Today things get really busy. Within ten minutes of doors opening a band is on at the Boston Arms Music room, the second they finish another starts upstairs at The Dome. This is the case all day with 4 groups also playing later on in the basement of Aces And Eights over the road. It’s kept going with 30 minute sets throughout the day getting longer for the bigger bands, being the epic nature of the genre this means many sets comprise of an average of 3 songs so there’s little time to do much but dig in and watch for short bursts.
Named after a beast of legend its Brits Gévaudan first to tread the boards which they do with a flare shuffling beat to match their guitarists purple strides. Clean and harmonic vocals and some louder roars attract the early punters and some rather dextrous guitar soloing guarantee some movement down the front as we take things in and sip first beers of the long day. The band throw themselves into things and sound tight and solid although I’m not sure about some of the more eccentric wails from vocalist Adam Pirmohamed. ‘Lord Of Decay’ has big cymbal clashes and lots of ballast about it, the singer after some spoken parts leaves the band to jam it out with lots of wah wah licking grooving down. Joining them again there’s even some death metal styled rasps as the song savagely combusts to roars of approval.
Upstairs in the dark blue void of The Dome, Brighton based King Goat have gone for the mysterious stage presence with vocalist Anthony ‘Trim’ Trimming casting a sorcerer’s spell from behind an altar and incense spilling fragrantly into the air. Rather than going all ritualistic and mystical on us though the music takes on a particularly progressive flair with clean, clamouring classic doom etched vocals. It’s hard to work out at first and the effect is really heady, I can’t even say if I particularly like it but things are certainly interesting. It’s a bit too dark to even see properly, let alone photograph so these goats effectively befuddle the senses, but they do smell nice! The singer does a great job of keeping his forceful power croons in key and they are an austere and acquired taste. It’s all over a bit quicker than I can make sense of it all though but the band definitely make their mark.
Tangerine Dream flavoured keyboards beckon us down below as Eye Of Solitude immerse in their rugged brand of funeral doom. The vocals growl like a deep sea beast perfect in the cold blue lighting and it feels like we are deep within the ocean’s depths. It’s entrancing from the off and swallows us whole, dark, doomy but glistening and shimmering due to the lush guitar tones. We sway, caught in its grip and there’s little movement anywhere, the band entrenched in position. Some warm glowing lights surround the drum kit casting a bit of relief from the stygian nature of mood and music and sound is massive, the slow beat of the drummer going through the rib cage. Clarity is however crystal clear and we really are getting the most of the experience. Vocals rise and the pace picks up with the beastly massive song finally drawing to a close nearly 18 minutes after it started. So it’s going to be just two numbers here? The second moves toward a segment of atmospheric doom with clean vocals and the band have packed in a wealth of ideas to their allotted leaving us staggering out into the light wondering just what the hell happened there but knowing that this was one hell of a powerful performance.
It’s all gone heavy as Conjurer bruise away upstairs. There’s some juggernauting riffage and 2 vocalists, one low and one higher providing growls and rasps as they clamour away. If it’s not punishing enough already the doomy morass flies into a melange of blasting fury as the band move fluidly between the two dynamics. It’s heavy as fuck however they present things and by now the venue is suitably busy with everyone seeming up for making the most of the bands. This lot throw out many styles with doom, death and even hardcore thrown in the mix as they enthusiastically mangle their instruments, the guitarist centre stage throwing his about with wild abandon. As they limber into the next number it could almost be described as depressive suicidal black metal and is suitably shattered by a mighty roar As for the last number add a dose of sludge to the repertoire making conjurer a jack of most trades and master of all pretty much. Another impressive set.
Torpor are an unknown quantity to me and first impression is that they appear messy and uncoordinated. No doubt this is partly down to the fact that there’s lots of distortion, fuzz laden sound and an angry vocalist who is either standing at the front shrieking into the microphone or moving back behind the drum-kit and hitting things. Why he seems unwilling to do both at the same time is quite beyond me. It kind of suggests that the trio could be a member short but no and indeed the guitarist takes over and does some vocals himself but is nowhere near as powerful. I move back a bit to see if I can take the full effect from this at a less deafening level. The shrill guitars and meaty drumming just fails to gel and it all seems completely uncoordinated, perhaps that is what it is meant to convey though? Summing up before escaping the racket it strikes as a band making an obtuse noise rather than playing any actual songs
I have seen Sea Bastard downstairs but today they are moved up to the bigger stage of the dome and sound far more deadly than before as they weigh down the anchors with long convoluted juddering fret-work and hefty bass. Slow, gravid and totally punishing Monty’s throat shredding vocal roars really cut through from the front to the back of the venue filling out the last space without any problem. Songs like ‘The Hermit’ get heads bowing in worship to their sluggish, beefy ballast. The crunch of drums and clash of snare ricochet around the doom laden guitar and thick bottom end and the band certainly pack a mighty punch. Slow and brutal they hurt in all the right ways.
Slabdragger make a sound like you’d expect from their name, concrete dropped on the head from a great height. They have plenty of groove and a stoner vibe about them and obviously plenty who like them as the room is rammed for their 30 minutes of glory. 2nd album Rise Of The Dawncrusher has been getting plenty of praise and attention so it’s no surprise people are up for hearing a song or two from it and seem happily jigging about. Lit up in red the trio, stomp, yell and blister away, singer / bassist Yusaf bouncing around on the spot. The spasmodic power behind it all has the audience twitching away as the music infects, it’s damn near impossible not to join in. They don’t seem to favour playing short songs either but keep the impetus flowing with long meandering instrumental parts. We are threatened with some Dire Straits for some reason but get some bluesy southern licks as old as time themselves instead. These get toes tapped and beards stroked and go down perfectly. Consider my slab well and truly dragged.
Emotionally atmospheric with a gloomy and doomy demeanour My Silent Wake have a quintessential English take on things harking back to the early classic trinity of Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Anathema. There’s a hint of death around the forceful vocals and keyboards swirl packing the sound out. It’s another display to lose yourself in and many seem to be doing just that. Judging by some lyrics I scrawled down the second half of the set seems to have been entirely taken up by the massive 15 minute 2006 song ‘Hunting Season’ which builds up from some sublime acoustic fretwork and clean vocals into a subtle and slow-burning mass that totally absorbs the audience. This is a band that have spent considerable time and effort over the years and have a lot of material behind them but never seem to have been fully appreciated, it was good that they got main stage billing today and they seemed to make the most of it and go down well.
First of the non UK based visitors tonight Ataraxie from France are nowhere near as subtle by comparison and are full on in a deathly tumult as I walk in on them. There’s gravid beefy vocals and choppy surges as the band play holding instruments aloft like weapons. Between frantic bursts of energy they bring slow crushing passages into play giving us the best of both worlds. We quake, shake and tremble along with it all as they forge out a particular ghastly sound in all the right ways. There’s plenty of energy on the stage and any tiredness setting in is quickly forgotten as the speed of it flows through the veins. A new song is aired and although a lot slower it’s no less powerful getting heads whipped along in time both on and off the stage before a dark acoustic break mesmerises in gothic grandeur. Both massive croons and deathly growls pepper the slow and near antagonising end, I think I may have zoned off a bit during it all and gone into a trance.
Can’t be in two places at once and decide to forgo Oficium Trist for Alunah over at Aces And Eights. Bad move on one part as the smell of pizza upstairs makes me salivate but no time for food here unfortunately, good as it smells. Downstairs there is little room to swing a cat and band and audience are tightly packed in. Alunah are happy, Sophie has a gift from a couple of audience members of mead. Obviously this is a bit of a tradition as our own writer Spenny has been known to prevail them with the odd bottle. Throat lubricated they are off and the spirit of the dark washes over us sounding absolutely gorgeous on ‘Bricket Wood Coven.’ It was akin to finding a flower in a desert and the fragrance of the song was even enough to overpower the scent of garlic wafting down from upstairs. The gentle caress of both music and vocals washes over us, powerful enough to invigorate with up-tempo moments assuring it’s never quite too far on the wrong side of mellow. ‘Light Of Winter’ is unveiled from their next forthcoming album sounding much like a blast from the past even if it does have us anticipating the future. Older track ‘White Hoarhound’ is obviously a favourite and goes down perfectly, ending an all too short but thoroughly sweet set.
Back over the road and Bossk are in full swing, the room is packed and I just about manage to get in having left it too late to unsettle those at the front and attempt any pictures. Grabbing a beer I watch through the blue fog on the stage at a distance and take in their post rock with a 1000 yard stare instrumental flavours. I’m really picky over (mainly) instrumental bands and feel they have to add something unique to make up for what they lack in and Bossk seem to have a lot of fans nodding along in appreciation but I find it slightly difficult to join them. They have pepped up the incense and the vibe is certainly good and the band are tight but it’s nothing particularly to write home about, which makes my task all the more difficult as that’s exactly what I am trying to do. It’s music to experience (man) but as it moves into some choppy doom mongering riffs and finally some rather uncomfortable shrill vocals I decide it’s not really my bag on the whole. They will get a review by someone far more qualified than me when the support Cult Of Luna in a couple of weeks anyway.
Clashes are nearly totally avoided but with longer set times late in the day they are impossible to totally avoid. I am left with a choice but have already made up my mind that it is only going to be possible to take in half of the Hooded Menace set. The filthy Finns have been witnessed before on this very stage at The Dome and they get to it quickly with lots in the way of gravid gurgling vocals and disembowelling sound. The tight garrotting crawl of Beauty And The Feast’ provides plenty of substance to gorge ourselves on. Band members are lost in hoods, hair and even shades, luckily there is little movement so they don’t go blindly tumbling off the stage but dig in and furrow away building up monolithic grooves and bring it all down in a wall of screaming feedback. ‘The Haunted Ossuary’ picks up the pace a bit the drums tattooing the tick beats into us and vocalist thrusting his arm up in the air in salute at every given opportunity. The audience is well and truly into it and some sickening riffing proves very difficult to walk away from.
That I must do though as something even more frightening is taking place downstairs with Esoteric headlining the Boston Arms. Luckily they have just about enough time to provide us with 3 torturously long numbers and walking in and looking at all the effects lining the stage it’s time for taking a deep breath before we are flung into the abyss. I had already asked about new stuff, not tonight I had been informed. No matter songs have so much substance they can entertain for aeons before you have a chance to get to grips with them. First up is ‘Disconsolate’ moodily ebbing in and stretching into the cosmos before the first unearthly shriek is delivered by Greg Chandler. Powerful and hypnotic we are in the belly of the beast, the very heart of darkness as they churn away. At the back the bassist is a blur of motion hammering away at his massive instrument. 3 guitarists line the front throwing out all sorts of sonic frequencies and as drums crunch away the overall effect is absolutely flattening. There’s stacks going on beneath the layers that coat the outside of the music, screaming guitars, jazzy bass and a futuristic avant-garde flair. More people wander in as HM finish upstairs, the track is ‘Silence’ by title alone as we enter ‘the Maniacal Vale.’ No doubt those witnessing for the first time have a hard job taking it all in those of us down the front are absorbing it all fully as things get even more intense and cavernous in approach. It’s all too easy mentioning an unholy Lovecraftian music in doom circles but as the psyche is decimated and the sound is a veritable nightmare made flesh, so that is exactly what Esoteric command. The clocks might be going forward in a while but it seems like the whole universe just expanded during this and the set is absolutely immense.
For some stupid reason I kind of expected that the place might empty out a bit but walking into the main hall this couldn’t have been further than the truth. Fists are being pumped, the front is packed and Moonspell are powering away with ‘Breathe’ proving far from Extinct. I guess there were many who had turned up particularly to see them and fans are rewarded by an elaborate stage set up and a more than theatrical display. The keyboard and drum set are decked with pipes are attention grabbing enough but frontman Fernando Ribeiro is very much the centre of things prostrating himself, arms held aloft at the front. As I often find with the band they come across a bit more powerful live than on album and walking in on this, a last burst of energy is more than welcome. The gruff roars of ‘Night Eternal’ sound venomous and potent and standing to the stage left by the speaker Aires Pereira deafens as he plunders away at the bass. The vocalist seems more than happy with the reaction and is in a chatty mood mentioning that he loves the UK and the first time they played here was back in 1995 at The George Robey (RIP) and yes I was there at The Devils Church hosted night
Heading back to the Irreligious album they give us a dose of ‘Opium’ but it’s far from lethargic as the singer croons and the band put on a display of pure showmanship. They say they are in for giving us as much diversity as they can from their long 23 year career but for me there’s a bit too much emphasis on the last album which I haven’t really managed to get into. One of these tracks ‘The Future Is Dark’ sounds like it could have been lifted straight off The Cure’s Disintegration album and is far too wafty for its own good. Perhaps to distract from that a trick of a foam cannon is employed gushing out all over the stage like a giant bubble bath gone amok. Thankfully the stomp of ‘En nome do medo’ does hit the spot but the best is yet to come as Fernando goes camp count, dons his cloak and croons into ‘Vampiria.’ Naturally a trip back right in time was what many had been waiting for and even if it’s difficult to keep a straight face it has plenty of fangs about it as we wait for the piercing scream at the end. Even more devilish sees ‘Mephisto’ eerily rising from brooding and mesmerising into a full blooded attack with plumes of smoke blasting off the stage. With another full day ahead tomorrow and wanting to miss the crowds it was time to sneak out just before the end with the rising chant of Alma Mater ringing in the ears. Hmmm the offie is open, NO!
(Review and photos © Pete Woods)