There’s been a certain amount of controversy following the English dates of this tour which has seen Polish band Infernal War’s somewhat questionable past catching up with them and them being outed from several shows. This sort of behaviour seems all the more prevalent of late, with those outside the scene and with little understanding of it, policing it and interfering by making threats to venues and organisers of shows. Not wanting to get into the socio-political side of things more than this, for the rest of the bands and the audience it was business as usual, the damage had already been done but did not affect anything else on the night.

First up are French band Azziard and I was down early for them having really enjoyed their last couple of albums. I am guessing they are an unknown quantity to many and it is quite empty still when they throw down their bloody, spike-fisted gauntlet with Psyché from latest album Metempsychose. It was suitable therapy and the band looked great in their paint and cold blue lighting. One thing that I had expected was confirmed straight away and that is that vocalist A.S.A. is every bit as a deranged and nutty frontman as he gives the impression of on disc. The harsh barks and galloping tumult of Unus Mundus has heads banging, time to discuss Jungian theories can come later over a civilised pint (who am I kidding). The speed and percussive blasts fit in perfectly on tonight’s bill and the drummer is a veritable machine handling his armoury in a style that’s enough to leave any troops wandering into range accidently, more than a little shell-shocked. It’s not all about blowing us to bits though, besides the fierce grimness there are some slithering, skeletal guitar oozes to slow things down a little and bring a more sinister atmosphere. Of course they ramp things up and unleash hell before the end and even if was just for half an hour I was very pleased and somewhat surprised to see Azziard befoul our soil. They probably gained some new allies tonight too.

Next it’s a German-Swiss co-axis in the form of Unlight whose stage lighting changes from blue to a murky seaweed green. Paths with this group have crossed over the years but I can’t remember them ever playing live here and again think the band are not that familiar with many tonight. Paradoxically their mission statement is to create and annihilate and they set about doing so in a formidable way. The sound is a lot more natural and uncluttered without being densely built up and this more organic feel gives the instruments individual definition along with the feral rasps of vocalist Blaspherion. Melody is very important here and the weeping guitar lines really come to the fore and have a real hook laden panache about them that is impossible not to be slightly mesmerised by. There’s a real classic feel that is somewhat reminiscent of bands like Lord Belial and Dissection and by the second number the thorny riffs and hellish vocals really begin to pierce and penetrate. For some reason the vocalist decides to suddenly hit the floor and lie there on his back playing guitar. Somewhat odd but if it works for him it works for us and it seems to bolster the audience too. The room is becoming fuller, people are getting suitably fuelled up and Unlight are rewarded by a small pit towards the end of their performance. I really enjoyed them and shall certainly investigate further.

Ah Ragnarok, we have met several times before but I have never actually found myself managing to submit to your dominance.  Highly respected by many there’s no denying the Norwegians look the part and indeed smelled it too, that could have been down to the blood spatter they were sporting and they are certainly big and beastly. The huge inverted cross guitarist Bolverk has round his neck looks like it has been made by a whole sheet of forged iron and their paint is totally grotesque and macabre. Musically though they suffer from what I can only describe as brutal but workmanlike hammer and tongs approach that is too one dimensional for me to get moved by. Death grunts are foully belched and instruments and vocals seem pushed to the levels giving even this powerful PA a run for its money. I’m obviously in the minority as they send many into paroxysms of madness as ‘Blood Of Saints’ is smashed out. As for draining of bodily fluids are concerned I just prefer a slow drawn out torture keeping the victim alive and in torment as long as possible, here the unrelenting savagery gets the job over all too quickly. Taking us back in time to 94 Pagan Land is even more furious and primitive, listening to it now it has a lot more grandiosity with keyboards adding to the atmosphere than it did here. Nope I’m afraid I just couldn’t get into the band again tonight.

Time for the heavy artillery and the headliners come out firing with all guns blazing courtesy of Panzer Division Marduk. There’s a sign on the venue door stating no stagediving but let’s face it who would be stupid enough to attempt to invade the band’s space. Mortuus hangs over the front ranks looking imposing, Morgan is in position stage left and Devo to the right, all are obscured by hair most of the time and Fredrik Widigs is hidden at the back battering the hell out of his kit. There’s always a strange sound between songs with Marduk that sounds like tanks trundling along, it could be my imagination after seeing them so many times but it adds to the eeriness of their war hewn performance bringing palpable atmosphere before the next devastating explosion. The set is lethal, a literal Baptism of Fire and fury with newer cuts and something older like the cauldron of hate that is ‘Of Hell’s Fire, going down very well with those intent to cause carnage on the dance floor.

Of course we are all waiting patiently for new album Viktoria and apart from the fire it is the wolf that is being honoured tonight as far as the set-list is concerned. The first bite ‘Werewolf has already been aired online and live it proves a short, sharp and savage beast too. One gets the impression that everyone had already checked it out and was waiting for its attack. Nobody seems disappointed either.  A Deathmarch adds eerie pomp at the halfway mark before Throne Of Rat’s is flung at us and it feels like there is no escape from sharp jaws and scorching heat tonight. After coffins are burned and vampires are put to the stake the strangely entitled ‘Equestrian Bloodlust’ is the other new song aired, it’s obvious that two of the faster songs from the album are the first we have the chance to observe. I’m sure there’s a few of the classic stealthier sounding numbers on it but not tonight. There’s no safe spaces, no bullshit, no politics just a band going feral and an audience loving every second of it. Driving us further Into Utter Madness the maelstrom has to finally end and with an encore of ‘Serpent Sermon’ and the ancient blood of ‘The Black’ they are done, leaving us all feeling somewhat battered and bruised. They will hopefully be back before we know it, there’s no stopping the unrelenting march of Marduk.

(Review and Photos Pete Woods)