The tiresome well-being brigade, exuding a kale-scented air of vegan, alcohol free smugness may tell you otherwise, but for Dark Matter the only way to take refuge from the unrelenting misery of the dreariest month of the year is to throw oneself into the frostbitten excesses of the black metal scene. And so, after the pain of the first day back in the office post-Christmas holiday, we join a gaggle of eager metal-heads clustered in the drizzle awaiting entry to the Boston Music Rooms. A flea-bitten little North London venue that nevertheless plays host to some top-notch underground music, tonight it welcomes the Cold Black Hearts European Tour, an exquisite selection of diverse acts that prove there are always examples to be found of the hydra-like nature of black metal; a beast that has given rise to a plethora of styles and techniques, snaking off in a jumble of lightning shot directions like a tangle of amp wires crackling with dodgy electrics.
Indeed, the cult of this many-headed serpent demands the utter enslavement of its practitioners, and each and every one of these cold black hearts more than deliver, tearing out the gory innards of their most innermost passions as they rip it up on stage. The first two bands begin proceedings with full-blooded live performances that satisfy excitable early-attenders, finally inside and rabid for their initial wicked fix. Vehement deftly manage the requisite rasping vocals, raging atmospherics and bone-chilling distortions of the genre to serve up their own proficient and moving brand of Emperor-influenced black, while Caronte present a knotty and compelling mix of heavy metal and acid doom, the extremes of which achieve a kind of raw, grungy hardness, reminiscent of Darkthrone’s Old Star, that they pound home with muscular, sweaty enthusiasm. Up next are Switzerland’s Schammasch and they are a revelation - elemental, experimental and on the most ravaged edges of the avant-garde, these renegades take their highly melodic, progressive sound into strangely elevated, overcast climes on fluttering, spiky demon wings, with much skill and panache. Draped in elaborately designed cloaks, their identities half-hidden Batushka-style, the performance is punctuated by ceremonial drums and mystical chants and has the quality of a ritual. Yet this goes beyond merely a satanic mass as they tap into ever murkier currents of occult instrumental mystery - proving the most far out, unconventional band of the evening yet delighting regardless.
These support acts are a pleasantly surprising, excellent entree to the main event, leaving the audience in a state of dreamy satiety, like diners already half-tipsy on a particularly heady aperitif and almost forgetting, but not quite, their ravenous appetites for the feast to follow. As soon as the main course stalk on stage however, caked in corpse paint, skin chalky white with eyes like pitiless black holes, the swell of appreciation from the fans cramming closer to their idols is a reminder that Enthroned inspire much avaricious adoration. A seriously well established presence in underground circles, the Belgian quintet have survived the singular setbacks so unfortunately characteristic of black metal outfits to emerge with their exemplary style of music intact - and indeed going from strength to sullied strength.
Drawing on all of their 25 years of experience and a deep-felt ideology based around the philosophy of the Left Hand Path, Enthroned’s luxurious, deeply layered sound is now as satisfying as their homeland’s most indulgent, cocoa-rich export, balancing the majestic velveteen tones and grandiose melodies of contemporary metal with a drapery of traditionally heavy riffs and burnished distortions, all echoing with charged, gloom-ridden atmospherics. And like swirls of the darkest premium chocolate, a peculiar crushing melancholy snakes through tonight’s set-list and creeps its way into the soul. Focusing mostly on tracks from their latest full length Cold Black Suns, with some notable standouts from 2014’s Sovereigns and 2012’s Obsidium, fans looking for the 90s style, second wave stuff on which the band cut their teeth may have been left disappointed - but their performance features enough of the brutal, heavy metal fury that is often less noticeable on studio-recorded albums than live sets to make up for any yearning for that earlier savage coarseness.
Opening with the tortured riff-work and starry tunefulness of Sepulchred Within Opaque Slumber, blistering highlights include the echoing chimes of Silent Redemption and the lurching percussive chasms of Aghoria; and the hammering drums and screeching distortions of the catchy, highly distinctive Of Feathers and Flames - its title calling to mind the phoenix-like quality of a band who is continually reborn after every disaster with renewed force and vigour. The pulsing ferocity of Hosanna Satana allows for some fierce mosh-pit action, while an unexpected encore of the cataclysmic Smoking Mirror proves more than welcome to the fans - who now in a highly excitable state - are not yet ready to go home. Presided over by vocalist Nornagest’s particularly arresting presence, towering titan-like and spreading his beefy arms in symbolic and unyielding embrace of the assembled followers, while the other members of the band keep their heads lowered in a perpetual, almost shoe-gaze-y passion of head-banging supplication to their raspy-throated master, the whole spectacle proves as enjoyably terrifying as it is invigorating.
All in all a night to remember, with each band ultimately proving the Janus-like nature of the genre, harkening back to its insidious inky roots at the same time as looking forwards to push on into freshly blasted territory. Washed down with gallons of the BMR’s finest gut-churning beer, this hoarfrost-encrusted extravaganza showcased the best of black.
When the metal is this good, Dry January can fuck right off.