Behemoth + Lamb of God + Batushka
@ Partille Arena, Gothenburg
26th June 2019
Review by Kieron Hayes
Properly set up in my kitten-covered t-shirt and smelling of strawberries thanks to a new mist spray, I’d never felt more ready for a metal gig. And tonight was to be a big one: Batushka, Lamb of God and the mighty Behemoth.
Elephant in the room time: I’m aware of the (at the time of writing) on-going drama with Batushka. The band split in two after their acclaimed debut album, with both parts claiming ownership of the name. However, I haven’t been following it closely enough to say for sure which version of the band this was, nor do I have enough information to really have a strong opinion on the dispute. So that’s all we’re going to have on that point for this review.
Regardless of which version of Batushka this was, they put on a hell of a show indeed. The moment I stepped into the hall, the presence of the band was made loud and clear: this was not a stage show, it was a black metal sermon, to be delivered with every bit of pomp and ceremony they could muster. The stage was covered from top to bottom in flaming braziers, candles, bowls of incense, heavy tomes on lecterns, a pulpit from which the vocalist could deliver his words, and everyone on the stage was cloaked in thick, heavy robes (even the drummer!).
Even beyond the aesthetics, everything was geared towards this singular vision of a performance. There was very little motion, most band members standing solemnly in place, robed acolytes simply marching from place to place. The vocals, which consisted of ominous chanting as often as they did black metal shrieks, were accompanied not by the horns, but the old Christian sign of benediction, two fingers raised as the audience appeared to be blessed, and returned it in kind.
Naturally, the music fit with the palpable atmosphere all of this created. Like the looks, it was all about an immersive experience, with slow, hypnotic rhythms dragging the audience in. Like a lot of quality doom, they managed to vary things up just enough, maintaining the crushing, solemn feel while letting things change pace just often enough to hold interest. At times it blasted, at times it plodded, but always as intended.
Even when it all drew to a close, everything kept up in the same fashion: the guitars were unplugged reverently, the sign of the cross was made, and the band members marched off the stage like the departure of a funeral procession. Indeed, many doom bands wish they could be this funereal.
Going into this, I had expected Lamb of God and Behemoth to dominate, but Batushka more than held their own. It was clear that a ton of effort and commitment went into the preparation, and it paid off. The sound quality was top notch, the music allowed itself just enough variety, and the atmosphere was as solid as they come.
Lamb of God:
After a brief set up time, the lights went down, and the crowd began to raucously, exuberantly chant “Lamb of God! Lamb of God!”. Everyone was clearly already hyped up as all hell.
Then the spoken word intro of Omerta rang out, and the excitement before became nothing more than an overture to the eruption that followed.
Right from the off, Lamb of God presented themselves as a band brimming with deserved confidence. This is a veteran band, and they have earned every bit of respect.
In contrast to Batushka, there was rarely a still moment. Blythe in particular was leaping about the stage, hunched over and roaring venomously, or prowling back and forth like a tiger in a cage. And while the previous band put on their show with the stage set up and delivery, Lamb of God had their fun with the lights, with a well-crafted light show that did a surprisingly good job of supporting the music.
The setlist was solidly one of playing the hits. There were a handful of numbers from their most recent album, Sturm & Drang (Burn the Priest covers album aside), but the majority came from Palaces, Ashes and Sacrament, all designed to give the audience exactly what they wanted from a Lamb of God show. There wasn’t a non-banging head in the room during the closing crush of Something to Die For. Blacken the Cursed Sun had its fearsome “HELL NO!” chants. Every song was brimming with energy and passion.
Randy made for a superb and lively ringmaster to this groove-laden circus. He casually swung the mic around as Hourglass began, a man knowing damn well that the audience is about to explode, and totally at ease with them in the palm of his hand.
Stirring things up for the upcoming Behemoth, he treated everyone to some delightfully playful falsetto cries of “SATAAAAN!”, and yes Randy, Batushka was indeed “some crazy shit”, all said with an audible grin. We even got a shout out to 2112, Gothenburg’s rock-themed bar/burger restaurant (and I’ll echo that shout: if anyone reading ever is in town, don’t hesitate to go there).
Lamb of God made for a refreshing change of pace after Batushka: both were great in their own way, but it’s always good to vary things up. This performance was full of energy, and the band were masters at conveying every ounce of vitriol and fearsome vitality from their studio recordings.
Lamb of God setlist:
Walk With Me in Hell
Now You’ve Got Something to Die For
As the Palaces Burn
Engage the Fear Machine
Blacken the Cursed Sun
Laid to Rest
Behemoth seemed determined to mark their territory even before they took to the stage: instead of the usual mix of rock and metal songs over the PA in between bands, we got an extended loop of Solve, the opening from I Loved You At Your Darkest. Certainly, the ominous rumbling and children’s chanting set the tone.
Then the curtains dropped and the band burst into place.
Unfortunately the first couple of songs suffered from some weaker sound quality than what had come before. The drums were far too loud in the mix, overpowering everything else. But a couple of songs in this was fixed and everything sounded just as crisp as the damned souls being sung about.
The big visual draw this time, aside from the expected outfits of the band, was the incredible pyrotechnics. Seemingly not to be outdone by Batushka’s braziers and candles, Behemoth’s entire set was riddled with jets of flame bursting out around the band, over the audience, and swaying left and right between them. The coordination alone was impressive, as was the heat: I could feel it from way back in the seats, I can only imagine how it must’ve felt for the band or those in the front.
Nergal even came on for Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer waving around a pair of flaming torches, casually tossed aside as the song began proper (‘demonic flight traffic controller’ might not have been the look he was going for, but I liked it all the same).
Nergal was in his element the entire time, the demented conductor of an orchestra of the damned, a sorcerer hurling out blasts of raw metal with a wave of his hand. And despite the seriousness much of the band’s material seems to be presented with, he also frequently cut loose and channelled his inner Abbath, prancing about the stage with exaggerated expressions.
Perhaps understandably given its recent release, I Loved You At Your Darkest dominated a lot of the setlist, though there were a number of more classic tracks in there too. Ov Fire and the Void was a real highlight, every pounding moment punctuated with bursts of flame or big movements from the band, all lending the performance so much power. The same applied again for Conquer All: the drumming assault, the snarled vocals, the head-smashing death metal chug. This was a band holding nothing back.
Many of the tracks were also accompanied by freakishly cool visuals projected onto the back screen, including crucifixion nails being pounded in during Sabbath Mater, a song of crushing damnation followed nicely by the demonic gallop of Decade of Therion.
Wrapping things up in the encore, Lucifer was a nightmarish Armageddon of a song. The pounding rhythms were those of a demonic taskmaster at a drum, as hordes of damned souls are made to haul open the gates of hell by enormous chains.
Almost every song in the set was its own performance, done with a ton of passion behind it, and the pyro effects were a very effective addition to the spectacle.
All told, this was a night of a good mix of bands. Batushka brought their amazing stage show and theatrics, Lamb of God were lively and wild, and Behemoth somehow managed to mix the two into something both atmospheric and energetic.
Wolves ov Siberia
Ora Pro Nobis Lucifer
Ov Fire and the Void
God = Dog
Decade of Therion
Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel
We Are the Next 1000 Years