big stage through a really good PA rather than in a small pub venue and feel I got the most out of the experience that way. Everybody else seemed to enjoy it on one level or another too and although it left a few blank faces there was no complaining that I heard at all.

Fen were a perfect main support here tonight, having started the year with the excellent Dustwalker, through to a tour with Agalloch and plenty of other live dates,  they have worked hard to get where they are. Thinking back they are almost certainly the band I have seen the most this year but again this was the biggest stage I have caught them on. There may not have been a huge amount of movement from the trio but there does not need to be as any motion is left for the music to pick you up and take you with it. This was illustrated by the calm almost flamenco guitar intro of ‘Hands Of Dust’ which eases you in to a numbing sea of tranquillity, leaving you to float away thinking you are about to be taken off on a ride like an Albatross gliding on thermals. Of course just as you are used to this the jagged full weight comes and explodes in in jagged acerbic peaks and we are thrust into the depths of a storm wondering how something so fragile can be torn apart so virulently by three people who had looked so calm and composed. There is not time for a huge amount of songs, it’s not like Fen play short ones anyway. A couple of real crowd pleasers are included such as the heathen windswept galloping cleave of ‘As Buried Spirits Stir’ which sounds absolutely magnificent with the wallop it gets through the meaty PA here. It’s aged, weathered craggy and absolutely excellent as is ‘Consequence’ another new one with a massive gravity behind it. I could have and indeed have actually watched the band for hours but there was a case of a headliner and curfew so it came down to the familiar strains of Exile’s Journey’ to summon us to glory ride for the finale. Another excellent set.

It was pretty full up in the venue and whereas the audience were somewhat static it was obvious they had been saving themselves as Arcturus were quick to turn the place into a full on party atmosphere. It’s been eight long years since the avant-black Norse weird collective last graced our shores in 2005 supported by Red Harvest and Asrai. Historically things stretch back a lot further as this super-group of sorts were one of the bands along with the likes of Ved Buens Ende, In The Woods, Virus and Fleurety for turning Norwegian black metal on its head and taking it down strange tripped out paths. The first two albums Aspera Hiems Symfonia 96 and La Masquerade Infernale 97 were so out there that to say I enjoyed them would be a huge understatement and infatuated would be a better description as I literally could not stop playing them over and over again. The band have had their share of different members and the original vocal force Garm naturally continued down his path with Ulver leaving ICS Vortex aka Simen Hestnæs to hit the giddy heights. The band have also had long periods of hiatus and are back now as of 2011 playing select dates and we hope soon to be unleashing a new album. Tonight was all about the songs of yesteryear but first we had to contend with the sight of what looked like a bunch of mutants spat out the cursed earth as they tromped onto the stage. My first thought on seeing the cyber punked up (and the band were dressing the part well before the term was invented) singer was “where did you park your camel?” To say we got into the swing of things in a jiggery-pokery fashion would be about right as ‘Evacuation Code’ bounced us around and the band quickly found their groove on this sideshow symphony. With Sverd’s keyboard playing bristling through this took us on a mad black prog jaunt powered away by an eccentric vocal performance and Hellhammer’s battering away. This was just a taster as Ad Absurdium was up next to add its absurd carnival laden tones to things and really stir it all up. Obviously the audience were getting into things behind me as they all seemed to be joining in on the wail along vocal parts.

There were certain songs that I really wanted to hear and was pleased that the Infernale tones of ‘Alone’ were there to take us back. The musicians really powered away with Skoll and Knutt riffing like crazy and Hellhammer really getting a chance to flex his muscles as this one batters in. After the start though it’s the vocals that make their mark and ICS seems on fine form tonight (let’s face it Dimmu Borgir have never been the same since he left). By the time this had us hoarse from singing along and belting out final line ‘Of a demon in my view’ a well needed pint was required and a breather to take things in on the side-lines. We stayed with that most excellent album and waltzed off down The Chaos Path, I had actually never really expected to witness these songs live again and as the vocals hit the rafters it was a particularly poignant moment which had my mind popping back in time. It was definitely my favourite era as a recent trip back through all their albums in preparation to the show had proved and the baroque likes of  this and ‘Painting My Horror’ were certainly the highlights of the show to me especially as the creepy keyboards went into b-movie excess and the vocals went falsetto.

Remembering the balcony I went to watch the rest of the set from above getting a good view of the man behind the kit at last, there was no sight behind so many drums from eye level. It seemed like we were getting most of Masquerade as songs from it kept coming like the eerie ‘Master Of Disguise’ complete with out there pantomime vocal excesses. It has to be said the singer seemed to be really enjoying himself here and it was all great fun as so were we. Mozart sounding keyboards took us ‘Hibernation Sickness Complete’ (must not use the words “new one” it’s 8 years old) and we swayed along with this paired up perfectly with ‘Shipwrecked Frontier Pioneer’ One thing that had been missed was something from the first album but that was a surprise left for the finale in the form of the manic dash of ‘Raudt og svart.’ Short of going back in a time machine and witnessing the band with Garm doing these songs live around the time they were conceived there were no complaints forthcoming about this show and it was obvious that many here were happy to be taken back in time as were some newer fans catching the band for the first time. I was glad that there was a healthy turn out and hopefully this will encourage them to come back, perhaps with some new songs and an album too.

(Review and photos © Pete Woods)