No Mercy Festival
KOKO Camden, London
10th April 2007
Moonspell / Napalm Death / Behemoth / Dew-Scented / Root / Hades Lab
Review and pics by HannTu
I went into this gig not fully 100% for a couple of reasons. One, I wasn’t feeling too well, suffering a little from flu and a bad throat, not the best things to take to an extreme metal gig. Secondly I’d never heard any stuff from half the billing (the first half obviously), and was quite nervous about reviewing something I had no knowledge of. Thirdly, Manchester United were playing the second leg of the Champions League quarter finals against Roma, and needed to overturn a 2-1 deficit at home, and I have to admit, more than 25% of my mind was on the game (we won 7-1 in the end, very nice!) rather than the gig.
However, I was there to do a job, that was to review the gig for Metal-Rules.com, and it was a first for me, because it was the first gig that I had managed to wrangle a photo pass to. Or so it seemed. Having been promised the photo pass, there was some mix-up between label and venue, and so I didn’t get the damn thing. So readers, forgive the poor quality of the photos (and lack of complete setlists), but enjoy a personal account of a cracking gig!
I hadn’t even known there would be a sixth band until I saw the schedule posted on one of the walls. At least I had done a bit of research into Root and Dew-Scented before coming to the gig, but the appearance of Hades Lab took me completely by surprise.
I don’t know what the story is, but they took to the stage as a three-piece band: singer, drummer and guitarist, no bassist. They play a competent mix of death and hints of thrash, certainly very headbang-worthy. Their drummer is very good, and the barked vocals raised the aggro level nicely for what promised to be a very extreme evening. There was no bottom end due to the missing bassist, but that only served to highlight the level of good drumming that we heard. Major complaint, the guitar could not be heard over the overly loud drums and vocals. If that’s with a bass missing, what will they sound like with one? Poor job in soundcheck and leveling.
As I write this review, I’m doing a bit of research into Hades Lab on the interwebby thingy, and find that they have quite a reputation in London already, having played with such big bands as Decapitated and Necrophagist (who I missed, damnation!) Best of luck to them for the future!
The Czech Republic’s epic black metal band Root took to the stage after about 15 minutes. One good thing about having an 11 o’clock curfew is that bands have to change set efficiently or risk losing a couple of songs. Root play a quite unique form of black metal that features the vocal talents of the self styled Big Boss. His full bodied tenor was on display that left me impressed. Not that he couldn’t mix it up with death growls and screams, although understandably, some of the growling duties were handled by the other members of the band to save his voice.
I call them unique because they don’t have keyboards to soften their sound, and yet his operatic voice is an integral part of their overall effect (they remind a lot of Ihsahn and Emperor), which is to be a nasty evil black metal band. Satanic references and tributes to the Horned One were very much the order of the day, and I have to say Root do it more convincingly than most. Good quirky banter between the Boss and the crowd. Quite a good performance, although by this time my eardrums were starting to seriously hurt.
The German thrashers have a reputation that I was only aware of while talking to my friends before the gig. They have high ratings and reviews on most websites, so I was quite excited to hear and watch them.
They play a high octane mix of death and thrash (more thrash than death), and they actually sound like a heavier version of The Haunted. Readers should know what’s coming next having seen the words “thrash”, “death” and “The Haunted” in the same sentence, and you’d be just about right. Complex drumming (the death metal influences are in the drumming, think Derek Roddy or Flo Mounier), but the guitars are pure thrash, with good riffs and solos. And heavy, boy are they heavy. Loads and loads of bass kicking the wind out of your insides. A complaint is that they did get a little repetitive towards the end, but perhaps that’s because I wasn’t familiar with their material. I’d definitely go to watch them again if they came to London. My ears were really hurting now, but I wasn’t going to leave before Behemoth.
Rant of the Day 1
I’ve been to the KOKO quite a few times now, but I’ve never been very aware of the house music that plays during set changes. Unfortunately this time I WAS aware of it (which didn’t do my ears any good either), and really, for a metal show, they have to drop the emo whining metalcore playlist. For god’s sake! Please. It saps the will to live, it really does.
The mighty Polish juggernaut rolled onstage relatively quickly (according to a friend who watched them in Estonia, they once took 45 minutes to appear onstage), and then MY evening really kicked off. Behemoth has never been one of the bands that drop easily into one genre, or that you can say belongs to a certain sound or type. All you can say of them is that they play brutal uncompromising metal, whether death or black (as their back catalogue shows, they have had phases of both).
They pounded out all the old favourites: Decade of Therion, Christians to the Lions, Antichristian Phenomenon. They sounded tight as heck, with Nergal and co. really playing it up for the crowd. Inferno blazed through the set as well, and was very in tune with the crowd, setting the beat for the crowd chanting between songs, which is always nice to see. You don’t want bands playing in a vacuum, determined to get through their set and nothing else. They take time to chill between songs, tease the crowd and get some banter going, all the while maintaining mood and tempo effortlessly. Inferno has to be one of metal’s most underrated drummers, and listening to him sound check was a privilege (I swear, nothing gets you right in the stomach like a death metal drummer showing off his double kicks, nothing). Following the theme of understatement, I would consider Nergal to be up there with some of the finest metal guitarists today as well. Definitely hope they come back to London soon, and play a longer show. A 45 minute set is criminally short.
Rant of the Day 2
The KOKO was really empty for what I thought was a pretty good lineup. In comparison with the other times I’ve been (Kreator and Blind Guardian among others), the numbers and the atmosphere were seriously lacking for this gig. I would even go so far as to say that it was half empty (the KOKO was formerly a theatre with two or three levels other than the ground level, and usually two of the three levels would be packed – on this occasion everyone was on the ground level, not a single soul upstairs). Even on ground level, it wasn’t super packed, and for us standing up front, it was a relative doddle. I certainly didn’t experience any major crushing, and was even able to move around relatively freely. Perhaps it was the £20 ticket (which for six quite good bands is a steal!), or the fact that it was on a Tuesday night, or there was some plague in central London, but it really was puzzlingly empty.
Right, I’m sorry but I don’t like this type of music. I like musicianship in metal, and while I don’t doubt that Shane, Mitch and Danny are good musicians, two minute blasts of noise I don’t consider as metal or music. They have rightly been regarded as kickstarting the grindcore genre, and fans of that kind of music revere them as titans. Fair and fine and well, but not my cuppa tea. Best to leave it at that.
Quick note: Barney’s, umm, “unique” stage movement, left me wondering if there was an escapee from the local school for special needs children. He really looked like an overgrown “special” kid. I know I know, in metal, we do not judge by appearance (if we did Nick Barker would be out on his arse a long time ago), unlike the fatuous and superficial worlds of pop and rap-crap bollocks. We judge by musicality and skill and talent and sincerity and passion. But seriously, Barney’s movement on stage really did not make me take them any more seriously than when I heard their one-second song “You Suffer”. Sorry, but there it is.
Good things do come out of bad situations though, as I spent most of the 45 minute Napalm Death set at the back, kicking back and chilling out, much like the people I derided and mocked in a previous review. In the spirit of self conscious irony, I also managed to have a chat with a very nice bargirl, who funnily enough, and to my lasting chagrin and hers, was into art house, which is some form of club music apparently. It’s a funny old world we live in.
Again, another band I’m not too familiar with. They have soldiered on with workmanlike determination over the years, and yet cannot be said to have taken the metal mainstream world by storm. The Portuguese dark merchants have hovered somewhere on the fringes of my consciousness, oft-mentioned but never really materializing. How my eyes were opened last night.
They really put on an awesome show. A friend I was with was a little skeptical about the presence of such a band amongst extreme metallers, more so headlining the Fest itself with a 1 hour set. Our skepticism was quickly dispelled with the first song. I can’t name any, firstly because my ears were a little fucked by then (definitely will invest in some ear protection the next gig I go to – it’s not cool to lose your hearing at age 21), and also because I don’t know any of their material well enough. However Moonspell fans will know their old concert favourites.
The entire experience made it one of the best shows I’ve been to. The stage set up was remarkable – a little mini city and cool backdrops set the tone with soft mysterious red lighting doing the rest. Two sets of keyboards made me wonder a little about the composition and possible imbalance in the sound at first, and visions of TWO keyboardists mucking about with synth nearly made me chuck the whole thing in and go home. Luckily I didn’t. I don’t remember how the two keyboards were used interchangeably, but I do remember that the one in front swivelled, so their keyboardist Pedro Paixão could alternate between keyboards and guitar. Singer Fernando Ribeiro was in fine fettle, his voice effortlessly dropping between clean and growl, and he was a ball of movement as well. My perception of what I thought a gig like theirs would be usually entails a static singer moaning and keening into the mike stand, but he was thrashing and bashing with the best of them.
Regarding their sound, it was remarkably good from what I could hear. The keyboards NEVER once threatened to overpower the guitars (which to my mind are the essence of a metal band), they were there to enhance and add a different dynamic to the sound. Where Napalm Death previously wanted to steam roller everything in their path, Moonspell subtly seduced you and then delivered the crushing riffs to kick you in the arse. And melody, never once losing the melody.
We always talk about the relationship between metal band and metal crowd, and critics might cynically remark that the bands do their nightly love-in with the crowd of X (like the Spinal Tap episode in the Simpsons, where the singer sticks the name of the city they’re playing in on the back of his guitar as a reminder) as a matter of course. I sincerely beg to differ. One can tell when someone on stage is faking it – except bubblegum pop fans I suppose – and as much as a metal crowd loves a band on stage, if they sense that the band isn’t giving it its all they’re quick to pick up on it. And metal fans have long memories. All the bands gave their thanks and appreciation to the crowd (who lacked the numbers somewhat), but Behemoth and Moonspell in particular stand out. It’s always nice to see.
Last words on Moonspell? They give credibility to their style that has become tainted with its association with weepy weedy female vocals, unconvincing “death growl” male vocals, over-use of synth, boring and plodding tempos, uninspired and unimaginative guitars and drumming and overall poor lyrics and songs. Moonspell bring aggression to the table, while retaining the melody and epic atmosphere.
Rant of the Day 3
First time I’ve actually bought a drink at the KOKO, and prices were extortionate! If it wasn’t for that cute bargirl I’d never have put the best part of 15 quid behind the bar.
Thanks to Jan at Century Media for attempting to get me on the guest list, although it didn’t work out too well, but thanks for the effort!