DOGIt was a windy night in Camden. Inside the Black Heart, three bands were waiting to treat us to some black metal and other variations. It was dark inside, so much so that Alex on the merch stand had to shine his torch on his collection of crusty underground metal, but there was a very friendly atmosphere. I waited with anticipation.

Men in beak masks and logo’d hoodies came on stage and started firing off some fluid black metal. This was The Infernal Sea from Peterborough. Old style, with growly bass, this music was crusty and murderous. Very nice and very Bathory. “Tonight you shall be judged by your sins”, pronounced the lead singer as we entered the melodramatic world of “Purification by Fire”. I liked The Infernal Sea. The beaked masks were a bit strange, but I learnt afterwards that this was an allusion to the masks that doctors wore during the Black Death, which by no coincidence is what their new album “The Great Mortality” is about. Without explanation this was a bit too obscure and even distracting, but there was no doubting that The Infernal Sea have oceans of personality. The drummer matched his incessantly ferocious output by twirling his long golden locks, which dropped down in front of his face – blind drumming is an impressive spectacle. There’s one for Britain’s Got Talent. But it’s about the music and The Infernal Sea gave an excellent display – no nonsense, distinctive riffs, penetrating growls, shadowy moods and atmospheres and an altogether dirty sound as they peered through the murk. The singer invited us to “gather for the live ritual of Satan”. We got the idea. “Plague Herald” was old school black metal as I like it – a piece of black metal with a malevolently deep riff and a pounding beat from the hair-swinging drummer. Lingering menace reinforced the evil atmosphere. It made you feel you wanted to go off and have a good wash. The masks came on again for “Brethren of the Cross”. As ever the drummer sung and struck hard and manically. The combination was strong. The compelling rhythm gave way to momentary doom before all hell broke loose. The Infernal Sea saved their most complex and interesting offering until last. They presented to us with great energy and cohesion their satanic visions of plague and death, and deserved all the audience appreciation that they got.

It was after listening to and reviewing “Stellar” by Der Weg einer Freiheit that I decided to come to this concert. I recognised the wavy sound and Dark Fortress like creepiness of “Repulsion”. As the faint and distant vocals brushed over the waves, the atmosphere developed. Heads bowed, power met doom and the atmosphere became mightier. Der Weg einer Freiheit do not stand still and the scene became frenzied, releasing the gas with a crumbly sounding piano sample. As the imaginary building continued to crumble, an explosion occurred and pungent black metal mixed with ringing tones emerged. A calm passage, which was too high in the mix but hey, this is live, took us somewhere else and the vocalist emitted a scream. Each passage had power and purpose, and the movements had majesty. The guitarist provided a post metal ring and the drum issued the threat. Members of the 50 or so strong audience reached to the sky. That’s where Der Weg einer Freiheit were taking us. The vocalist spoke in humble tones before introducing the raw and ferociously delivered black metal track “Lichtmensch”. It stopped as if there was a time limit, which a bit weird, but “Einkehr” took us back up the mountain. It’s a colourfully atmospheric firecracker of a track and Der Weg einer Freiheit did it justice, reaching unimaginable heights and intensity with its sheer weight and heavy blasts. In this death-or-glory atmosphere, the guitarist expanded the scene to conclude this multi-layered colossus. “Ewigkeit” took us back to the raw side, but although an older track and broadly a straight line thrashing black metal assault, its solid frame still had changes of mood. A spellbinding instrumental followed. A delicate pattern changed aspect but its constancy lingered and engrained itself in our mind as the increasingly expansive soundscape developed in a post metal way. The vocalist introduced “Eiswanderer”, another transforming track of melodic black metal with the customary ring and growling vocals. During its course we found ourselves amidst a cosmic interlude sounding like the drone of aeroplanes overhead. Through the sound wave and peering through the foggy blue light the guitarist played his gloomy tune. But with Der Weg einer Freiheit, there is no uniformity and explosively all hell broke loose, before they took us down one of their darkest passageways. This gargantuan track ended melancholically but the fuzzy sound at this point didn’t do them any favours. As the vocalist announced “Zeichen” to finish, I rather hoped they go for one of their more atmospheric tracks but instead sparks flew as we were taking along the road of uncompromising and furious black metal. It appeared they were sticking to their guns and leaving out the fact that they are much more than a black metal band. The earlier sad and grainy piano sample appeared, and then off we went into a darkly controlled passage of doom. I felt satisfied. A whirlwind appeared and there was a mix of everything. Like all that had gone before it, “Zeichen” is an impressively constructed track. Der Weg einer Freiheit delivered it with skill and intensity, finishing their set climactically. This is a band who demonstrated that they have many sides, loads of ideas to offer and plenty of interesting twists. They deserve great credit.

Unlike Der Weg einer Freiheit, I didn’t know their German counterparts Downfall of Gaia, who were the headlining band tonight. A self-confessed drunken guy lightened the ponderous mood by breaking the silence and making us laugh. But Downfall of Gaia were not for laughs. No track titles were announced, and rightly so because they had a whole world to create. This world was overwhelmingly gloomy and apocalyptic. The opening doomy sludge was misleading and broken by an eternal scream and vigorous output from the drummer and guitarist. There was mayhem. Behind the fog, a distant scream could be heard as we now turned to patient beats and big time doom. The band members, who were barely visible in the gloom, were pouring out large slabs. The nice guitarist in the Anaal Nathrakh t-shirt sent out a melancholically classic riff but this wasn’t really their world. The vocalist croaked crustily and the planet exploded violently. Full volume intensity tends to have impact and this did, breaking away into buzzing sounds and hypnotising passages of heavy sludge. And then they would head off somewhere else. There would be a curious combination of sirening noise, harshness and growls. It’s kind of avant-garde, experimental even and I wasn’t finding this easy to latch on to. But I found this other worldly, violent, apocalyptic stuff interesting. Some audience members at the front raised their arms and clearly saw it as a religious experience. Occasionally I dropped into their world as a sublime and majestic passage was played out. Downfall of Gaia pressed on remorselessly with this highly charged assault. Now and again a calming and repetitive guitar line would enter all this turbulence. The world stood still and when it moved it was laid to waste and crumbled. Feedback shrilled like lightening in this scene of devastation and chaos. This was the antithesis of orderliness. Lights flashed, high-pitched guitars rang and resounded. This was the representation of a murky world. Some of this took me back to the days of The Axis of Perdition. Amid the black metal tones, there was a throbbing and industrial sound like a train braking. Mentally, I pictured Cult of Luna without the shape or continuity. Maybe I like a bit of continuity. It was sort of hypnotic and was certainly mashing with my brain, so well done Downfall of Gaia. As the evening became later, the drum led the acceleration from hypnosis to frenzy. It was 1055pm. The band walked off. It was over.

The Infernal Sea and Der Weg einer Freiheit were more my cup of tea than Downfall of Gaia. But I must say that Downfall of Gaia were interesting. What’s in no doubt is that this was an excellent evening’s entertainment in a great venue.

(Andrew Doherty)