Ahab flierAlthough you might have thought everything today was about AC/DC especially on my train ride through Wembley, a couple of hundred people with much more eclectic music tastes descended upon Tufnell Park for a night of much more solemn music. First up all the way from West Yorkshire is singer, song-writer and sorceress Jayn H. Wissenberg better known as Darkher. After loving EP ‘The Kingdom Field’ I was very much looking forward to my first live encounter (and I believe their third ever show) with them. Her vocal presence on opening number ‘This Hollow Veil’ is quick to make its mark and bewitch. Drums and cymbals crash and crunch and people sway caught in the magick of it all. This is dark, sultry and captivating but by ‘Foregone’ the pace picks up to a rocking beat along with some juddering riffs and rattling drums. I had put my pint on a table and out of the corner of my eye saw the seismic shaking was about to have it topple off the edge. Thankfully save made its back to ‘Moths’ caressing and catching us in its light. Emphasis is heavily on the vocals again but attention is also drawn to guitarist Martin T Wissenberg playing his instrument gently with a bow. Heavy and atmospheric this builds and trembles to conclusion getting healthy applause at end. However it’s probably the haunting ‘Ghost Tears’ that most have been waiting for and fuzz is added to its doom like approach. There is a touch of Siouxsie vocally here as this kisses in the dreamhouse and its hypnotic weave is quite enchanting. It’s only a short 6 track set culminating in ‘Hung’ which melted us so gorgeously. Beauty and darkness combined here perfectly making this a very memorable performance.

Next up a ‘Torrent Of Ills’ from the scariest band in the world Esoteric. They also seem up for breaking world records with the amount of effects pedals too and the floor looks a bit like the control deck on Blakes 7 ship The Liberator. Some were seeing the band for the first time tonight, how would they cope with a 5 song, hour- long set from this lot? Well it seemed rather well as the five piece (no live keyboards tonight) had people squashed down the front and this must have been one of the biggest crowds I have seen Esoteric play for in the UK. Eerie red lighting met an immediate, immense sound everything booming out the speakers with dreadful intensity.  It’s a nerve shredding mass with Greg Chandler’s vocals roaring over the top, drums humongously beating and everything echoing around latching in the head like the chattering of demons. The intense doom death builds to a feedback laden finale slithering hellishly out before tempo is picked up and ‘Abandonment’ actually has everyone head banging away. The massively flamboyant guitar riffing from the player in front of me is really noticeable and I stand mesmerised before moving off and allowing the rest of the mix to get its force across. Things gradually build into a psychedelic tumult which has fists pumped in the air. It was like a spaceship taking off on conclusion and the band seem on a real upbeat fix which strikes as a little odd. The horror does set in though eventually, we move to the arid gun-slinging plain of ‘Silence’ which has people swaying, caught in its grasp, the acoustic caress lulls into a false sense of security before the soundtrack of old gods rising and consuming the planet fully drags us into its manical vale. The last couple of tracks go in a blur, seemingly played faster and angrier as far as ‘Cipher’ is concerned than on album building quickly into a volatile caustic mass. As for ‘Caucus Of Mind’ it’s like a savage beast tearing heads off and claiming souls. Although the set is as uncompromising as ever it was also one of the most dynamic I have seen from the band and things are definitely boding well for the next highly anticipated album.

Poor Ahab somehow have to follow that though!   I had hoped their cold nautical funeral doom was going to cool things down after such a stifling hot week but no chance of that as the band launch into ‘The Divinity Of Oceans’ there’s little chance of that as they charge off like a whale caught on a harpoon getting heads banging straight away. The band had really impressed at Damnation Festival and it was obvious that many had turned up to see the Germans play a rare UK show prior to their new album ‘The Boats Of Glenn Carrig’ coming out in August. Those craggy vocals from Daniel Droste sound immense and this older favourite goes down like a veritable storm, taking us on a wild ride. The instrumentation furrows away before dropping into an acoustic gloomy lull shipwrecking us and leaving little to salvage from its drowned depths apart from ghosts at the bottom of the ocean. Things are not all hopeless and ragged though as the harmonic vocals come in and although still bereft and mournful the watery grave lightens momentarily. We are taken ‘Further south’  which seems to be a much more chilled place to be pitched up in but not for long and we are suddenly embedded in an icy jam that is pretty damn difficult to navigate out of. Conflicting emotions resound moving from harmony to near desperation and I have to wonder if the crew are going to have to resort to cannibalism to survive this arduous voyage.

The salty sound of gulls and sea water introduce ‘Old Thunder’ a mighty beast of a song. After the albatross has flown off coasting over the endless ocean it devolves into fist slamming brutality and is a mighty rhyme for any ancient mariner with the band joining in with a weighty display of synchronised head banging on stage, which spreads to the crew on the deck below. Things really do lighten from then on for quite some time almost flowing off into the doldrums over ‘Nickerson’s Theme’ I feel a bit cast adrift and find things going down a bit too much of an insular route that lasts too long for comfort, ‘Deliverance’ also prolonging that vibe and making me wonder about walking the plank as I settle down with a much needed beer to take it all in. Thunder does eventually strike with ‘Red Foam’ which if my ears were not deceiving me the vocalist introduced as a “speed metal” song! Unfortunately they had definitely lost impetus for me by this point but they had saved the best till last and redeemed themselves fully with the glorious finale of ‘The Hunt’ which had people going mental as the band, bathed in seaweed green finally took us all the way down to the depths they are capable of and left us jubilantly filing out the venue, ears ringing to reverse journey home and get caught up with the detritus of the AC/DC masses once more. At least they looked like they had a good night of it too.

(Review and photos © Pete Woods)