Friday 25th March 2016
Taking things at a more leisurely pace during Friday I spent more money on some newer albums from the excellent Katakomben record shop situated a few minutes from the hotel. Ploughing through their racks meant another trip to the ATM as did my shooter; there is no feeling like it, searching through racks of vinyl, well for me there isn’t anyway. Friday’s musical aperitif started with UK’s Stahlsarg who had a dreadfully low turnout but nonetheless executed a set of songs that were malicious and possessed oozing blackened spite as on “Seelow Heights”. Parts of their delivery felt a little clumsy which I suspect were mainly due to guitar issues, which were tightened up on “Razed To The Ground” then expanded upon when they blasted us with “Frostbite Division” though the extended pauses created tumble weed moments in their set that interrupted the momentum and fluidity of their set but overall tunes like “Castle Wewelsburg” and closer “Damocles XIII” with its epic flavour were a solid way to start day three.
One of the big draws for me personally was Norwegian deathsters Blood Red Throne who have an enviable discography of top class death metal albums that I have followed since the band formed nearly two decades ago. This was a high profile show for the band and disappointingly like Stahlsarg preceding them on the John Dee stage the attendance at the Rockefeller stage was paltry to say the least considering they were a home-grown outfit, but the band didn’t care as they opened with “Brutalitarian Regime” and set their vocalist Yngve “Bolt” Christiansen in spinning headbanging mode that could have given George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher a run for his money. Speaking the opening piece of “Unleashing Hell” by proclaiming he wished we were all dead, buried underground, rotting and devoured by maggots as the tune throttled the crowd with its cataclysmic double kick and punched in the guts riffing. I had decided to watch the band from the first balcony, mainly because I was being lazy, but also to be able to view them perfectly and absorb the death metal gruesomeness that exuded from songs like “Primitive Killing Machine” from the latest self titled album or “Arterial Lust” from their mid era. Seriously under rated in death metal, Blood Red Throne has skirted the fringes of the genres big players and here they were nothing short of crushing from start to finish.
With memories of yesterday’s packed John Dee stage I took my leave of Blood Red Throne to make sure I was in the room ready for Finnish black metal band Abyssion. I am still uncertain as to whether I enjoyed their set which was emblazoned with an electronic feel and slightly avant-garde approach utilising two keyboardists, one guitarist and a drummer. The result was a performance that was anaesthetising in a Burzum like manner and captured a hypnotic transfixing style that was sparse on stage presence but teeming with ideas through their set of psychedelic and experimental tunes. People stood watching with slightly bemused looks it has to be said at their whole approach which was memorable as a couple in our group decided they were terrible but I stuck around as I enjoyed the ambient atmosphere they created which was dented by repeating riff melodies and worked fine for me musically though I’m not sure it worked live.
The Rockefeller stage today had some heavyweight acts and Sodom was first up. I must admit I was slightly disappointed with their show. The playing was fine, the song selection was cool, but it felt tired and lacking the attitude which Sodom has always had on their album and live ventures. With a relatively short set of 50 minutes they ploughed through their set with “Outbreak Of Evil” catching my attention as always being the much older stuff that I prefer. A slight pause ensued before Tom rattled out the vocal line of “Surfin’ Bird” which lead into “The Saw Is The Law” which was sang by the crowd on the chorus sections. Another crowd favourite followed with “Sodomy And Lust” being highly recognised by the crowd (and rightly so) which had started to bloat in numbers as we hit the evening. I was expecting a pit for Sodom but not even a glimmer of movement as one of the guys in the Bergen Bombers came on stage to pay a fitting tribute to Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister as he announced “Iron Fist” which was sang partly by the crowd. As the set was rolling, decision time was approaching with regards to the John Dee stage so as “City Of God” and “Agent Orange” rocketed by I vacated my spot to go downstairs grabbing a beer, as always, on the way.
Iceland’s Wormlust were an intriguing proposition, as the face painted band possessed a certain degree of charisma as they opened with a stripped back orthodox black metal tune that unfortunately suffered from a lack of fluidity when flowing from one section to the next. The drum sound had a very artificial feel which was fine and enabled the sound to take on an industrial vibe whether intended or not. It was clear that many in the audience couldn’t handle their approach as they decided to leave, though I stayed as I was curious about them. Utilising a droning repeating riff distortion is nothing new as the first wave of black metal had reams of acts using the style. They stepped dangerously close to tedium at times but when in full flow there was an exuding gelatinous perniciousness about their music that I enjoyed especially with the percussive aspects which afforded their songs a layer of dexterity that worked extremely well. However I suspect I was in a minority enjoying this performance as people left the room like rats in sinking ship but I drowned in the bands minimalistic malevolence.
Heading to the main stage I was apprehensive about Suffocation playing as I’ve seen them before with hit and miss results. With the bands first three albums getting a reissue treatment from Listenable including a first time on vinyl pressing (officially that is of course) for the bands unequalled “Pierced From Within” (I’ve ordered them all) which they opened with a song from namely “Thrones Of Blood”. We got the first and only crowd surfer of the festival as “Breeding The Spawn” was pumped out of the PA laying waste to the audience with some unbelievable guitar work and drumming. Machine gunning the crowd with “Mass Obliteration” I got the impression that maybe we were having a distinctly old school set as vocalist Ricky Myers (Disgorge shouter) was awesome on stage. The colossal tones of “Catatonia” had me smirking like a schoolboy as the tune bulldozed its way through heaping sonic rubble onto the crowd flattening them completely. My view of an old school set was interrupted by “As Grace Descends” from the latest album “Pinnacle Of Bedlam” and began a mid section of more recent material that continued with “Entrails Of You”. Returning to the “Pierced From Within” album and thundering through the title track I looked on in utter awe at Terrance Hobbs playing guitar, absolutely incredible technical skill and speed. You could see people mouths agape watching Suffocation play as they were completely devastating as the trademark gunning drums began “Effigy Of The Forgotten” and followed it with a tune from one of my favourite releases by the band namely “Funeral Inception” from the “Despised The Sun” EP. The sea of headbangers during “Liege Of Inveracity” was fantastic, a seething wave of heads and hair all in synch with each other to create a goosepimply moment that I won’t forget. As their set marched on inexorably to its finale I was mindful that Sweden’s Craft were playing next and I anticipated a rammed room. As I left Suffocation in the throes of “Abomination Reborn” followed by “Infecting The Crypts” (my all time favourite tune by the band) I stood in the doorway thinking how completely crushing Suffocation was at this fest.
I couldn’t wait to see Craft, I was beside myself when I got into the room and stood at the barrier as people poured into the room now that Suffocation had mauled them so proficiently. I didn’t expect Craft to supplant them as the best band of the day but they were comparable in their delivery of sonic decimation. The rather inauspicious looking band exploded into life assailing our senses with a spiteful and truly malignant set that started with “Terni Exustæ: Queen Reaper” I believe. Writing notes was nigh on impossible, like it was for Cattle Decapitation, as the room was absolutely packed as I defended my barrier position stalwartly as the row scrum of photographers did their level best to be a damn nuisance to their brethren; rude, arrogant and completely unnecessary behaviour. As the band rocketed through the opener they quickly went straight into “(Desolation) Death “. The sound emanating had a cloying feel, like a thousand razor sharp hooks impaling you and drawing you in towards your inevitable doom on “Succumb To Sin” which was evilly slower but odiously virulent. A step up in tempo with “Death To Planet Earth” which assaulted the masses with absolutely no mercy as did “Reaktor 4” which slowed the pace a tad allowing “Demonspeed” to spread its malfeasance onto the very appreciative horde crushed into the venue. The variety in the bands tunes is what makes Craft so good as they hit an encore of “Fuck The Universe” and “I Want To Commit Murder” by which time my rib cage needed a breather from the being crushed against the barrier so I went to the side corridor to catch my breath and decide whether they did indeed supplant Suffocation as the band of the day; I’m still not sure to be honest, very different performances but equally fantastic.
Closing the third day was musical Egyptologists Nile who had gathered an army of slaves to watch them on the main stage. After Suffocation has bulldozed the audience on the stage earlier Nile had a mammoth task to beat them and in some respects they did with their theatrical song writing but in others didn’t completely due to them not being as enigmatic on stage as Suffocation. The bands heavily progressive tunes backed by a rhythm underbelly equivalent to a freight train began with the intro piece of “Ushabti Reanimator” before leading into “Sacrifice Unto Sebek”. I’ve seen Nile over ten times and initially the torrent of sound that they produce can come across as a cacophonic onslaught but as you attenuate your ears to their style it all comes into auditory focus very quickly. It was good to see that Dallas’s stage presence has increased tenfold, exuding confidence and engaging with the crowd completely. Watching the bands show from relatively afar you could see a crowd completely enraptured by songs like “Defiling The Gates Of Ishtar” from the earlier Nile era right up to newer material like “Call To Destruction” from the latest album. Dallas asked if we’d seen Sodom and in his words, “those crazy motherfuckers” which we all cheered to of course as the guys hit us with “Kafir!”. The sound was vast and crystal clear though the volume was down a fair bit and possibly hinted at the set being filmed. As their set continued to pulverise the masses my own stamina was waning somewhat as “Ithyphallic” was thrust upon us at which I started to make my way towards the back and return to the hotel as I was exhausted and was in the throes of another episode of spinning room syndrome. A colossal day of death and black metal with the death metal genre shading the performances today. Suffocation or Craft! I’m still not sure as the best band of the day.
Words: MARTIN HARRIS
Photos: ANDY POUNTNEY