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Italian, Norwegian, British, Finnish and Greek bands all clash headlong on stage this evening bringing a pure axis of evil to London. First up are the Italians Fides Inversa who appear cloaked up in pointed headgear looking like a coven of evil sorcerers.  London does perhaps not deserve these visitors being lazy with not that many turning up for the start of the show but once the band turn and face the audience and the eerie intro piece puts the frighteners on us it is obvious they are not going to be holding back, certainly not as far as the volume is concerned which is turned right up to the max. They literally explode into action and it takes a moment to realise that it is the drummer Omega A.D. here who is also handling the vocals leaving the two guitarists and bass player to lead from the front. There’s a humungous mighty bass thump billowing out the speakers as they hammer away at their somewhat terrifying orthodox blackness. The vocals themselves are clean on the whole and hollered out, guitar strumming is incessant with the players buzz-sawing away hell for leather. The downright cheeky classical interlude from the numerically entitled tracks on latest album ‘Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans’ gives the intense flailing a break before the bruising tumult hones back in. The band slow the pace momentarily but even then just as savagely gnaw away at us. Vocals rise into more sermon like crooning and the drums become enveloped in a fog of dry ice making things all the more sinister as the dark mass continues. It’s an impressive display, layered up and really tight with the sound crushing and phenomenal, kick drum ricocheting and cymbals clanging. The bands brand of blazing perdition is just the wake up call we need. As we move into an interlude of monkish chanting a guitarist prostrates himself in front of burning candles praying to foul gods. A cymbal is clanged and atmosphere and tension is rife before the beast rises to bite, very, very hard and savagely. That was an impressive display and well worth getting down here early for.

Next up are Tortorum who feature Barghest of British group Spearhead on vocals and bass along with a trio of Norwegians with a huge wealth of experience behind them from bands such as Dead To This World, Aeternus, Djevel, Nettlecarrier and ex Gorgoroth and Enslaved. Basically we knew this was going to slay in all the right ways especially after being impressed by recent album ‘Katabasis’ Vocals quickly bit in, tearing out flesh in bloody bite size chunks, musically they thunder away with loads of crashing snares via Dirge Rep’s heavy battery. It took a while to realise that the band in front are sticky with blood having liberally doused themselves in it. I guess the local butchers shops did good trade today as they were not the last to do this either. Barghest looked impressive and menacing with corpse paint ghoulishly applied too and there was suitably a foul smell coming off the stage as they tore into tracks such as Aeonscourge from debut album ‘Extinctionist.’ Musically things were a bit looser than the previous band and there is a real bouncy feeling to things as they uncoil with spring like tenacity. In line with this there is also a feral and ravenously necrotic hunger about it all too. Between tracks there was a touch of chaotic feedback which just added to it all and made it that bit more volatile before the band hammered back in and blackly thrashed away. Vocals had real versatility too, booming out heavily in the mix with plenty of gruff parts as well as some wailing histrionics that near hit the roof and some ceremonial intoning.  Thankfully a lot more people were wandering in now and things seemed to be going down well. Some theatricality and avant-garde parts rose from the onslaught and the English mad dog at the front was definitely adding some eccentricity that reminded at times of the likes of early Code and Dodheimsgard. As the last song went into convoluted progressive free-fall I had to think they were just a few days early otherwise they would have been a good support to Arcturus.

Incense and skulls deck the stage and mixed with a very quick boost of energy drink and chocolate on top of all the cider things are not mixing together well and I wonder if vomiting on the stage before Grave Miasma come on is a wise move. Luckily it’s all held down even though it may have gone unnoticed with all the dry ice this British group constantly drench themselves in. They are no real strangers to us and their bestial and cavernous occult death worship normally gets very well received. The barbaric primitivism is quick to be delivered with the likes of Gnosis Of The Summon creating a right old unholy racket. Chundering away with barbaric intensity it’s all a case of thudding things like Neanderthals just discovering that they can use bones to batter their enemies unconscious. It has some of the audience acting like apes along with it and drinks go flying at the front. It was a bit like that famous scene in 2001 a Space Odyssey and with the sound of iron being struck on rocks heralding in one song it was like being dragged right back into the stone age. Unfortunately I found the uncouth density of it all being not only hard to penetrate tonight but with the red hued constant stage lighting too it all became a bit too stale and turgid after the first 4-5 numbers. I have sung the bands praises before but it seemed like they were going through the motions tonight and even after a quick smoke outside and coming back hoping that I would find a bit of freshness it just wasn’t happening. One more drum thwack and brutal surge later I have to admit I was getting downright bored especially after the previous memorable displays and what was likely to come next. I found myself wishing that someone would snuff out their candles and slam their cave door firmly shut. Grave Miasma unfortunately played way too long for comfort and frankly being local compared to all the others should definitely have come on first.

To my memory Horna have only played London twice before and they were a main draw to me as their punky take on black metal always is a riot to watch. The filthy Finns with ties to Behexen, Sargeist, Sotajumala, Saturnian Mist and stacks of others got into their groove really quickly and wiped previous feelings of tedium straight out of my memory. This with its pogo laden beat is black metal to bounce around to and delivered in a style that reminds of the likes of GG Allin and The Cramps. As we were to find out later these scrawled words turned out to be more than a little prophetic. The band have stacks of material and all song titles are pretty much in Finnish so you can forget a set list. Having said that there was plenty of barbed parts that I recognised from the albums I have and they definitely went for the shorter and more abrasive tracks here. The band looked fantastically grizzled in their stage make up but frontman Spellgoth was very much the centre of attention dressed up in a stinking cassock clutching some anti-religious beads. There was a real stench at the front and as he put his bare slabs of meat on the monitor I quickly backed off almost gagging. The audience was happily bouncing around and there were a few brief outbursts of fisticuffs as things bristled away. The now pretty busy venue also had a fair few standing sensibly back from the carnage looking somewhat bemused. The cassock suddenly came off and ye Gods the frontman was letting everything hang out, I decided I best record photographic evidence for posterity and gritted my teeth getting the odious job done. Perhaps Spellgoth was aware that this was actually world naked gardening day and had come straight from doing a touch of pruning. It certainly created an impression and nobody could blame him of having a Hoest like wardrobe malfunction. Most people seemed to find the funny (bare) side of it all and it seemed to spur the frenzy of both music and reaction. Horna did a good job of causing carnage and chaos with some damn rollocking tracks that were as black as tar and full of rotting groove. As the singer hollered and waved his bits at us it was all a bit surreal and when they left, the singer bearing his buttocks in our direction there seemed to be a mass exodus to the bar. Luckily the staff no doubt remembering Watain had a good stock of air freshener and were liberally spraying it everywhere.

It’s time for Varathron and their Unholy Funeral to perhaps calm things down a little. The Greek band may not be quite as well known as the likes of Rotting Christ and SepticFlesh but their legacy does stretch back pretty much as far with their Hellenic darkness spreading back to 1988. This is their first ever UK show and apparently they are recording it for a future live album. It’s a lot more serious sounding in execution and the band don’t go for anything in the way of theatricality in dress sense generally wearing hoodies and smearing themselves in black paint. One of the guitarists proves an exception to the rule with some sort of face mask but who can blame him the stage probably had all manner of lingering odours. It’s a long 70 minute set they have with plenty of time for us to lose ourselves in the intricate thorny riffing, which gets fists pumping along to the driving beat from the off. There is a large amount of reverb echoing off Stefan Necroabyssious vocals and things ring in the ears from this. The vigorous riffing on new numbers like ‘Kabalistic Invocation Of Solomon’ gets fists pumping and the whole vibe is one of almost jubilation that spreads off the stage and through into the audience. The chants and craggy vocal parts have plenty of mystery and arcane intrigue about them as the vocalist reads through a large grimoire and I would not have been surprised if it burst into flames.

It’s sinister and ceremonial but thankfully the band were preaching to an ever drunken audience as the riffs flow through us with a serpent like tenacity spreading their potent venom and completely transfixing us. As vocals babble away speaking with almost forked tongue we are transported through ancient catacombs and the atmosphere is full of the air of past civilisations and history speaking to us like ghosts from ancient times. Smoke and blood red lights drench the stage but it is not used constantly but more for occasional effect as the music reaches a ‘Death March and bass drum thuds with the sound reaching a pitch and heaving and quaking. Somewhere amidst everything a burst of ‘Slayer is fired out naturally getting the audience to go into fever pitch. At times I was also reminded a little of Primordial in essence especially when they hit a furrow and heathen cleaved away. Naturally within the intricacy and melodicism of the instrumentation there was a bit of Rotting Christ too but Varathron wrapped everything up in their own dark and richly decedent style and although it had to happen it was a show we really did not want to end. When it finally did though the fresh air was much needed as we had all our senses had been invaded through the evening and that stench was still lingering a bit too close for comfort.

(Review and photos © Pete Woods)