If ever an extreme metal fan were in want of a concert where the bands more than outweighed the price of entry, they sure got it on Saturday. Taking to the O2 Academy Islington were four bands of very different styles, yet all tied in some way to headliners Primordial. While it is unfortunate the concert has to begin at the crack of eve in time for the disco night later, there is still a reassuringly strong attendance to support the earlier bands.
Due to the above-mentioned early start, it is unfortunate that I catch only the latter half of Malthusian’s set, but the Irish death metallers make one hell of a racket. The lumbering tracks from their demo MMXIII thunder through the speakers in a full spectrum of speeds. Pauric Gallagher’s spectacular beard bobs as he grunts, ably supported by Andy Cunningham’s rasps and Matt Bree’s growls. All three of them are also wringing monstrous riffs out of their instruments, whether at blistering or crawling speed, with Johnny King pounding the drums. There is one moment of songwritng in their set, however, that sets Malthusian apart from their blasting contemporaries: they masterfully slow down to a hypnotizing, droning crawl, without once losing the interest of the healthy turnout who watch them, and then speed right back up for the next pummeling round. If people weren’t already talking about this band on the strength of their demo, then the 30 minutes they have onstage undoubtably will get the cogs turning again. Mark my words, Malthusian are a band to keep your eye on.
Coming off the back of a mad dash through Ireland and the UK, it is surprising that Portrait take to the stage still bounding with energy. Clad in leathers, studs and various other tropes of heavy metal fashion, the Swedes are raring to make noise and bang heads. However, the sound mix is first hurdle; what sounds like a malfunctioning drum mic results in a horrendous crackling, and the guitars are far murkier than they should be. Despite this hampering, the band press on through choice cuts from last year’s Crossroads. Their stage presence is well-calculated, with synchronized guitar raising during ‘We Were Not Alone’ and plenty of onstage interaction, although the next issue with the sound soon becomes apparent: vocalist Per Lengstedt has completely blown his voice, and his usually powerful Rob Halford-like pipes are now muted and cracking. On the plus side, the mix issues are finally resolved, and the heavy metal shimmers into clarity, inspiring more than a few denim jackets to headbang to ‘Welcome To My Funeral’. There is, however, a visible wince when Per croaks “Dedicate your life to heavy metal…or die! You’re under command!” By the end, guitarist Christian Lindell steps up to deliver some vocals rasps to support his comrade, and Portrait round out their set a little limping, but still smiling. Here’s to hoping our next encounter has more luck on their side.
Once again the lights dim, and warm hues of red and purple embrace Winterfylleth as they roll onstage to the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance,  a song they have a deep connection with as a band who take pride in English national heritage. They soon launch into a brace of tracks, set off with Chris Naughton’s Mancunian brogue announcing “’Ere’s an old one.” The folk-tinged black metal comes pouring out the speakers, Simon Lucas handling the blast beats with deftness, and the vocal tandem of Chris and Nick Wallwork trading growls and shrieks. The atmosphere is extraordinary, with goosebumps when the singalong section of ‘The Svart Crown’ hits, and Alan Averill of Primordial joins Nick in the vocal harmonies. The two new songs from last year’s stunning The Divination Of Antiquity also go down a treat, especially new face Dan Capp playing the catchy melodies in ‘Whisper Of The Elements’. However, the undeniable highlight is saved until the end: ‘Defending The Realm’, with nearly the entire room singing their hearts out. A magnificent ending to a triumphant set from Winterfylleth, and I cannot wait for their show next month at The Black Heart.
Much like Winterfylleth before them, Primordial set the tone over the PA with a song dear to their hearts: Liam Weldon’s ‘Dark Horse On The Wind’. A somber mood settles over the audience, and soon enough there is the rousing cry of “We are Primordial! We are from the Republic of Ireland!”, and the thumping drums of ‘Where Greater Men Have Fallen’ launch the crowd into a headbanging frenzy. Alan is front and center, commanding the attention of the audience while the band unfurl their singular take on Celtic metal. The instrumentalists stand tall alongside Alan, their heads bowed down in reverence to and concentration on the music. They rarely if ever engage with the crowd, as is their way; instead they play each song with a quiet intensity, hidden behind curtains of hair that flick during the headbanging moments.
Meanwhile, Alan’s vocal abilities are nothing short of incredible; at once mournful and yet empowering, his singing mixes with vicious snarls on live staples ‘Gods To The Godless’ and ‘Autumn’s Ablaze’, or the new but equally intense ‘The Alchemist’s Head’. Locking eyes with every audience member, he reminds everyone just how fierce and emotional his performance is. It’s full of gestures and symbolism, right down to the white paint daubed on his face and hooded tunic. This gives him the resemblance of a spectral storyteller in the allegory that is ‘As Rome Burns’, a song also renowned for its full audience participation. It’s not all strait-laced and serious though: there’s a hint of irony in his voice when he introduces ‘Ghosts Of The Charnel House’: “To get your Saturday night started, here is a song about the institutional rape of children by Catholic Church in Ireland in the 20th century,” his face a sardonic grin. After the autobiographical ‘Bloodied Yet Unbowed’, his hood slips down, and he becomes all the more human and forlorn for the emotionally destructive ‘The Coffin Ships’.
Two final songs remain, and they saved two of their most anthemic for last: ‘Wield Lightning To Split The Sun’, the magnificent finale to Where Greater Men Have Fallen, is no less impressive live: twin gas jets spurt out at the beginning, and the crowd are in a fist-pumping frenzy by this point. Alan’s lyrics, a hymn to the animal in man, echo over the crowd: “And who would pray to anything, but the mountain” [see our article on this song here]. The last song, of course, is ‘Empire Falls’. It rounds out the band’s 12-song set perfectly, a resounding tune which comes with a guarantee for a singalong: “Where is the fighting man, am I he?”, the crowd fire back on command. As the final chords ring out, there is a palpable sense of victory and elation at what has been witnessed, an adrenaline rush felt by all as they attempt to pile out of the gig into the chilled night air. Concerts like these do not come very often, but when they do they will be cherished for a long time yet.
Footnotes and extra reading:
1. Winterfylleth covered the ancient folk song on a compilation entitled One And All, Together, For Home.
2. Facebook event here
3. Primordial similarly covered ‘Dark Horse On The Wind’ for the above-mentioned compilation.
Mark’s interviews with Alan of Primordial and Christian Lindell of Portrait are here and here.