It’s a little after 6 o’clock on a Monday night and the city of London is still presently basking in the blissful, sun-drenched afterglow of an unseasonably scorching weekend. But brewing somewhere deep in the Underworld’s murky, subterranean underbelly is the aura of something infinitely darker and more sinister (and we’re not just talking chronically flooded venue toilets here).
With tonight’s four upcoming acts spanning a rich, pitch-black plethora of gnarly, intensely visceral aggression, windswept atmospherics and outrageously bombastic feats of shock rock-spattered horror metal, opening act Nevalra comprise the first in a varied smorgasbord of underground talent. Through a ghoulish cacophony of gargling screams that pour over the PA with viscous, blackly intoxicating potency, these skilful aggressors leave the synapses instantly swimming with adrenaline. Deftly splicing luxuriant layerings of intricate, sleekly unravelling riffage in amongst hefty slabs of bass-laden aggression, the razor-sharp precision and bewildering complexity being showcased here in spades makes for a compelling kickoff to tonight’s proceedings.
Considering the fact that it’s Thy Antichrist’s maiden voyage to UK shores this month, our first impressions of the Columbian black metallers leave quite a lot to be desired. With the Underworld’s malfunctioning sound system distorting every note into a deafening, indiscernible mess of noise that violently brutalises the ear canal like great gushing waves of quick-drying cement, it’s thankfully just a short while before these pesky sound gremlins are happily laid to rest. Then, without so much as a breath of hesitation, we’re plunged headlong into a joyously dark and frenzied orgy of aggression.
Indeed, as a vocal cord-shredding rain of ragged snarls lacerates the eardrums above a breakneck slew of crushing hyperblasts, it’s hard to imagine a more violently unceasing and abrasive spectacle of a metal band. Reeking of sulfur and brimstone, execution is impeccably taut and precise throughout, despite the bewildering pace at which these masterful players effortlessly race and accelerate through tonight’s thrilling, adrenaline-fuelled repertoire. Visually too, the band deliver above and beyond all imaginable expectations, with frontman Antichrist 666’s painstakingly intricate lattice-work of black and white corpse paint working to wonderfully dehumanising effect as the vocalist violently thrashes about on stage like the proverbial man possessed. Bridging these ripping episodes of scalding aggression with a ferociously infectious array of agile, well-muscled hooks and grooves that smoulder with darkly anthemic intensity, the sheer, audible joy Thy Antichrist take in performing is a rare and hugely inspiring pleasure to behold.
The craggy peaks and fathomless, icily expansive lakes of Wolfheart’s native homeland may be many miles removed from the charmless, concrete metropolis in which they’re presently stationed, but there’s no mistaking or containing the savage, windswept intensity of sound these masterful Finns display in stirringly evocative abundance. Seamlessly pairing livid, thickly contorted screams and darkly churning hunks of sinewy groove alongside the most exquisitely delicate of glacial melodic details, it’s with impeccable clarity and dizzying urgency that the four-piece leave fans instantly awestruck and dumbfounded.
Then, through densely abrasive layers of bristling, Dissection-tinged tremolo and sculpted guitar lines that palpably glimmer with the wilderness, the viciously energised collective advance, with seamless, tautly manipulated ease, into the brutal, chest-beating throes of ‘Breakwater’. With its frantically accelerating lines of ragged tremolo propelling fans into an instant frenzy of manic, windmilling hyperactivity, generous lashings of groove-laden riffs and rallying, battleground-worthy vocal hooks make for wildly climactic live material. And with latest record ‘Constellation of the Black Light’ having sourced no small amount of inspiration from the uniquely heated energy and spontaneity of live performance, it’s a great pleasure to watch these seasoned performers expertly work a crowd. Leading this electrifying live stint with brawny and unrelenting intensity, frontman Tuomas Saukkonen is a violently compelling vocal presence, his feral, acerbic-throated snarls sending great shockwaves of adrenaline though the euphoric hordes of fans clustered eagerly around the stage. From the dizzying, euphoric solos and weighty, tautly muscular grooves of ‘Zero Gravity’ through to the coldly glistening strains of tragedy that inhabit cold-blooded epic ‘The Hunt’, Wolfheart are a force unparalleled in epic scope and intensity alike.
With flesh and synapses still tingling from Wolfheart’s recent, electrifying turn, making the transition from these hauntingly melancholic territories into Carach Angren’s schlocky, horror-laden theatrics feels, all things considered, a tad anticlimactic. That said, from the visceral, sustained aggression of Thy Antichrist to Wolfheart’s wintry, riff-laden majesty, it’s largely impossible to draw solid and workable comparisons between such a wildly differing array of artists. And so, into the frantic, riotously bombastic antics of Carach Angren we proceed, with fan favourite ‘General Nightmare’s’ energised stints of taut, technical riffage and Tim Burton-esque choirs sparking riotous excitement among fans. With a melodramatic flourish of flowing hair and dusky, ceremonial robes, frontman Seregor is unrecognisable behind a Halloweenish skull mask before what appears to be a bandaged mannequin covered in blood emerges phantom-like from the shadowy recesses of the stage. Waggling his tongue suggestively in the direction of the aforementioned shop window dummy’s crotch, the symphonic metallers’ playfully crass, Alice Cooper-esque antics add a degree of hammy spectacle and pageantry to the mix.
All sizzling hooks and gnarly, deliciously abrasive guitar tones, the frantically accelerating ‘Funerary Dirge of a Violinist’ richly overloads the senses with adrenaline, its bone-splintering blasts adding a pleasing, pulverising weight to the whole affair. The ever-popular ‘Bloodstains on the Captain’s Log’ is, too, thoroughly awash with gargling ferocity and bludgeoning brute force, together with ample lashings of Dimmu-esque symphonic trappings. It’s hardly the stuff of compositional genius, but as far as playfully lighthearted, drink-sodden entertainment goes, Carach Angren are not without their energised and technically adept merits.