It was a balmy Spring evening in Camden Town, the air suffused with the familiar pungent odours of warm beer, kebab meat and choking exhaust fumes. Few would have suspected that beneath the sun-dappled streets, the Europe Under Black Death Metal Fire tour was about to rip up a blazing inferno of extreme music that would shake the iconic pillars and sticky, split-level floors of premier music venue the Underworld to its core.
Darkrise and God Dethroned provided a fitting warm-up to big hitters Suffocation and Belphegor, but it was recent Dark Matter discovery Nordjevel who really lit the fuse for what proved to be a scorching show. Boasting stellar alumni from such greats as Marduk, Ragnorak and Morbid Angel, Nordjevel have been flaunting their mutant breed of thrash-soaked black metal for the past three winters. Emerging on stage caked in corpse paint and smeared with (hopefully, fake) blood, their enthusiastic embrace of the scene was unapologetic, and their speed of light riffs combined with thunderous, lurching chords no doubt won over many unfamiliar with their pulverising sound. With a set-list that was short but satisfyingly sweet, the band focused primarily on pimping out tracks from this year’s album release, the brutishly brilliant Necrogenesis. The highlight of the sadistically savage onslaught was Amen Whores, its rocking riffs and screaming vocals evoking the panic-induced tossing and turning of the most bloodcurdling of nightmares. Scandalously satanic in both style and substance, Nordjevel slayed on stage and more than earned their spot on the billing.
Named for an especially hideous demon of wealth and abandon, Belphegor burst forth from the fiery netherworld back in the early 90s and, with several killer albums and countless tours under their spiked belts, are as wickedly accomplished as ever. Combining the overblown dramatics of black metal with the speed and skill of death and their distinctive, deep-throated, almost retching vocals, Belphegor’s uniquely inventive, thorny sound is straight from hell itself and a depraved delicacy best served live.
Indeed, these polished pros know how to stir up a crowd. Opening track ‘Sanctus Diaboli Confidimus’ was an excruciating exercise in drawn out tension deliberately calculated to stretch the Underworld audience’s nerves to breaking point, with agonisingly lengthy bouts of tremolo and heavy repetitive drums creating a thick, tense atmosphere that was suddenly disturbed by an unnervingly low, bestial roar. With rabid fans sufficiently tormented into a state of hysteria, inhuman wails hailed the beginnings of ‘Totenkult – Exegesis of Deterioration’, a deliciously devilish treat from Belphegor’s latest album with an addictive backdrop of thudding chords and barbed-wire blast beats. The witchy opening cackle of ‘Conjuring the Dead’, which along with ‘The Devil’s Son’ is Belphegor at their most indulgently theatrical, was met with similarly rapturous frenzy amidst the watching crowd.
As the sepulchral, dusky tones and feral vocals of Belphegor’s most beloved bite of barbarity pierced the vaporous air with an unnerving backdrop of pulsating tremolo, striking ominous notes and feverish drums, it was easy to be seduced by the dark allure of necromancy. The band rounded off the set with the delectably blasphemous ‘Baphomet’, a brimstone-blackened treat from their latest opus, gloriously extolling the pure sensuous joy of worshipping false goat gods with richly distorted, lurching chords and bursts of jarring guitar. As the majestic final notes faded away, it was evident from the crowd’s howls for more they were willing to barter their immortal souls for just one more beautifully brutal track.
Suffocation need little introduction, but for anyone living under a rock the past three decades, the experience-hardened New Yorkers are amongst the pioneering greats of technical death metal. Pure skill embodied, Suffocation are master craftsman of the complex riff, the sophisticated breakdown and the down-tuned guitar. Expertly mixing elements of speed metal, grind-core and traditional death, the result is an astonishing display of dazzlingly accomplished instrumental acrobatics that the band have honed to perfection over the years and arguably marked the very beginnings of deathcore itself. And yet despite the emphasis on dexterity and skill, it’s not all cold, calculating concentration; Suffocation play with real, soul-stirring passion and pour their heart and soul into their performances.
Despite the obligatory chequered history of such a long-standing outfit, the music has always remained consistently good. The set-list for Europe Under Fire had to be carefully considered to suit the most dogmatic of Suffocation’s fanatical admirers, and featured a smattering of stellar songs from their finest 90s releases and a couple more recent masterstrokes. The result was a winning combination of tracks that pleased both the casual fan and the more discerning, stubborn diehards alike. Reaching deep into the dark, echoing depths of their first album, ‘Effigy of the Forgotten’, the accelerated riffs and brutal, bestial death growls of 'Infecting the Crypts' and 'Liege of Inveracity' were greeted with pant-wetting excitement from the delighted listeners. Another early favourite, ‘Pierced from Within’, proved equally pleasing with its offering of doom-laden, sinister stretches of sound counter-poised with guitar solos executed at breath-taking speeds.
As the band members growled their throats raw and contorted about the stage, the pure demonic energy of their performance inspired ever more ferocious, devil-whipped whirlwinds of motion in the churning mosh pit at their feet. The band also paid lip service to their latest release ‘…Of the Dark Light’, with ‘Clarity through Deprivation’ and ‘Return to the Abyss’. Although arguably not their most acclaimed album, when played live the hoary blast beats and excruciatingly drawn out riffs are just as evocative of the shattered, icy wastelands of sound that characterises Suffocation’s harsh and purging extreme style, proving that despite their many years in operation, they’ve still got it.