Friday 12th December 2014 – my second gig within a fortnight. It’s been a few years since I attended two concerts so close to each other! This one was for the penultimate show on Polish black metal band Behemoth’s “UK Satanist Tour 2014 E.V.” I hadn’t previously attended an extreme metal show, so no matter what, this was going to be an interesting experience.
Following the (presumably unintended) comedy security ensuring that the fans queuing up outside left a big gap, enforced by crowd barriers, for the entrance to the closed (and therefore unlikely to be used) car rental business next door, the doors of this 3,000 capacity venue opened at 6:00pm – showtime starting early to accommodate four bands before the venue’s curfew of 10:00pm – in place, it seems, to allow for the regular club night.
Having perused the merchandise stands and found a suitable vantage point to the side of the light and sound desks, at 6:15pm the show opened with Winterfylleth, a black metal band from Manchester. The band got together in 2007, and are dedicated to spreading the word regarding England’s historical ancestral past, folklore, and landscapes – indeed their name is derived from the Old English for “Winter Full Moon”. These themes definitely strike a chord with me, and I have enjoyed their four albums so far, from 2008’s “The Ghost Of Heritage” up to this year’s “The Divination Of Antiquity”
Unfortunately, and I cannot put my finger on why, Winterfylleth just didn’t come across very well live, to me. Visually, it’s a case of four guys wearing plain black t-shirts (and in the case of frontman Chris Naughton a plain black baseball cap too) and little in the way of movement. One might argue, fairly, that this is to allow the music to do the talking. On this front, though, their short set was a little too samey, not really allowing for much of the light and shade that graces their recorded output. With just 25 minutes to fill, the band’s tendency to the expansive soundscape meant that they were able to fit in a mere four tracks. This wasn’t helped by the guitars seemingly needing retuning between each number, which in itself caused momentum to slip a little.
1. Over Borderlands / 2. The Swart Raven / 3. The Divination Of Antiquity / 4. Whisper Of The Elements
1, 3 and 4 originally from “The Divination Of Antiquity” (2014) / 2 originally from “The Threnody Of Triumph” (2012)
Next up, after a very short break, were Swedish three piece heavy metal band Grand Magus. A more traditional sounding metal style, not a million miles from the likes of Manowar, with clean vocals and impressive and melodic guitar solos.
Although I had not connected greatly with Grand Magus on record before, I was familiar with some of their material – which is easily more instantly accessible than the extreme metal of the other bands on tonight’s bill.
Guitar retuning was again a feature here, though less so than with Winterfylleth, but the biggest issue I had here was that, because Grand Magus are your basic power trio – guitar, bass and drums – it meant that the lack of continued rhythm guitar underlying the sparkling guitar solos left an audible hole to fill.
Nonetheless, and despite the short space of time they had to fill, the band got the crowd singing along, and were very well received.
1. I, The Jury / 2. Like The Oar Strikes The Water / 3. Steel Versus Steel / 4. Triumph And Power / 5. Hammer Of The North
1 and 5 originally from “Hammer Of The North” (2010) / 2 originally from “Iron Will” (2008) / 3 and 4 originally from “Triumph And Power” (2014)
Following another short break it was the turn of Decapitated, a technical death metal band from Poland. Formed by guitarist Wacław “Vogg” Kiełtyka in 1996, the band have released a series of impressive albums, culminating in their latest two albums, 2011’s “Carnival Is Forever” and 2014’s “Blood Mantra” achieving top twenty status in the U.S. Heat chart.
A very impressive light show accompanied the band’s brutal riffing and Rafał “Rasta” Piotrowski’s death growl vocals, and helped to visually accent some relentless drumming. Not an easy listen by any means, but I felt quite captivated by the sheer power and ferocity being exuded from the stage.
1. Veins / 2. The Blasphemous Psalm To The Dummy God Creation / 3. Blood Mantra / 4. Pest / 5. Exiled In Flesh / 6. Instinct
1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 originally from “Blood Mantra” (2014) / 4 originally from “Carnival Is Forever” (2011)
At 8:40pm the house lights went down again, which was greeted with a huge roar from the crowd. The atmospheric intro tape began to roll the for the headliners, black metal giants Behemoth.
Out of the darkness came the slowly building opening of “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” with bassist Tomasz “Orion” Wróblewski and guitarist Patryk “Seth” Sztyber standing, hooded, on platforms either side of Zbigniew “Inferno” Promiński’s massive white drum kit in front of a huge backdrop depicting the band’s sigil, whilst frontman Adam “Nergal” Darski stepped up behind his elaborate microphone stand – like some kind of cross between a church lectern and a Roman standard – and began to unleash an epic performance.
Started by mainman Nergal in 1991, Behemoth have gone from strength to strength, with each album being, to my ears, musically and sonically superior to that which had gone before it.
Latest album “The Satanist”, the band’s first since Nergal’s successful fight against Leukemia, is a superb recording. Sprawling, grandiose, intense and brutal with orchestral and choral backing adding even further colour to the intricacies of the band’s music.
I must confess that my initial reactions, as I discussed the gig with my wife the next day (she didn’t come with me, with extreme metal not really being her thing) were that there were too many intro tapes between songs and not enough interaction with the audience.
On reflection, however, and having spent the past week with “The Satanist” on regular rotation on my virtual turntable, I now feel somewhat differently about the whole experience.
From the moment the lights went down just before Behemoth’s set began, the show became almost a religious experience.
If you weren’t aware of the lyrical content of the band’s material, the message was quite clearly visually presented. There was a lot of symbolism – the sigil backdrop, the band’s double headed eagle on the platforms, the hoods that they wore when they came on stage, the corpse paint and blood, etc. Add to that a fantastic light show, with the reds being particularly effective in adding to the aesthetic I feel.
Musically, however, is where things count the most. And it’s here that Behemoth really triumphed. I believe that something that detractors of heavy metal, and extreme metal in particular, often overlook is the sheer technical ability of many of the musicians involved. Well, Orion’s fluid bass playing anchored everything perfectly, meshing with the phenomenal drumming of Inferno.
Having played drums myself, I can honestly say Inferno’s speed and technique is frankly awesome! To play the way that he does, utilising all four limbs simultaneously at breakneck speed may not be unique in this genre of music, but still his performance was very impressive.
On the guitar front, both Nergal and Seth played with ferocity and precision. Razor sharp rhythms and devastating leads all combining to an all out attack on the senses.
Finally, Nergal’s vocals. Whilst black metal lyrics are often near impossible to decipher without a lyric sheet, Nergal’s delivery is one of the most accessible that I have heard, without sacrificing any of the “nastiness” required. Behemoth performed a brilliantly paced set, visually and musically compelling from start to finish.
The encore brought the closing track from “The Satanist”, the excellent “O Father O Satan O Sun”. As the track reached the midway point, the lights dimmed for a moment whilst the music continued, and when the red lights shone on the stage again it felt akin to a kind of black mass.
All four band members were wearing horned masks (like those on display in their “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” video), Seth and Orion standing back up on their respective platforms whilst Nergal stood still directly in front of Inferno’s kit, playing the hypnotic final section of the song whilst the spoken word part was played:
“O Lion-Serpent Sun, The beast that whirlest forth,
a thunder-bolt, begetter of life!
Thou that flowest! Thou that goest!
Thou Satan-Sun, Hadith, that goest without will!
Thou Air! Breath! Spirit! Thou without bound or bond!
Thou essence, air swift-streaming, elasticity!
Thou wanderer, father of all!
Thou wanderer, spirit of all!
Hear me, and make all spirits subjects unto me;
so that every spirit of the firmament and of the ether,
upon the earth and under the earth,
on dry land and in the water
of whirling air, and of rushing fire,
and every spell and scourge of god
may be obedient unto me.
Thou spiritual sun! Satan, thou eye, thou lust!
Cry aloud! Cry aloud!
Whirl the wheel, O my Father, O Satan, O Sun!”
1. Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel / 2. Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer / 3. Conquer All / 4. Decade Of Therion / 5. As Above So Below / 6. Slaves Shall Serve / 7. Christians To The Lions / 8. The Satanist / 9. Ov Fire And The Void / 10. Furor Divinus / 11. Ludzie Wschodu / 12. Alas, Lord Is Upon Me / 13. At The Left Hand Ov God / 14. Chant For Eschaton 2000 / 15. O Father O Satan O Sun!
1, 2, 8, 10, 11 and 15 originally from “The Satanist” (2014) / 3 and 6 originally from “Demigod” (2004) / 4 and 14 originally from “Satanica” (1999) / 5 originally from “Zos Kia Cultus (Here And Below)” (2002) / 7 originally from “Thelema.6” (2000) / 9 and 12 originally from “Evangelion” (2009) / 13 originally from “The Apostacy” (2007)