The first thing I noticed when I walked down into the bowels of the venue was the new on-slip, soft vinyl flooring that is now covering the hard wood floor. I guess truly gone are the days when you would be picking glass and splinters out of yourself if you fell over during a mosh. The venue also looked impeccably clean and has had a bit of sprucing up since the last time I was here. However it was quickly apparent that the few punter up near the stage couldn’t hold their liquor, as by the end of the first song, most of their pints were on the ground rather than in their ‘glasses’ or bellies. But I digress. Playing to a fairly empty Underworld, Blasphemer were up first. Only getting to sample a handful of songs with titles such as “The Scythe”, “Corpse River”, “Child Catcher” and self-titled “Blasphemer”, I can easily say that their sound was pretty dire and I could see they were doing a hell of a lot more than I could actually hear. Dan Mullins’ constant drum rolls would become inaudible when Dale Brown’s bass would come up in the mix before that disappeared again as he ran his fingers all over his fretboard as Arno Cagna and Mass Firth’s guitars would temporarily dominate effectively drowning out Firth’s growls. Might definitely be worth giving them a listening to where you can actually hear what they are trying to accomplish, as unfortunately the sound tonight did them no favours and from what I can tell, no justice.
Sadly the sound for The Bleeding wasn’t much better, however James Loh’s blasting did manage to cut through everything else, especially his sharp snare, as did Jamie Stungo’s vocals when his rapid black metal rasps hit the higher notes and shrieks. Both Sean Richardson’s bass and death growl were fairly low in the mix and as with the previous band more of a visual than audible performance for the most part, which is a pity as I’m listening to some songs for their soon to be released next album as I type up this review. Luckily Tasos’s guitars were strong enough to keep things going, other than when he’d break off into a lead and a second guitar would have been a welcome addition for the live setting. A couple of the names I remember being uttered before they got into the thick of things were “One Way Out”, “Rites of Absolution”, “Hammer of Penance” and new song “Demonic Oath”, which might make it worth giving a listen to the new album when it comes out next week.
After what felt like an age, the lights dimmed, James Brown’s “The Payback” started rolling and like cockroaches, masses of people appeared out of the shadows to fill the dance-floor before Exhorder sauntered on stage to take up their instruments that had neatly been laid out on their monitors for them. If I was a little apprehensive that the sound was going to be as shit as for the warm up acts, I shouldn’t’ve been, as within about 10 seconds of “Homicide” starting I could hear every word Kyle Thomas spat into his mic, feel Sasha Horn’s every tom hit and kick drum blast in my back, the vibrations of Jason Viebrooks’s bass going up my legs through the floor, and Vinnie LaBella and Marzi Montazeri ultra clear guitar riffs burning my eardrums as they came out of their cabs. Slowing things down for the couple moments of the intro to “Unforgiven”, the precise and piercing snare upped the tempo back to exactly where everyone wanted it to be. Not to see that the support acts had no stage presence, but somehow the energy exuding from Exhorder as a very laid back Kyle chatted to the crowd and introduced songs was palpable, and the crowd fed off it ravenously. “Legions of Death” got the pit flowing with the first of the crowd surfers making it onto the stage before being welcomed to leave, either by diving back into the pit or the left of the stage. After gauging everyone’s opinions on their employment they broke into new song “My Time”, which I’m glad to say had almost as many people singing along to as for their 30 year old songs. Dedicating “(Cadence of) The Dirge” to a friend back home who lost his mother over the weekend, the sombre nature of the song couldn’t bring down the spirit of those attending their first ever London gig because as we all know: ‘a sorrow-raising surge, lies in the cadence of the dirge’. Throwing us back into their faster paced songs was “Death in Vain” followed by one of the first songs they wrote together, “Exhorder”, which was delivered with as much enthusiasm as I’m sure it was when they were 16. Kyle’s chanting of ‘Per Ipsum’, which I couldn’t help but chant along to (damned catholic upbringing) ushered in “Slaughter in the Vatican” where Vinnie and Marzi lead trade-offs were a show unto themselves. Next up was a tribute to the godfathers of metal with their superb rendition of “Into the Void” showing their New Orleans bluesy groove roots. Their songs don’t get faster than “Anal Lust”, and Sasha was a whirl of activity with sticks flailing about pounding metal and velum, while Kyle contorted himself around his mic as he belted out the ‘too brutal to print’ lyrics. Returning to the present and giving us more of their groove than blast, “Hallowed Sound” was an excellent way to end their set as the leads flayed our ears. As we knew, no show would we over until “Desecrator” was played, else they would have been found before they got away and soundly beaten. I’m not really sure what more I can say, other than it was one of the best live shows I’ve seen in a really long time. No fanfare, no pretence and no bullshit, just exuberance coming through in both the music and their demeanour, showing that this is exactly where they wanted to be and what they wanted to be doing. And I’m glad to have been witness to that.