With not being able to attend the Ritual Festival after this pre fest warm up show due to a gig clash with Taake in Manchester, this was the next best thing as the hyper busy venue sports a traditional long benches style with an array of drinks from real ales to continental beers that made the place bustle with activity as I arrived to see a throng at the bar and a queue on the stairs for the venue, which also has an excellent rooftop terrace bar, where someone shouted “Oh my god, it’s Mr. Harris” as an ex-pupil I used to teach grabbed my attention. Grabbing a couple of beers for my shooter and I the venue section had opened so it was time to be blasted by some battering black noise which was given to me by the opening local act Sathamel who had a very large contingent of fans in the already filling venue. The venue is excellent, has areas to relax with sofas plus a couple of sections on the sides with seating where you can watch the bands play and still see as I found out.
Sathamel were a little cramped on the stage as were The Infernal Sea after Sathamel played but it didn’t detract from the power the band expelled into the crowd who absorbed the bands black metal ferocity when the vocalist announced it was time to rise. The drummer seemed to like standing up at various points and also undertook some stick twirling which was very glam rock but cool all the same. Initial reticence and nerves were soon blown away as they ploughed into their set, which started late for some reason, brandishing a violent black metal stance that had excellent songs and great presence. The lighting for the evening was tedious with most bands being bathed in red/pink light and could have been used better if allowed as they took no prisoners in unleashing an onslaught of blackened fury and I noted that the band was much better than the last time I saw them in early 2016. “Scorch Blind Faith” was intense, with scathing vocal screeches within the songs ever increasing fury as the blast wave of drums hit the audience. Apparently a new song (I missed its title) was to be aired as the track was broodingly slower initially with the singer poised head down almost bowing as the song possessed an epic feel that translated well live and ended their set extremely well with a room full of satisfied punters.
The Infernal Sea is another band I’ve seen a few times as the late start by Sathamel was extended even further as the band seemed to take an age to get sorted out and start their set. That delay made a few impatient as people disappeared for some time but returned during their set as the band set about inflicting as much sonic damage as possible that began with “Entombed In Darkness”. With a couple of the guys decked out in enlarged beak like prosthetics the look was weird but different as the band savaged the audience with “Agents Of Satan”, though the band was a little static for my liking during a performance. “Way Of The Wolf” had an ominous mood that the lights did no favours for still retaining a reddish pink glow. As people returned to the venue there was a look of indifference with a lot of the crowd, not quite captivated by the band which was not helped by the minimal interaction and protracted periods where the guitarists stood with their backs to the crowd. The atmosphere attempted was relevant but people were in party mode I felt and the sound quality during their set seemed to deteriorate which came across as a sonic blizzard of low frequency nihilistic reverberation which practically destroyed the riffing nuances. “Plague Herald” saw some improvement but the use of samples during a set is a bug bear of mine that will not go away, coupled to the ridiculously loud bass and kick drum the riffs were barely audible at times as those that had returned to catch the band seemed to leave again.
Fen were a big draw for me at this gig even though I was going to see them again the next evening in support of Taake in Manchester. I was worried how the bands progressive black metal would be taken and for the most part there was seriousness shown by the crowd that soon lapsed into people doing stupid dances including the irritating hand chopping which just looks absolutely stupid. However, Fen arrived on stage and the singer shouted “Leeds, this is winter” (the title of their latest epic record). My song recognition was off tonight as I decided to sit back and enjoy the bands swaggering complexity, even though they’re only a three piece. Anyone familiar with Fen’s material will know that their shows are peppered with poignant ambient sections which a lot of people didn’t respect unfortunately but at least they were given some clarity in the sound as for the most part it was bass riddled and destroyed some of the intricacies of the songs. Fen played their set like one whole song at times, weaving the delicacies smoothly which were appreciated by those keen to actually watch the band and not act like a dick doing hand chops just for the sake of it, thinking it’s funny, which it isn’t. The band closed with a fine display of progressive, avant-garde black metal, as I did notice that crowd numbers were dwindling and was a reflection of the band’s music being complex, moody and ever evolving. Stage effects were minimal though it seems the audience can now create their own smoke with the electronic cigarettes or whatever they’re called, as I saw a few blowing vapour towards the band whether intentional or not. Fen was excellent, but they were much better the next night supporting Taake, as the band retreated from the stage and by now the gig was running at least 30 minutes late.
Akercocke has been one of those bands I have never engaged with, despite seeing them many years ago when they wore suits. No suits tonight as the band was the quickest to get sorted out and play which surprised a lot that were still elsewhere and not in the venue room. Opening with the instrumental “Prince Of The North” they blasted into “Leviathan” and at first the whole start came across as a blur lacking definition but it soon focused when “Zulieka” was played which had an excellent riff with more than a hint of thrash about it. Pausing for a little chat they quickly followed it up with “Scapegoat” as I started to wonder what the guy behind the keyboard was actually doing as he seemed to only adopt various poses. The keyboards were used as samples from what I could tell with very little use of them within the songs, unless they were being drowned out and he can play them without touching the keys!
“Verdelet” was a decent song, powerful backed by formidable drum work though that bass infestation, though less, was still prevalent as again the crowd seemed less than before and in all honesty Sathamel had the biggest audience of the night and best reception, and arguably solely that’s down to them being local. The band played a new song called “Inner Sanctum” which had some good clear vocals before escalating the songs force when the blast was unveiled. As the set progressed I did have a feeling of having heard it all before even though the band was superbly professional and rattled through their set mercilessly with “The Goat” and “The Dark Inside” but as the set closed to its end I was left a little underwhelmed. With a brief chat offering thanks to the supports the band quickly ended their set and the house lights went on.
A very mixed gig, that on paper should have been an evening of the utmost blasphemy and nihilism.
WORDS: MARTIN HARRIS
PHOTOS: ANDY POUNTNEY