As an incessant rain saturated the darkened streets outside the modest side entrance to one of London’s most unlikely premier alternative music venues, black hooded metal-heads gathered like a murder of crows. A gloomy air pervaded as ticket holders for that night’s show deliberated whether to clamour for refunds following the disappointing news that German punk-driven metal duo Mantar had pulled out due to ill health, or to give the other bands a whirl. The organisers and remaining acts Deathrite and Skeletonwitch were left with a huge responsibility on their shoulders. Not only did they have to cheer the sullen audience out of the crushing setback, but they also had to put on a hell of a show to honour their fallen comrade. A tall order, however Dark Matter are delighted to report that the two bands rose to the challenge as admirably as a sailor on leave after six months at sea.
Later, as the lights dimmed over the grotty, beer-soaked floor of the Dome, German death metal outfit Deathrite stalked on to the stage, all brooding intensity and sombre determination as they readied themselves to play. Formed in 2010, Deathrite have dutifully churned out a few EPs and a couple of decent studio albums, but having completed a number of successful tours their real strength and their pure wicked pleasure is for playing live. Any lingering discontent the audience may have still been harbouring lifted as soon as the quintet let loose, plunging the listeners into their own singular, sinister synthesis of monstrous punk, despondency-laden death and rock-hardened blues. With scrapings of sludgy doom and some satisfyingly lengthy guitar solos thrown in, the band’s alluring deadly magnetism slowly drew the audience closer and closer to the stage like moths to a flickering flame.
Vocalist Tony Heinrich’s svelte form writhed and twisted at the fore as if animated by an inner, convulsed core of demonic energy, or tossed on strings plucked by a host of devils. As Tony was pouring his little black heart out as though it were being physically wrenched up through his throat, the guitarists and drummer provided a backdrop laden with cavernous echoing depths of anguish, punctuating the tenebrous air with moody, despair-infused chords, brain-battering beats and gasps of tremolo. Their latest album is all about nightmares, and the inky, sultry atmosphere they conjured up with murky numbers such as 'Temptation Calls' and 'Obscure Shades' was evocative of the most disquieting of dreams. By the end of the set it was clear listeners were digging the whole morose, mesmerising package, and with any luck, Deathrite have deservedly gained a few more devotees.
With the crowd nicely warmed up by the time they took to the stage, Skeletonwitch launched right in with a track from their latest release, 'Devouring Radiant Light', a more melancholy departure from their usual blackened thrash. As the jarring, pensive opening chords of 'Fen of Shadows' kicked in, the audience bristled in fervent anticipation, and when the fevered drumming built up to the first raging, full-throated growls, the rabid excitement in the air was palpable. The beginnings of a mosh pit took shape, which as the set went on, would gradually grow into a beast of churning and unstoppable energy.
With over a decade of electrifying live shows supporting some of the biggest acts in metal, and five well-received albums under their belt, these Ohio-based rockers have worked hard to establish themselves among heavy metal's finest. A little more assured of themselves and their acclaim than their forerunners on stage, Skeletonwitch serve up a seasoned and well-balanced mix of pounding percussion, screaming vocals and vigorous guitar which lacked much of the un-honed yet deliciously raw jaggedness of Deathrite. However, scratch beneath the surface, and a wilder, more untamed edge is revealed beneath the tempered technical splendour, and a willingness to explore and experiment.
The forceful, leaden guitar chords and purging vocals of older tracks like 'This Horrifying Force' set the air ablaze with blistering sheets of extreme metal rage, while the visceral, old school death of classics like 'Submit to the Suffering' and 'I am of Death' received a rapturous reception as they grated along mercilessly like rusty, serrated saws grinding away at tender flesh. Meanwhile, the more progressive, melodic strains of a select number from the latest album were hailed just as enthusiastically. With their intriguing formula of black, thrash, prog, doom and heavy metal as showcased here, it’s hard to pin Skeletonwitch down to any consistent style. Yet, as proven by the wild applause as they finished their set at the Dome, fans just can’t get enough of this intoxicating witchy brew.
Perhaps things didn’t go entirely to plan one wet Wednesday in London, but band members, organisers and fans alike rallied beautifully. Both Skeletonwitch and Deathrite played on undaunted and heroically rescued the evening from the brink of disaster, and in the true spirit of metal, music lovers came together like the community they are and wholeheartedly gave them their support. Mantar can take comfort in the fact their friends have got their back. Best wishes to Hanno and we hope he feels better soon.