A gig at an inconvenient point of the week. What are you gonna do: not go and forever hold your grudge or make the effort and exacerbate the misery of your looming day at work? In the case of HOB – a band I’ve long been waiting to see – very little would have been able to discourage my attendance. And when they’re playing relatively close by (before their big Friday night Paris gig), even better. Unfortunately the same mentality didn’t grip many other frontier metalheads judging by the astounding lack of French and (especially) Luxembourgish license plates in the car park.
On walking in, the Saarlanders of Diabolic Heritage were just finishing up their opening set of fairly groovy, fist-to-the-face extreme metal. It was enough to elicit polite applause and the odd cheer from the sparse Thursday night crowd. Any belief that more people would roll up as the gig went on still seemed misguided as Luxembourg’s most established band took the stage. Having caught them at least a couple of times before, Desdemonia had thus far left little more than a reasonable impression on this Engländer. Yet as the band rushed to get their equipment ready in this tight schedule, and subsequently struggled with it, a mild wave of patriotism struck me. For when they hit their groove, these heavyweight fellows from my adopted home country deliver a hefty payload. Sadly, support from their fellow countrymen was seemingly nonexistent for tonight’s high profile gig. As with DH before them, the best Desdemonia’s simplistic brew could muster was a pleasant reaction.
Things eventually got a bit better for one of Trier’s own sons, Ichor, who took the musical complexity up a notch. At first it was a bit difficult to figure out whether the dreaded deathcore tag might apply to them – after all, there was more than the odd breakdown tumbling out. However, the more I scanned the stage, the more my interpretation leaned towards rather technical death metal. In some respects, similarities to Psycroptic struck me – Eric’s hard vocal delivery certainly seemed to fit this comparison, as did the octopus drumming and rhythms; each guitarist concentrating intently on hitting the right notes of his ridiculously over-stringed instrument. Whatever accusation of sterility some people might throw at watching such a performance was more than crushed by the vocalist’s imposing demeanour (tough looking guy with black smudges all over his face) and the band’s dabbling in some ripping riff work. The most impressive aspect of all though was the immaculately clean solo work, each one cutting elegantly through the mix. Overall: alles gut!
By the time Hail Of Bullets were set to hit the stage, the crowd had marginally expanded resulting in a half full venue. For me, this low attendance came as quite the shock. Irrespective of what night it was, I imagined the drawing power of this band to result in a packed house and sweat dripping off the ceiling. Instead it felt like standing in a draughty old bunker for some reason… BUT! Once the Dutch War Machine hit the stage, the one hundred or so punters in attendance predictably gravitated towards them. The prospect of an intimate evening with HOB? Wunderbar!! Martin van Drunen started the evening as he continued – encouraging the crowd with his fluent German to enjoy the forthcoming ‘history lesson’. First up came ‘Swoop of the Falcon’, which in turn inspired the first unbridled enthusiasm of the night. To begin with the sound seemed a bit constrained although things soon started to make complete sense with ‘Red Wolves of Stalin’. The energy and aggression as the band members stalked the stage, heads down for the fast parts, was infectious.
Next on the list of crushing, brain-splattering assaults was ‘DG-7’, as it ground away at ear drums and haunted via its closing refrain of ‘Gespensterdivision!’ From the Western Front, we were then transported to the East by ‘General Winter’ and ‘Berlin’, with its stirring, rueful tones. Witnessing the likes of these live felt long overdue and each naturally came across just as grim and devastating as expected. Perhaps the surprise packages of the set though were ‘On Coral Shores’ and ‘Farewell to Africa’: the first due to its sheer suffocating brutality; the latter, because of its ability to tear through an audience in the manner of a pursued armoured division. Away from the music and comradeship up onstage, we also got a bit of a laugh. At one point before the final track, MvD was struck by an unexpected dose of nerve-gas originating from some dirty punter’s arsehole (swap adjective/noun where appropriate). After jokingly demanding to know who committed this atrocity, the band tore into an inevitably perfect ‘Ordered Eastward’, followed by an epic encore of ‘Operation Z’, which resulted in vast swathes of melody wafting through the bunker.
Once the siege of the Exhaus had come to an end, minor rapture breaking out, it was quickly back to reality. This meant a drive and just four hours sleep before work but hey, the adrenaline of having seen HOB carried me through the day.
Hail Of Bullets setlist (from memory):
1) Swoop of the Falcon
2) Red Wolves of Stalin
4) General Winter
5) Pour le Mérite
7) On Coral Shores
8) Farewell to Africa
9) Tokyo Napalm Holocaust
10) Ordered Eastward
11) Operation Z
Review by Jamie.