With its notorious blend of raggedly savage, dark and frostbitten vibrations, there’s no overstating how perfectly black metal lends itself to the heated, ritualistic intensity of live performance. And with their electrifying repertoire of raw, madly energised pacing, searing hooks and tautly executed technical details, Ragnarok are on classic and relentlessly entertaining form tonight.
Through bristling spirals of tremolo that unravel frantically atop a densely muscular undertow of expansive grooves, it’s with wolvish yet finely manipulated aggression that these Norwegian legends expertly work the crowd. Bedecked in deathly lashings of corpse paint and studded metal that glimmers luridly beneath dusky pools of crimson stage lighting, ‘Blood of Saints’s’ snaking, coldly majestic grooves instantly ensnare the audience’s undivided attention. Punctuated by explosive fits of battering percussion and gargling screams, its brimstone-scorched array of writhing hooks and scalding guitar scales promptly floods the senses with a wealth of lacerating tones and textures.
Yet, for all this scalding heat and intensity, there’s no mistaking the meticulous placement and precision with which these madly accelerating parts have been skilfully manipulated. With each visibly euphoric, headbanging band member reduced to a frantic blur of thrashing limbs, hair and leather, the restless energy that underlines every conceivable aspect of Ragnarok’s performance is a joyously aggressive spectacle to behold.
With freshly decimated ears still reeling from this thoroughly blistering display, there’s that tense and old familiar silence that seems to last a small eternity as the stage lights die and an inevitable sea of smartphones illuminate the arena with coldly synthetic strains of light. But what a veritable supernova of pummelling, machine gun-paced battery and gargling horror Marduk deliver when the Swedes finally loom into focus, their painted faces rendered still more ghoulish beneath starkly unforgiving flickers of strobe lighting. Across seemingly infinite, densely contorted lines of churning bass and thorny rasps of tremolo, every militaristic blast and caustic accent audibly bristles with hostility and unimaginable horror.
“Cowards! Is that all you’ve got?” bellows vitriol-throated frontman Morgan Håkansson at the applauding masses as he gleefully goads fans into a frenzy before launching headlong into the coldly immersive, rhythmic throes of ‘The Blond Beast.’ With its stomping, irresistibly hooky pacing and nimbly detailed fretwork, early placement of this catchy little number in tonight’s setlist proves to have been a wise choice, with its final, fading bars being greeted with a grand collective howl of appreciation. From here, the plaintive whining of an air-raid siren floods the auditorium with ghoulish echoes as the raggedly angular riffs of new cut ‘The Devil’s Song’ see the audience transformed into a turbulent sea of frantic, sweatily thrashing motion. With all the mercilessly lethal tone and texture of corroded razor-wire slicing through soft and unyielding human flesh, madly accelerating lines of tremolo frantically twist and unravel into a seething tangle of coldly atmospheric chord progressions.
Also freshly extracted from awaited new opus ‘Viktoria’, the deliciously vicious ‘Equestrian Bloodlust’ showcases still greater technical detail and devilishly calculating precision in design. Displaying searing levels of clarity above Håkansson’s deafening hail of gargling curses, a knife-edged flurry of technical details see ripping, multi-directional lashings of reverb ricochet violently alongside a darkly intoxicating slew of plunging bass grooves. From deranged, banshee shrieks to phlegm-riddled toxic gargling that palpably reeks of the grave, Håkansson truly is a one-man horror show of a vocal talent, displaying tirelessly energised and unrelenting stamina throughout these insanely paced hymns of hate. Moments after promising “One last abomination to close the ceremony”, the densely visceral, expansive grooves and bracing fits of primal aggression that comprise 1992 classic ‘The Black…’ conclude this relentlessly dark assault on the senses in supremely nightmarish style.