Primordial + Moonsorrow + Der Weg Einer Freiheit
@ Islington Assembly Hall, London
April 16th 2018
Review by Beandog
Photography by Oliver M.
By the look of the healthy, Monday night turn out at the Assembly Rooms, there are a lot of North London metal heads keen to keep the weekend flame burning brightly. There are queues at the bar and what appears to be a capacity crowd filling up the floor in front of this large, Islington stage.
Tonight’s gig has been billed as the Heathen Crusade 2018 and fittingly there is a raucous atmosphere hanging in the crowd. Ahead of us we have a night of folk-tinged, epic, blackened metal to enjoy and there is certainly no evidence of a post weekend lull as people wait for the music to start. Instead, there is an excitable buzz in the air that bodes well for the three bands lined up to perform.
Der Weg Einer Freiheit are first to play and they open the show with an immediate barrage of blackened blast beats. It’s an exhilarating experience to hear the opening track, Einkehr rattle into Skepsis (Pt 1) and it’s an impressive start from the German band who are probably (at least, sonically) the “purest” black metal band on the bill. Their sound is a vicious barrage of razor sharp riffs.
They occasionally segue into atmospheric, melodic passages only to crescendo back into a dramatic, machine gun rattle of double bass drumming and ferocious vocals. Unfortunately, tonight, much of the detail seems to be lost in the venue’s muddy sound but as the set continues, the sheer intensity of songs such as, Zeichen, Requiem and Aufbruch proves to be enough that Der Weg Einer Freiheit’s performance is a formidable one. Their icy brutality has set the bar high.
2. Skepsis, Part I
Moonsorrow from Finland have the unenviable task of following such a powerful opener. However, the cheers given to them as they take the stage offer some reassurance that theirs is a highly anticipated set.
Self proclaimed heathen metallers, resplendent in blood flecked corpse paint, they look pleased to be given such a warm welcome and they waste no time in tearing into the confident gallop of their opening track, Pimea.
To describe Moonsorrow songs as epic is a huge understatement. Their opening track takes the best part of fifteen minutes to perform and it transitions through so many changes that it feels like a complete set in itself!
To the band’s credit, and to acknowledge the quality of the song writing, there are enough twists and highlights to ensure that these tunes don’t outstay their welcome.
Instead layers of melody build themselves around the darkened howl of frontman/bassist, Ville Sorvali, and it results in something that sounds impressively triumphant and uplifting.
That being said, I am frustrated to acknowledge that the venue’s sound is still fairly murky. It takes the shine from a lot of the intricacies that are integral to the Moonsorrow experience and I think the inconvenient truth is that this hall just isn’t well suited to the noise a grand, pagan metal band makes.
This doesn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the musicians, who take us through a rousing rendition of two newer tunes; Ruttolehto sis. Paivattoman Paivan Kansa and Suden Tunti.
Both are songs from their most recent, 2016 album Jumalten Aika. There is something irresistible about the rousing, pulsing tempo and folkish melodies that weave their way through the performance and the crowd response is a good one.
Jumalten Aika had been a much anticipated release and the songs aired tonight give a satisfying opportunity to raise a clenched fist and head bang.
Next we are taken back to 2003 for the title track of the Kivenkantaga album before a climactic version of Mimisbrunn brings this penultimate set to a dramatic conclusion that is punctuated by blasts of pressurised smoke gushing skywards in a pyrotechnic eruption.
2. Ruttolehto incl. Päivättömän päivän kansa
3. Suden Tunti
6. Kuolleiden Maa
Originating from the Republic of Ireland, and with a debut release that is approaching its twenty fifth year, Primordial are undoubtedly the seasoned veterans of tonight’s Heathen Crusade. Over the last quarter of a century they have earned themselves a faithful and enthusiastic fan-base via their brand of blackened, Celtic, folk metal, and in 2018 they are showing absolutely no signs of slowing down.
Their newest album (Exile Among The Ruins) does not deviate from the grim and firmly established soundscapes that have gone before and it seems that frontman, A. A. Nemtheanga has an unending catalogue of dark and woeful stories to bellow out for the congregated masses.
Dressed in his familiar, ragged hood, looking like a ninth century soothsayer, Nemtheanga cuts a formidable figure as he stands before the crowd and leads the band into their reassuringly gruesome opener, Nail Their Tongues. It’s a percussive rumble that sets a steady pace and establishes Nemtheanga’s commitment to rallying the crowd into a crescendo of appreciative noise.
Gods to the Godless is up next. An anthem of curse and decay that perfectly illustrates the tone of a Primordial set. Interestingly for a heavy metal band, I feel there is less direct emphasis on riffs. Instead the guitars blend into a powerful tapestry of sound. The primary focus seems to be the lyrics and the confident, foreboding vocal performance which is delivered with an admirable level of theatrics.
As the band steer us back towards the new album with the title track, Exile among the Ruins, I find myself contemplating the contrast between Nemtheanga and his band mates. They are dressed in black and remain close to the backline. To me, it seems they are deliberately taking on a secondary, supporting role to their front man. Unfortunately, what I do find disappointing is how bored they appear to be.
Tonight they give virtually no movement and certainly for the early part of the set, seem to have very little enthusiasm for the music or the crowd. The poor drummer’s expression is as though he’s just been told he is a naughty boy and won’t be allowed to stay up late with the others! It is a real shame because the vocalist is going above and beyond to keep the energy levels high while the rest of the band appears to be largely disinterested.
Thankfully, when the set reaches To Hell or the Hangman there is a spike in proceedings. Even the drummer perks up when they perform As Rome Burns; perhaps this is because the song centres on a resonating, rhythmic tom-tom cascade that brings the back the heavy metal thunder as it rolls along. The crowd are clearly enjoying themselves. Those who aren’t banging their heads are raising their arms and chanting along like a strident Saxon army. It gives the band a clear shot of energy and by the time we get to Traitor’s Gate the musicians have discovered a renewed spirit and are matching the vigour that A.A. Nemtheanga’s has been working hard to maintain.
It makes a tangible difference which the band are thankfully able to sustain for the duration of the remaining show. We are treated to a triumphant run through The Coffin Ships and a suitably climactic version of Empires Fall that has everyone in the room cheering their approval. It is a clear highlight that brings the night to a victorious conclusion. Despite the venue’s poor sound, on this particular crusade all three bands ultimately came forth and conquered. Special credit to the faithful horde that proved their loyalty by coming out on a Monday night to pledge their unquestioning allegiance. Horns up!
1. Nail Their Tongues
2. Gods to the Godless
3. Exile Amongst the Ruins
4. No Grave Deep Enough
5. To Hell or the Hangman
6. As Rome Burns
7. Stolen Years
8. Traitors Gate
9. Where Lie the Gods
10. Upon Our Spiritual Deathbed
11. The Coffin Ships
12. Empire Falls