Jun 032011

(Our UK-based writer Andy Synn is back with his third concert review of the week. This is what we call good living — Andy caught three stellar concerts in four days over the long weekend that just passed. We don’t think he wrote these reviews just to make us jealous, but they’ve had that effect anyway. We forgive him because he writes so well that reading is almost like being there.)

Starting an unbelievably short time after doors opened, Krakow had the unenviable task of warming up an underground black metal show on a rainy Monday night in Nottingham. Thankfully, their grooving take on warp-riding post-black metal was a perfect appetiser, their music providing a surprisingly warm and welcoming way to start off the evening’s entertainment.

Similarities could be drawn with Icelandic progsters Solstafir who ply a similarly post-black metal route through the murky waters of genredom. However, where Solstafir evolved into a post-black mutation from their original Viking-era incarnation – whilst maintaining a cold sense of post-millenial dissociation – Krakow began their lives as the direct offspring of post-black metal parents – they were born this way. These mutant spawn of post-black metal Norway have more in common with the rolling, abstract sounds of Isis and Cult Of Luna than they do with Mayhem or Emperor.

Embracing a free-wheeling, psychedelic rock spirit to offset the bleaker tendencies of their musical DNA, the band had a loose, fiery sound and swagger, mixing aggressive metallic tendencies with a stockier, more muscular riff-based sound and a bedrock of grooving, hammering beats. Bassist/vocalist Frode Kilvik possessed a powerful, primal roar equally as capable of expressing animalistic lust as extolling the twin themes of human misanthropy and apocalyptic decline, tempered with a positive, almost antagonistic fatalism. If doomsday is coming, they’re not going out without a party. (more after the jump . . .)

Kampfar provided the night’s major surprise, with a stunning, stellar set of what they arrogantly (although many would argue not incorrectly) termed “the sound of real Norwegian black metal”. Throughout their set, an atmosphere of subdued malevolence abounded, the overtures of dark, morose folkish elements doing little to ease this sense of ill-will. Yet this negative energy was clearly not directed at the crowd, whose presence and acclaim was received with effusive thanks by the band themselves, but rather a symptom of the group channelling a more primal source of primitive, inescapable menace through their music.

Joining his band-mates on stage after a tense, smouldering intro, rapier thin frontman Dolk delivered a frothing, rabid vocal performance, his bullet belted and spiked gauntleted appearance sitting somewhat oddly against the stripped down and streamlined look favoured by his musical brothers. His harsh, ragged vocalisations were ably supported by drummer Ask who provided his own bestial snarls as well as a dizzying array of drum fills and mind-melting blasts.

The scything guitar tone of Ole Hartvigsen was matched perfectly by the pulsating, thrumming bass of Jon Bakker, whose contributions to the set cannot be overlooked, giving it a deep, growling engine of power and high octane fury. The scintillating throb of his bass playing dominated stand-out track “Huldreland”, adding a sense of crawling, creeping dread to the proceedings. Live-member Hartvigsen must also be remarked upon for playing with finger-bleeding, fret-blazing intensity throughout, equally as comfortable with delivering hefty blackened riffs as with the glistening, folkish guitars that permeated songs like “Hymne”.

Set-closer “Ravenheart” garnered a frenzied reaction from the group’s loyal followers in the front rows, reaching out in feverish devotion to touch the messianic figure of Dolk for one last time. Yet the night was not quite finished, drummer Ask taking the mic one last time following the song’s conclusion to incite the crowd to summon his band-mates back to the stage for one last impromptu musical assault!

The evening’s stars were clearly Vreid, gaining the largest (and loudest) crowd response from the assembled throng. Frontman Sture Dingsøyr delivered his staunchly anti-fascist proclamations with passion and conviction, his presence manifesting itself in a potent fascination from the hypnotised onlookers. Tightly gripping his 6-stringed weapon, he remained primarily tied to his mic-stand yet was able to project an aura of unshakeable pride and an unassailable confidence without the need to resort to penny-ante theatrics.

The more extroverted antics of bassist Jarle Kvåle gave the set a more human, natural feel, bonding both the band and crowd together through a shared camaraderie totally in keeping with the band’s musical and lyrical themes of brotherhood and resistance. Punchy and belligerent, his growling bass tone added a forceful and vital dynamic to the band’s powerful live sound, while new guitarist Stian Bakketeig (also ex-Windir) proved himself a vital component in the pitch-black war machine, effortlessly locking in with the speedy tremolo melodies and crunchy thrash riffs of songs like “Blücher” and “Wrath Of Mine”.

The band’s performance was reminiscent of how I imagine prime-era Metallica must have been back in their club days, 4 focussed individuals tearing at their instruments with precise, rhythmic fury, constructing a devastating riff machine through their combined efforts. The entire set was characterised by virtuoso lead guitars and wandering, organic bass-lines, interlocking perfectly with the rock-solid backbone provided by Jørn Holen‘s metrononomic drumming and Sture’s impeccably tight, Hetfield-esque rhythm guitar.

A pugnacious rendition of “Speak Goddammit” showcased the band firing on all cylinders, artillery strength drumming and machine gun guitar riffs guided to their target by a lithe, predatory bass-line and a commanding, assured vocal performance. The song’s moments of clean-picked guitar melody and smooth, emotional lead work provided a chance for calm reflection and meditation between the tumultuous drums and whirlwind riffs, while the controlled aggression of follow-up “Svart” mixed soaring, bleak guitar melodies with a scathing, off-kilter pattern of blackened might.

The violent and breathtaking delivery of final song “Pitch Black” united band and audience into a singular attacking force of vehement, air-punching lunacy. The subdued melody of the song saw the band painting with light and shade as well as metallic power, while its martial drum beats and bleak, melancholic guitars conjured an oppressive, evocative atmosphere. The stomping drums, agile bass-playing and sneering guitar leads of the song’s closing measures had every available fist raised in triumphant celebration, the band leaving the crowd sated yet still begging for more.

Due to a technical glitch, the house lights came up for a full minute following Vreid’s exit, leading many of the crowd to mistakenly begin leaving prior to Secrets Of The Moon making their much anticipated appearance. Thankfully, the majority of the audience returned in time to witness the band dominate their remaining stage time with a single-minded, misanthropic focus.

The band’s diabolical mysticism perfectly complemented the modern-primitive aesthetic of Kampfar and the militaristic vibe of Vreid, showcasing a different side to the multi-faceted jewel of black metal. Conducting a black mass of dismal, doom-soaked riffs and vocal blasphemies, the band delved deep into their back catalogue to produce tormented renditions of their most vicious, blood-soaked hymns.

Cloaked in darkness, broken only by stark flashes of crimson light, Shammash dedicated “Nemesis” to “all the servants of the snake” before leading his fellow doomsday disciples headlong into the song’s spiralling vortex of barbed-wire guitars and scorching drums. Doom-laden, rusted bass-lines lent the song a despairing aura of rot and decay, only further supported by the hopeless, forlorn guitar leads which pierced the gloomy ambience with coldly calculated precision.

While the cascade of cataclysmic chords that made up “I, Maldoror” embodied an eldritch insanity, the buzzing, almost industrial guitars of “Sulphur” demonstrated a different side to the band’s ritualistic incantations, a more modern and dehumanised take on the black metal template that SotM seem intent on redefining. The song’s drawn-out introduction of pounding, tribal drums and eerie guitar leads built the pressure to unbearable levels before the massacre began in earnest.

The crippling horror manifested by the crushing rendition of “Lucifer Speaks” whipped the remaining crowd into a fevered delirium, the triple-throated vocal attack of the track’s primary refrain resulting in a hysterical response from those fanatical adherents who hung on every snarled lyric and twisted, magnificent guitar riff. With the set’s bombastic, booming climax, the group left the stage in a banshee wail of distorted feedback, Shammash saluting the salivating crowd one last time, swiftly sketching an inverted cross in the air with his free hand, a final parting acknowledgement to their small, yet dedicated fan-base.

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