After the go-everywhere-all-the-time extravagance of last year my Easter-ish trip to Roadburn in Holland was one of the sacrifices I made this year. Oh, partly because I was going to Russia of course. But I still had itchy feet/ears at this time of year and all of a sudden Scotland was calling, with an unusual rush of quality events up there. The pick of the bunch for me was North of the Wall, which had been operating on a smaller scale for a few years but had suddenly upped their scale and game and had a line-up of some of the prime bands of the blackened and death metal varieties that I had been wanting to immure myself in and hadn’t yet. Relatively small in scale but definitely quality over quantity.
Spent a fair bit of time up in Scotland in the past so the M6 commute was all very familiar. Got hotel base sorted and then walked into busy Easter weekend city centre. The festival was based in three clubs in the very heart, around Central Station, but today would just be in the main venue, The Classic Grand. We along with many other holiday blasphemers were there in eager anticipation of the but they weren’t actually letting in yet so we had to reside in a pub for a bit. When eventually in Wode from Manchester were up and running very quickly but thankfully the hall filled quickly too, support I’m sure they appreciated. Not long since I’d seen them supporting Dead Congregation and again it’s an impressive onslaught of epically constructed black metal hurricanes, but not without tempo shifts and structure that maintains the focus. Speaking of focus, the bar was just standard club prices and when presented with a shot of vodka for the same price as bottles that we were buying on our recent trip, well… measures had to be taken. Good job there was a Lidl’s across the road. The music was the priority though, and next we had Germany’s Essenz. I’d picked up their beautifully packaged last album ”Mundus Numen” via a Svart records sale a while back, but live they gave a whole new life to the diverse styles there contained. Crisp, blasting heaviness at times but also mixing in a more uptempo traditional metal drive, as well as doom break downs, it’s an excellent journey through some strong songwriting. The death metal of their compatriots Drowned was effective enough, in a Cancer-ish stripped down and brutishly battering way, but we took the brief opportunity to get a food break to prepare for the evening session.
Back and take a side view from the elevated sections of the venue for Wederganger from the Netherlands. A milling mass of mayhem on stage, the core three piece supplemented by live musicians, all hooded and masked under black leather jackets as is the evident style for the newest wave of black metal. The tunes are ferocious and dark, there are nods to ritual with lanterns and candelabras waved around, but I feel much more of a hardcore punk vibe too, one of the vocalists channelling Dean from ENT with his mike stand wielding We’ll follow this blackened vein to the end now as next we have Iceland’s Mistyrming, who blew me away at Roadburn last year. Again, there is a feral intensity and fervour to their delivery that is captivating, intimidating. Still young as ever, but with a focussed intent to rip through their dark art, though not without melodic shifts in gear that give it an expansive feel, perhaps in tune to the environment of their home. Superb stuff, if not quite the impact of the new as the last time was. And also initially lacking some impact was the last band, Mgla, from Poland. Initially there seemed a lack of volume that robbed somewhat from their anthemic black metal opuses, but it could have been partly in contrast to the proceeding too. Soon they are into their swing though and the churning “Exercises in Futility” (their last album) are far from it in musical terms, there’s a steady, heartfelt urgency and controlled aggression to their relentless riffing. It is ultimately a celebration of the dark side and the applause is unanimous at what has been a fantastically consistent opening day
a little interlude
Rolling out of our pit at an unseasonably sunny midday meet up with an old friend over at the excellent 13th Note café/venue before heading back to see what the new day brings in the dingy venues. We are round to Ivory Black’s first, that my friend didn’t rate as a venue due to the club not being geared for live sound, but when you’ve got Call From The Grave doing a set of raw and retro Bathory tribute tunes those subtleties don’t really matter, it’s a filthy fun start. Theme continues with Craven Idol (from London) who maintain a stripped down proto-black/death approach, great thundering approach and rabid screams, and not far removed when we venture to the third venue, Audio, and catch the two-piece of Inconcessus Lux Lucis. A bit of a mouthful but an earful of a black metal Iron Maiden? What a mad and refreshing mix, they definitely had a good line in the galloping and melodic riff workouts. Bit of a whirlwind trip around the block now as I catch some of the excellent and well -structured Irish Death metal of Vircolac, harsh and blistering black of Belgian’s LVTHN, and the German steam roller of colossal death that is Sulphur Aeon, such a solid and incisive sound.
Bit of a breather again before we catch up with our friends in Bast, they again are also diverse in their sound mix, lots of doom reverberating doom, picking up to relentless grooves and even exploding into raw blackened holocausts too. They take their time and air lots of epic stuff from the long-awaited new album. I leave to get in to Classic Grand early for one of the main attractions of the event, the ritual black/death metal of Batushka (top). The stir they have created has been significant, yes there is a theatrical element to the matching cloaked and masked monks but there is some seriously good music underpinning it. Maybe the Poles have had a grounding in some (enforced/inured) religious upbringing but it’s not often you have a three piece Gregorian Choir at the side of the stage. The sound mix is not necessarily the best but it is still massive and spectacular, they should be checked out! Get to catch a little of Esoteric’s funeral doom but have not the mind capacity or time to get absorbed or into their sludgy morass, before returning to the main stage for another fresh listen, Canada’s Revenge. Despite been going since early 2000’s I’d only picked up on the their black/death horror show with their new album “Behold Total Rejection”, with the sheer brutal extremity of some of the sounds jarring even to me! Their battle metal has a punk insistency and they have a strong visual aesthetic to their show too, it’s sonic violence of a fine providence
Finish up at Ivory Blacks for the finale with Saturnalia Temple, something completely different with their psychedelically swathed doom rock. I’d caught a little of them in passing at MDF in the US last year, but here got to hear and savour the grinding grooves of the bass and delayed guitar lines, topped with the wailing occult rock vocals. Really hypnotic and lulling end to the evening, we still have an aftershow party to enjoy before retiring happy.
The whole set up was great and fair play to the organisers for gathering an excellent collection of bands together, the event and its attractions will definitely be added to the radar for future years