Well it really is a weekend of rituals in London what with Watain on Friday and this tonight and it’s another sell out show gathering the throngs together on a chilly Sunday night. Yes an outsider may take one look at the band names here and think we are talking complete gibberish but they are all really easy to say and pronounce for the kvltists in attendance tonight. Well perhaps the first isn’t, unless someone drills a hole in your head and that’s exactly what Trepaneringsritualen set about doing in a musical sense. This is the work of one guy from Sweden with a huge body of work behind him. Talking of huge bodies Thomas Martin Ekelund is a hulking figure on stage as he strides out looking ghoulish in a sackcloth mask. A few knobs are engaged and brooding, slow beats emerges shaking us from the speakers as the artist leans forward and growls and roars into the microphone. I think I recognised ‘Death And Ecstasy’ from listening to latest album Kainskult earlier today. At times it’s monotonous in a good way and has audience sawing in its grasp. Industrial mechanical clanks later follow in the soundscape. The bedrock is slow and numbing, never quite reaching the full on levels of power electronics but definitely of that similar mould. The mask later comes off but the bearded figure on stage is no less imposing. A chilly windswept ambience takes form along with beastly growls. Space has to be found away from idiots having loud conversations to take it all in. Bass hefty tones reverberate from all angles and it sounds like there is a backing football terrace like chant shouting out “liar” but that could all be in my head. This might not have appealed and indeed been understood by all in attendance but it certainly hit the mark for me.
Next it is Swiss solar travellers Schammasch who are about to take us to another universe. It’s a cold hostile and red planet and one smothered in dry ice as though the players do not want to be gazed upon. Candles are lit, incense burned and sinister chants and incantations are uttered. Then bang the drums are hit, both the two aside vocalist C.S.R. and those at the back and everything explodes into a dense furrowing mass. You really need time to explore their craft on album properly, triple discs are part of the course but I have seen the band a couple of times before and been mightily impressed. Tonight is no exception to that rule. We move from red to blue and a gothic grandeur is summoned with guitars coiling sinuously, songs are long and totally engrossing. There are sudden huge motions thrusting into cleaving deluges of sound as the band dig in and go for it hell for leather. The vocalist has a near mystical stance looking like an alien benefactor come to take control of our planet, the musicianship is nothing short of stunning. Elements of bands such as Fields Of The Nephilim and Secrets Of The Moon can be found amidst the dense framework but the stance is as unique as it is spellbinding. Taking it all in from the balcony upstairs I am almost relieved there is a seat as otherwise this would have knocked me off my feet as the sound powers through the venue. ‘Into the light we are born, to the light we will return’ we are informed. Light and fire are elementally conjured up lyrically a lot, there is no denying the burning passion behind the narrative either. The golden light beams down and we are thrust into ‘Metonia’ in conclusion. This was a deadly convincing performance and yet again I found myself blown away.
It was not to be for the last time either as it is time for Batushka who had apparently wowed the audience in their other UK dates prior to this. There’s a blur of activity getting the stage ready with a massive backdrop, strange candle structures and all sorts of odd things placed around a pulpit and even bits of carpets laid out; make yourself at home why don’t you? It takes a while for the eight mysterious figures to come on in their cloaks and ritualistically light candles and incense. I don’t mind too much as think I can hear Psychic TV from the sound desk. What do we know about Batushka, well not a huge amount but they are mainly unnamed musicians from the Polish scene led by a couple of members of Hermh including Bart owner of Witching Hour Productions. They just have the one album too Litourgiya (2015) and it is this, in entirety, that their set will comprise of. Nothing more, nothing less. The cynic may well think no surprises but unless you had witnessed this before believe you me you have never quite seen or heard anything like it and if you had caught them previously at The Dome you would surely be here for a second dose. A thurible censor is waved, a lone chord is struck with a bleak near post-punk mournfulness about it and we are off, thrust again into an entirely different world. There’s a 3 part hooded choir lurking stage left, others off in the shadows but main focus is on said strummer of bleakness and the main guy himself. Once his devotional vocals gives us a blessing a shiver runs down the spine and the doom like texture of ‘Ochishcheniye’ strikes as one of the most ceremonial things ever seen on a musical stage. The crowd goes crazy naturally begging for redemption and communion but as blackness descends there is no denying that there is something completely unholy about it all. Infectious barraging blackness sweeps in with second rite ‘Blagosloveniye’ and again I am totally floored as it gallops off like the clappers
Naturally there is a huge amount of versatility about the vocals, the lead singer has a fantastic baritone voice that richly booms out but rasps come thick and fast too as well as those backing chants. There may well be some crass thoughts from those who have not witnessed this live making comparisons to Ghost but honestly this is a whole different devilish ball game. Upstairs seems like a good place to take it all in again but seriously my mind begins to melt up there as the visual and sonic elements combine with spinning strobe lights and the traditional elements of the songs meld with all out savage batterings. If I had not seen the tour bus parked outside it would have been easy to imagine the band all riding into town on the backs of skeletal horses. Things draw to an end all too quickly, a funeral like dirge is evoked with the singer holding up a giant tablet (not an electronic one) as things move into the finale a black mass that even Jerry Goldsmith would approve of. Truly diabolic and that is it Batushka saunter off stage knowing they have conquered London for the second time. Hopefully now signed to Metal Blade they will be back armed with new songs. It’s likely to be at a bigger venue too, this one only just contained them.
Review and Photos Pete Woods