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  • Review by Faye Coulman

DunkelNacht @ The Unicorn, Camden

On Valentine’s Day this year, the Dark Matter team ditched pink fizz for beer and shunned the usual M&S meal for two for a date with blackened death, provided courtesy of the scandalously underrated DunkelNacht. Roses may be red, but down at the Unicorn, Camden’s temple to the underground, the metal was as sinfully black as the DunkelNacht of the soul.

DunkelNacht’s blend of melodic death, progressive rhythms and classically-inspired vignettes infused with a velveteen blackness seemed a more fitting tribute to the memory of Saint Valentine, brutally beaten to death on this very day back in AD 269, than any amount of pound-shop confectionery. Formed in 2004 by current guitarist Heimdall, DunkelNacht was initially hatched as a one-man project, but the budding potential of the enterprise soon attracted more of the musically minded over the years leading to the steady, colourful line-up they have today. With members hailing from the Netherlands and France, a German band name, lyrics sung in English and a Scandinavian flavour, this tapestry of talent proves that Europeans really can work together. Armed with two well-received albums and a few Eps under their belts, plus new album ‘Empires of Mediocracy’ set to be released this month, London is the first step on their Empires UK tour.

The discovery of DunkelNacht playing up a storm at the Unicorn, to any casual punters who happened to stumble in, must have been like when deep-sea divers first found pearls glistening within the gritty insides of oysters. Dedicated to supporting less well-known artists by providing gloriously intimate, wonderfully free of charge live shows, the much beloved Unicorn has an almost cosy, sticky-floored charm that larger venues could never capture. While at first glance appearing to be your quintessential old-man boozer, the dusky interior hides a darkened, grotto-like live venue with enough elbow-room to whip up a proper head-banging frenzy.

Illuminating the habitual murky gloom with a show that was pure electricity, DunkelNacht made the most of the snug space and provided plenty of thunderbolt moments throughout the night that were more than a match for Cupid’s Arrow. Echoing with all the abrasive, purging power of Craft, the bestial, blackened intensity of Behemoth and both the heavy brutality and bleak emotional intensities of the Scandinavian metal scene, the band managed to exude stage presence and play their little black guts out while maintaining serious dedication to their considerable skill.

Pulling off exhilarating feats of technical wizardry with Heimdall’s breath-taking riffs and intoxicating bursts of tremolo, DunkelNacht also found ways to startle the crowd with protracted guitar solos that strived for the giddying heights of masters such as In Flames. The savage onslaught of Alkhemohr’s heavy bass and Tegaarst’s frantic drum-work was studded with deepening chords of overblown drama billowing across the crowd like silk drapes, and moments of melodic beauty that shone like stars in the polished-jet backdrop of an endless night. M.C. Abagor proved a worthy frontman, so wired with energy on stage it was as though he’d been hit with a mega-watt charge, his furious death growls in direct contrast to his golden-flowing, fairy-tale locks.

Surprisingly for such a small venue, the show was cleverly put together, the lightning blizzard of smoke and lights coalescing with the music in symmetry, and DunkelNacht completed the tour de force with a set-list that was perfectly balanced. Incorporating a satisfying mix of songs from their most recent releases and hearkening back to their earlier material, the highlight of the night was the rousing rendition of their popular track ‘Anthropocenia’, a hybrid extravaganza of classical and the most blistering of blackened death, juxtaposing notes of quivering piano with tortured guitar, that hopefully earned them a few more UK-based fans.

Indeed, judging by the enthusiastic churning mosh-pit that quickly formed as DunkelNacht roared out their standout hits, it was a night that will remain indelibly etched on the memory of everyone there. On Valentine’s Day, DunkelNacht delivered a show that was raw with bloody heart.

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