DF UnderworldThe sewer stench of Camden gives way to the fragrant scent of incense as we walk into the Underworld. Candles are on stage and ritualistic ambient music washes over us from the PA. We await the arrival of the strangely named Swiss band Schammasch and it’s not long before they pump out dry ice and fill the void. Backs to audience they get ready to detonate with sinister brooding intro which brings everyone here towards the front expectantly. The sinuous start oozes out occult dark vibes and as they turn towards us we try and figure out what the band look like through the billowing fog. It’s as odd as we would have expected too. They are adorned in the same sort of garb one would have expected from Necros Christos and frontman Chris SR has intriguing face paint that reminds of the alien look perfected by Dodheimsgard. The band includes members who have played in the likes of Zatokrev and Blutmond and they instantly impress musically as the venue turns into a right pea souper. Weird sounds are contorted somewhat ethereally from the dense chugging blackened mainframe and songs are long and intricate twisting and turning in on themselves. It’s like tentacles are spreading through the labyrinth song-craft, touching and infecting each of us in turn. It’s the equivalent of being in a John Carpenter flick, stay out the fog! Lighting is kept at a minimum, bathing the players in dark red and the riffs take off in a driving pace heralding an end of day’s cataclysm. The ice machine proves too much for the venues smoke alarm so we get some shrill sound from that briefly. The next song has a cold touch bordering on nautical funeral doom as the band are cast in blue tones, ice chills spread before it rises from the depths to consume. The intricate fretwork is particularly mesmerising and shines through. The full on parts are more cavernous and hollow sounding, booming through the venue angrily in contrast. Schammasch prove the perfect opening band for this bill and even though their choice in footwear was odd they were the most frightening band I have ever witnessed wearing sandals!

It’s been a while since I last saw Secrets Of The Moon but that just adds to the anticipation and enjoyment especially since their last album Seven Bells was my favourite of 2012 and as I have been enjoying sG’s new project Crone’s debut EP lately. Straight away they exude quality taking us into ‘Serpent Messiah’ with the song sinfully slithering out the speakers uncoiling and attacking.  The guitar work sounds nothing short of lush as it gleams and glistens and the powerful brutality mixes with perfect symmetry to the dark vibes and atmosphere. sG looms over the front row with his necklace of bones making him appear like one of the mutants in The Hills Have Eyes. New bassist Nammah Ash works forcefully to our right replacing the void sadly missing from the departed L.S.K. and to the left long dark haired Ar backs things up on guitar, drummer Erebor keeping time at the back. It’s still dark lighting wise but a strobe light is put on stage reacting to the force of the drumming and adding to the mania, matching the intensity as everyone head bangs away at the front. Dipping back to Antithesis for ‘Lucifer Speaks’ things are momentous, slightly slower but no less weighty and it’s as sublime a satanic sermon as you could have wanted to witness building up to a horn throwing tumult which has taken everyone over to its side. Nyx strikes as the Antichrist to Pink Floyd as it harmoniously ebbs in and it has the audience swaying along to it and sounds as fantastic live as it does on album.. It’s left to a galloping shred to decimate at the end as the heady set concludes in a welter of abuse ‘Carved In Stigmata Wounds’ cuts to the core; excellent

It was a tough act to follow but headliners Dark Fortress mean business and although it still was far from full in here (not surprising the amount of shows on at the moment) the sextet have a new album to celebrate and some old classics as well and came on filling up the stage and launching into their brand of ‘Betrayal And Vengeance.’ It’s a fast and brutal opening assault and it gets fists flying up in the air in appreciation from those hemmed in at the front straight away. There’s plenty of material to choose from and we get a rowdy Séance with an attacking Poltergeist next to contend with.  Vocalist Morian seems well into things and commands things at the front with the other players (I had kind of forgotten V Santura was in the band) gathered on either side of him. It’s the new material that I really wanted to hear and title track ‘Venereal Dawn’ does not disappoint. The lengthy song is both suitably brutal and captivating and it takes off and literally goes through the roof.

By the time they give us ‘I Am The Jigsaw Of A Mad God’ with its excellent shimmering guitar work I’m in the zone completely and already arranging my top 10 albums of the year to make sure this new disc is not forgotten, there is absolutely no problem replicating the mighty sound from it to the stage. I particularly like the way the low unholy sounding vocal parts come across too. This one really hit the giddy heights. Leaving the new for the old they dip back to Eidlon with ‘No Longer Human’ blasting in and seeing drummer Seraph pummelling away and the guitars flailing like mad.  Continuing to impress they decide to unveil the grandiose ‘Chrysalis’ another new one that’s a real frosty gem of a song as it spreads its wings and soars full of dark force. They announced the last song and went out with ‘The Unflesh’ evil sounding and destructive but it was all a ruse as they had a 75 minute set time and were determined to use it all up bursting back with some old favourites When 1000 Crypts Awake and Baphomet leaving us to fall out practically drained but very happy to have been used up and tossed out so effectively. A particularly memorable night all round!

(Review and photos © Pete Woods)