Decapitated @ Dingwalls, London
26th Feb 2012
Review by Hal Sinden
Photography by Michelle Murphy
Gig cancellation or relocation due to poor pre-sales seems to be fairly rife recently, most notably in the Camden area, with a fair few extreme metal gigs being shifted at the last minute from staple mainstays like the Underworld to the spare attic-like confines of venues such as Upstairs at the Islington Garage.
Those who have kept their bookings unchanged have in some cases suffered shockingly poor attendance (especially if the Origin / Psycroptic show in February was anything to go by), it’s therefore heartening to see that this event has remained as booked, however it’s also intriguing to see how well a bill of this intensity will go down at Dingwalls – with “down” being the operative word, given the venue’s tiered flooring system for the audience area.
It’s always encouraging to see a queue outside any show, whatever its size, as it provides at least some guarantee that the opening & supporting acts will stand a chance of being seen (or at least heard by those less able to step further than two paces from the bar before the headliners hit the stage). In this case, The HAARP Machine manage to attract a healthy bit of attention for this early on in the evening.
Certainly the most melodic band on the bill, Reading’s progressive upstarts are an extremely welcome last minute replacement for the rather peculiarly placed original openers, Cyanide Serenity. Signed to Sumerian Records, The HAARP Machine clearly operate some seriously impressive quality control for all their output, most notably their promotional studio report videos (created by Ethesham Haque) which frankly a great many bands would do well to learn from, my hopes were extremely high for their live show being as blisteringly tight as the footage suggests.
From early on in their set, it’s evident that the highlights of the band are the scarily precise Al Mu’min on guitar (also an extremely nice chap to talk to) and drummer Craig Reynolds, who comes across onstage as Britain’s answer to Gojira’s Mario Duplantier.
Despite some slightly optimistic (ie. drunken) attempts at a one man moshpit, the crowd’s reaction is much as you might expect for a live set of pointedly technical music that is yet to establish itself as containing ‘classics’ or ‘floor fillers’ (although it’s good to see ‘The Escapist Notion’ appear where it did), unlike tonight’s headliners who have had years for expose their fans to correspondingly technical songs to evolve into favourites. Nevertheless, there’s a noted absence of thickness in their overall live sound which may in part be down to having just one guitarist – but good luck to anyone reckoning themselves as jaw droppingly accurate as Mu’min to compliment The HAARP Machine’s lineup.
[Temporary?] vocalists will unfortunately always come across as a slight afterthought in songs that have already been written and finalised, and here sees no exception. Fittingly Eastern-influenced clean vocal intricacies certainly come across as well considered but ultimately ephemeral. There also seems yet to be a workable balance struck between time spent playing backing tracks & intros versus the band having to wait, motionless onstage with the house lights still on. Ultimately, THM do not disappoint in the transference from recorded to live sound and, with any luck, feature enough uniqueness and technical flare to outlive the current djent maelstrom that could yet die down to reveal the bands worthy of surviving.
Apparently having already voiced their distaste for Britain’s climate & other idiosyncrasies on arrival earlier in the week via Twitter, Belgium’s most noteworthy Death / Grind export Aborted appear to be capable of leaving their grumbles in the dressing room for the sake of the show and all it’s worth.
Arriving onstage to a truly stunning bit of light operation (hats off to the tech they have with them), they manage to maintain an exceptionally high level of professionalism throughout. Almost entirely gone are the uncomfortably long pauses between songs (as at Wacken ’06 etc.) and in their place is a concerted effort to slingshot the momentum of an increasingly excitable & growing crowd, interspersing it with tongue-in-cheek salutes to their genre’s tendencies towards B-movie misogyny (“this next one is for the ladies, it’s about being fucked with a…” and so on).
Playing a set as packed with numbers from the latest ‘Global Flatline’ album as with classics from ‘Goremageddon’, the Waregem lads managed to maintain a unified front of alarming precision & violence, from the twin pillars of shred presented by Messrs. Segal & Wilson on guitar to De Caluwe’s shaven-headed grimace that straddles old school gore-grind stodge with modern day throat-lacerating ferocity, so much so that you’re inclined to forget the awkwardness of hearing a Belgian… who now speaks with an American accent… impersonating a Cockney in order to command that the audience “Get yer rat out”. Odd.
The consistency of energy in Aborted’s performance for a while threatens to overshadow what’s left in store for the rest of the evening, in some senses casting a doubtful shadow over whether this much excitement can be maintained for that long as seen in the appreciative audience for this set – in which, it must be said, it’s heart-warming to see Trenchhead’s Kez Spiers physically coordinate and consequently lead the charge in a truly monstrous wall of death, by the command of Aborted themselves.
Anticipation can be a wonderful thing, but after such a pummelling set from a main support act, it can also introduce an unreasonable benchmark. Decapitated’s revered and prestigious position in extreme metal is undeniable.
For those who remember it there’s a wonderful sense of legacy to see them play from their fifth album when over a decade ago they played Camden in support of their first with most members merely in their late teens, but almost as soon they launch into their first song of the night it becomes apparent that the sound is just that *little* bit less punishing than that of their support act’s.
As one of the tightest and most technically competent bands in death metal, few can hold a torch to the consummate level of proficiency that Decapitated’s major domo WacÅ‚aw ‘Vogg’ KieÅ‚tyka provides in his own performance and that of his band’s.
It seems a pity in that case to let the overall sound & barrage of ludicrously tight riffing get cut in half whenever he begins a solo – what really is the issue with touring with a second guitarist? Nevertheless, a hungry and still energised crowd manage to fuel an angry pit despite the occasional pitfalls.
Next to Tim Yeung, Kerim ‘Krimh’ Lechner is potentially one of this scene’s rarest treasures – a visually entertaining death metal drummer. Putting aside his frankly stupefying talent for timekeeping, speed & agility he’s also a great performer and absolutely worthy of his position in replacing the late Witold ‘Vitek’ KieÅ‚tyka (whose face now adorns the arm of his surviving brother and bandmate, Vogg, as a tattoo). It’s challenging enough to keep the pace in a band with such prowess, more impressive still is to emulate his forbear’s inimitable playing style whilst simultaneously bringing his own to the table.
Singer RafaÅ‚ Piotrowski is perhaps the best frontman that Decapitated has featured, to date. At last we’re provided with someone who accurately recreates the dynamic range as heard in the recorded material (in stark contrast to the unfortunately vocally disappointing live footage on the digipack version of ‘Organic Hallucinosis’) and who’s able to read a crowd accurately enough not to spurt out pre-meditated ‘metal as fuck’ catchphrases too often, even despite occasional language barriers.
Piotrowski is energetic and engaging, spitting his own lines with acerbic venom whilst inflecting past material with a mid & high vocal range that has been so crucially missing for years, all the while employing the right amount of sensitivity to the original songs so as not to alienate the die-hard fans.
Recent tunes (obviously from their recent ‘Carnival is Forever’ release) are aired in well considered segues with old classics, with expectant highlights such as ‘Spheres of Madness’, ‘Day 69’ & ‘Winds of Creation’ tearing their way through the speakers to the baying throng. The spectacle of such outstanding musicianship & live stagework (quite how Vogg manages to headbang so continually through such technical riffs is nothing short of mind boggling) is almost enough to distract throughout the headline set from the unfortunate single guitar format, however the evening draws to a close with a distinct air of suspicion that Aborted may have stolen the show with something altogether more visceral, vital & vivacious.