The fact that most of the UK dates on this tour sold out speaks volumes about the current appetite for underground extremity. Oathbreaker and Svalbard are perfect touring partners, each having their own style and identity, while complementing each other, making this a mouth-watering prospect. As I arrived at the Leeds venue shortly after doors, I was told that the gig was within 7 tickets of selling out and judging by those arriving after me, I think it is a fair assumption that it did reach capacity. This was especially impressive since Black Sabbath were playing a few miles down the road.
Bristol quartet Svalbard were up first, delivering their brand of extremity to a static but appreciative crowd in the surreal setting of the games room amongst the pool tables which had been pushed to the sides. Having been going since 2011, Svalbard have carved themselves a niche within the post-hardcore world, crossing over several genres including post-metal and elements of black metal. With 3 EPs, 2 splits and a full studio album to draw from, a short warm up slot was never going to be long enough. Crowd interaction was kept to a minimum, letting the music speak for itself, although we were asked “Is the bass punishing you as much as it is us?” which just about says it all. The swirling maelstrom of aggressive riffs and abrasive vocals was impressive, and although front-woman and guitarist Serena was the obvious focal point, every member of the band was integral to the sonic assault, and all too soon the set was over.
The CAMRA award winning bar helped pass the time until Oathbreaker were ready to inflict their Belgian brand of post-metal upon a now rammed room. Not surprisingly, the setlist was heavily drawn from the 2016’s ‘Rheia’ opus, and ’10:56’ proved to be a sublime opening track with its haunting riff and melancholic vocals, before blasting into ‘Second Son of R’ and ‘Being Able to Feel Nothing’. Vocalist Caro, remained hidden behind her trademark mane of hair while unleashing her vocal barrage, cutting an intriguing figure in her long robes and bathed in constant icy blue light throughout the set as more tracks from ‘Reia’ were aired. Caro’s vocals switched between enchanting, mesmerising clean singing and tortured, anguished banshee-like howls with consummate ease and to great effect. It may have been zero degrees outside, but it was sweltering inside by the time Caro informed us she was “fighting ‘flu”, although she was doing a great job of overcoming this.
I was pleased to see that the earlier releases ‘Eros|Anteros’ and ‘Mælstrøm’ were both represented through ‘No Rest for the Weary’ and ‘Glimpse of the Unseen’ at the end of the set, which kept the older fans happy and meant everyone left satisfied.Everyone who was lucky enough to be in attendance witnessed two bands at the peak of their talents, and the reception given to them shows a metal scene in a great state of health, which will hopefully encourage more bands to make the trek ‘up north’.
(Review and Photos Andy Pountney)