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  • Review by Faye Coulman

Harakiri for the Sky + Ellende + Fen @ Camden Underworld, London

From coal-black, palpably viscous outpourings of unadulterated bile and synapse-scorching hatred to crippling expanses of melancholia-stricken fretwork, it’s hard to imagine a medium more adept at manifesting the very darkest shades of human suffering than that of atmospheric black metal. And on a typically dreary Tuesday night in early November, tonight’s substantial feast of pure, pitch-black catharsis is precisely what our sombre, rain-sodden metropolis needs right now.

With a silt-hued depth and resonance of sound that vividly evokes the perilously boggy, primordial wilderness from which their name derives, there’s something wondrously seamless and instinctive about FEN’s intricately layered craft from the get-go. Above gargantuan layer upon layer of weightily reverberating blasts and thunderous, subterranean groove, theirs is a sound as audibly bristling with second wave hostility as it is rich with genre-transcending complexity.

“So the music video for this one features an old man being tortured,” remarks dry-witted frontman Frank Allain with all the cheery nonchalance of an affable Uber driver making polite small-talk about the weather before the band plunge headlong into the icily caustic throes of epic new single ‘Scouring Ignorance’. From here, searing extremes of frost-stricken acceleration and larynx-shredding shrieks pull us under with lethal, all-enveloping magnetism. And across a dexterous array of frantically bristling tremolo, propulsive blasts and sleekly unfurling whorls of psychedelic riffery, these local genre talents kick off tonight’s proceedings in impeccably poised and absorbing style.

All weather-beaten black leather and cadaverous, hastily slathered-on greasepaint, there’s nothing to suggest ELLENDE have much to offer beyond what appears to be, at first glance, some fairly run-of-the-mill orthodox fare. That is, until, a veritable deluge of ornate classical strings and horns worthy of a lavish state funeral takes instantaneous and utterly magnetic hold of the senses, their airily flourishing motions unfurling into the ether like wintry shrouds of freezing cemetery fog. From lofty crescendos of intangibly delicate strings and lusciously cascading acoustics through to breakneck episodes of pure, brutally pulverising carnage, the Austrians’ jaw-dropping levels of genre-obliterating musical artistry make for an exceptionally rare and riveting spectacle.

But it’s not just the enviably fluid ease with which intensely haunting opener ‘Ballade Auf Den Tod’ melds together its various strains of sleekly elongated riffage, balletic orchestral flourishes and lacerating extremes of propulsive aggression. Nor, indeed, the numerous shades of insanely pummelling ultra-violence and tremolo-stricken hostility with which their electrifying set is liberally furnished. All integral pieces in the complex, multi-faceted puzzle that is Ellende’s brilliant and stylistically confounding sound, to be sure. But whether it’s the achingly wistful, distortion-drenched riffage and sweepingly expansive choirs of ‘Ruhelos’ or the whirling, audibly tortured acoustics of ‘Ich Bin’, the magic of Ellende abides, above all else, in their capacity for evoking emotion on a scale hitherto unseen both here in the shadowy echelons of extreme music and beyond.

And speaking of those possessed of such bleakly beautiful and evocative conjurings, HARAKIRI FOR THE SKY are every inch the ceaselessly raging inferno of primal, synapse-scorching intensity we’d seen more than a tantalising glimpse of at their electrifying UK debut a year prior at Cosmic Void 2022. With its sultry, weightily churning undertow of tautly muscled riffage and lacerating screams finding meticulous placement in amongst a coldly glimmering flurry of atmospheric intricacies that instantly recall the transcendental majesty of Alcest, ‘I, Pallbearer’ comprises a mesmerising point of entry into the Austrians’ frantically energised repertoire. Barely pausing to draw breath as ‘…Pallbearer’s’ tenderly resonant, piano-laden outro gracefully dissolves into nothingness before a riotous roar of applause rises from the euphoric assembled masses, it’s with tense, unrelenting urgency that these impassioned players accelerate forth into the savagely frenetic throes of ‘Fire, Walk With Me’. With its lithe, crystalline flurries of piano abounding with tangible unrest and ethereal beauty atop a gargantuan mass of densely contorting fretwork, this brutally evocative anthem tangibly crackles and blisters with a rich, ink-black plethora of emotional energies.

At once richly bestrewn with atmospheric subtleties yet simultaneously bristling with hostility and audibly weighted with anguish, this is the unmistakable act of a band letting loose the very darkest and most wretchedly desolate parts of their being. And from lung-puncturing screams to ragged, animalistic howls of unadulterated torment, lead vocalist J.J. is a man all too adept at exorcising his innumerable demons, underpinning ripping extremes of aggression and heartrending vulnerability in equal, acutely affecting measure. Then, among the various cinematic samples with which Harakiri’s uniquely immersive set is intermittently peppered comes the deliciously cynical observation that, “No art worth a damn was ever created out of happiness”. And as the purveyors of a craft whose every minute, gossamer-fine detail and brutally turbulent contortion is audibly saturated with existential strife, seldom does a band make such a fiercely compelling case for suffering for their art.


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