East Anglian heavyweights The King Is Blind make no secret of their love for the founding fathers of UK extreme metal and with that in mind, its fitting that this Sunday showcase at Camden’s Black Heart venue is redolent of the Devil’s Church shows back in the mid-late nineties (fondly remembered by those of us of a certain vintage!). A cosy but fervent crowd hauling bodies battered by a weekend of abuse to an intimate London venue to witness up-and-coming acts determined to make their mark, its a comforting and welcome atmosphere.
Obscene Entity are first up and it’s the sight of a classic Cannibal Corpse ‘Butchered at Birth’ t-shirt on the band’s gangly bassist that really gets the nostalgia into overdrive. The band set about their business in a heads-down, ‘see you at the end’ fashion, launching into a frenetic slew of early-90s tinged Death Metal. There’s plenty of classic acts referenced here – Deicide, Autopsy and the ‘Corpse themselves all make an appearance – and the playing is certainly proficient (though the kick drum triggers could have done with being a few DB lower in the mix). Charisma is a little thin as yet with much of the focus being on vocalist/guitarist Matthew Adnett’s wild-eyed gurning but the band know their stuff and get several of the faithful windmilling like maniacs towards the front. In this age of bands such as Dead Congregation, Horrendous and Ulcerate, one wonders where a band such as this really fits into an increasingly creative death metal scene but on a night such as tonight, their unashamed dedication to the old-school is welcome.
Adnett is back onstage to wield the axe with Shrines, however in the gurning stakes is thoroughly overtaken by frontman Sam Loynes. The distinctive Voices guitarist takes centre stage here with his own outfit and is completely at ease fronting the angular four piece, twisting his face into a variety of contortions and grimaces as the riffs fly. Of the three bands on offer tonight, it’s Shrines who have perhaps the least debt to the forefathers of old, taking a progressive death metal-esque template and twisting it to their own ends. The spectre of Gojira looms large at points, however alloyed with Loynes’ distinctive baritone croon, there’s more than a hint of leftfield acts such as Ved Beuns Ende in Shrines’ more discordant, dissonant arpeggiations lending the band a definite distinctiveness. Loynes’ may take much of the focus but credit must also go to drummer Daniel Blackmore who lends a considered, creative propulsion to tracks such as ‘Forsaken Origin’ and driving closer ‘Relics’. If they’re occasionally a little too prog-tastic for their own good at points, it only highlights their burning, ambitious confidence and last year’s debut on Apocalyptic Witchcraft Records should be landing on many radars.
And so to this evening’s final act – delivering their debut headlining performance – the much talked about The King is Blind. 2015 was a stellar year for the UK five-piece, seeing them land a plethora of tasty festival slots and several acclaimed supporting performances. Buoyed by the confidence born of a year of rising success, the boys have seen fit to take over London’s Black Heart and play their debut ‘Our Father’ album in full, from start to finish. A brief, tension building intro gives way to the bruising opener of ‘Genesis Refracted, the band powering into the material with gusto. A few technical issues briefly threaten but by the time ‘Fragility Becomes Wrath’ hits with that winding, infectious main riff, the band are in business. Frontman Steve Tovey is now bereft of bass (the four strings being thrashed to within an inch of their life by the relentlessly hair-twirling Ceri Monger) and clearly relishes the freedom. Much of the set is spent stood with one leg upon the monitors, exhorting the audience to react in between a cacophony of shrieks and roars.
Meanwhile, his bandmates pile through a set that ebbs and flows through a concoction of British metal waypoints – slab-like riffing that recalls ‘Icon’-era Paradise Lost, the sheet-metal grind of Bolt Thrower, My Dying Bride-esque despondency and d-beat madness that recalls classic Carcass. It’s weaved into a coherent whole by a genuine atmosphere of darkness, a tapestry that owes more than a few nods to the output of Triptykon/Celtic Frost, though given a British twist. As Tovey demonstrates a curious fixation with the audience’s skulls, the band move through the deadly ‘Venin’ before closing with the colossal ‘Mesmeric Furnace’ in which The King is Blind truly realise their power. Tovey – larynx by now shredded by the vocal martyrdom – offers up a dedication to the recently departed Lemmy before the band steamroll through a raucous cover of Motorhead’s Iron Fist. It’s a strong finish to a bruising show, underlining that 2016 should see The King is Blind build on their recent achievements and start to develop a real following within the UK metal scene. With the recently-revived Cacophonous label behind them, it is undoubtedly a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’.