There’s a barricade up in front of the stage tonight which is a rarity but it’s probably for the audience’s safety as much as the bands as nobody wants to get on the wrong side of Marduk’s vocalist Mortuus. It takes up a bit of valuable space especially as the show is completely sold out and there is still a healthy crowd to witness Ethereal first on at 6.15. The band’s burgeoning brand of symphonic blackness is well worth getting down early for especially as latest album Opus Aethereum is still getting a lot of plays from me. It seems I am not alone either as the corpse painted theatrical display is quick to get fists pumped in the air in appreciation. There’s a lot of feral zeal spilling off the stage and the commanding presence of vocalist Naut towers over the front ranks as he ravenously bites, barks and chews goby chunks out of us. Drums clatter away and the underlying symphonic touch harks back to the golden age of Emperor as well as Dimmu Borgir at their prime. It’s fast and furious and when ‘Unholy Ungodly’ is announced as the last track it feels like this impressive half hour of darkness is over far too quickly. We really did not need a UK based support act joining in here with the touring bands but as far as Ethereal are concerned it was a rare occasion where I was damned pleased we had one.
French band Bliss Of Flesh are completely new to me. First attention is drawn to vocalist Necurat’s interesting iron sculptured mic stand and the band who then take the stage backs turned to us. Facing the audience they explode in a gnarly sounding morass of deathly black metal. It’s very in the face with suitably hostile vocals as they hit us with tracks like A.M.E.N from latest album Beati Pauperes Spiritu. Drums are pulverising and riffs thorny and what I at first expected to be a no frills hammer and nails display opens up and breathes with guttural roaring rasps making way for some particularly impressive and dextrous instrumental riffing. It does have me scratching my head a bit and if I had been put on the spot to guess the bands origins I would not have identified them as French. In fact there is more than a bit of a Greek sound to them and at times they remind a fair bit of Rotting Christ when they hit the more melodic patches of their songs along with the dictatorial vocals. Long meandering fret work and brutality are combined well and at times they hit a lethal neck cracking pace that has the front ranks getting down, caught up in the spirit of it all. Another short but welcome half hour spent here.
Belphegor’s cavernous and volatile set was a highlight last time I caught them at Bloodstock and judging by the amount of shirts on display in the audience there were near as many people here to witness them tonight as the headliners. Two stands have the bags taken off them unveiling bone and skull structures and singer Helmuth has a gas mask attached to his. Sound was obviously going to be more controlled here than it was at said festival but it still knocks us pretty much flat when the Austrian’s start to Feast Upon The Dead and make a very bloody meal out of it. It’s absolutely battering and totally rammed in here by now and its no surprise to see that the pit fires up as the ‘Gasmask Terror’ takes hold. The dark lord is summoned with beastly intent by Impaled Upon The Tongue Of Satan’ and the pulverising blasts drop out allowing a sense of grandiosity to shine through with a big melodic impetus. Obviously Satan is in big demand and the apocalyptic embrace of the music drives us fully into hells scorching grip with horns being held aloft throughout. Belphegor prove the perfect soundtrack to our descent and it’s a volatile sermon that you can practically smell the brimstone from (although someone may have dropped the eggs they had previously eaten into the air). ‘Lucifer Incestus’ has the centre of the venue battering nine shades out of each other whilst the rest of us tried not to get pushed through the gates into the tumult. There’s a great groove riding through things and the use of samples adds to the atmospheric intensity. With a quagmire of “Hail Satan’s” and annihilating blasts everything surged towards an incendiary finale of ‘Bondage Goat Zombie’ This was going to be a tough one to follow.
Of course Marduk were going to be more than up for that particular challenge and the stage is stripped away of everything but the bare basics. No tanks are necessary although a bit of camo netting is draped over the speakers as they prepare to unleash their own brand of hell. The Swedes have always been happy to visit our shores and truth be told I don’t think I have missed a single London show. This time around they have the corking new album ‘Frontschwein’ to play to the swine’s firmly pressing themselves to the barrier down the front and it’s this they open up with like a veritable hail of gunfire. Mortuus is as ever an imposing and grim scary frontman and takes control of the centre of the battlefield. To our left is Morgan and right Devo blazing away. Tour drummer Fredrik Widings batters away at the back although is lost from view due to constant streams of cold dry ice. The Blond Beast is a grim ode to The Butcher Of Prague Reinhard Heydritch. This slower number is a deadly groover and its one that stuck out on first listen to the new album. Here it is equally imposing as Mortuus gabbles and rasps away. It’s cold grey and very dead, ugh, the horror! It’s back right in time and a massive speed injection for ‘Slay The Nazarene’ The Nightwing classic goes down a hellstorm literally nailing it as I fall out the trenches in an attempt to grab a pint and find a vantage point for the rest of the set.
Managing to do this without getting caught for desertion its back to the frenzy as the band cleave through songs old and new. It’s a cracking set too and one full of non-stop action. 502 is utterly destructive and sees the band at their most punishing literally blitzing us with a mighty payload and causing carnage in the pit. A couple of people try to go over the top but are repelled at the borders. The World Funeral is dished out with ultraviolence at its heart courtesy of interlude Blackcrowned straight from Clockwork Orange and then surging into ‘Cloven Hoof.’ Coffins are burned and it feels like civilisation could well be crumbling outside the venue doors, when we leave is it going to be straight into the apocalypse? Before that there are other numbers to fight through and for me it’s new one Afrika that really stands out as it’s so in the face it literally tears it off with Mortuus putting on the most fierce performance imaginable. Not surprised they left this until right near the end, it’s the sort of track that could seriously cause voice loss. It seems that there is a 10PM strict curfew which sees the band playing just over an hour. I’m kind of suspecting this was due to the fact they probably had a ferry to catch to go and invade France the next day. Finishing us well and truly off with The Black… they are off having totally destroyed us. Although this was a gig it felt more like I had just survived a really tough assault course. Job done!
(Review and photos © Pete Woods)